How to Socialize Your Dog

Reprinted with permission from

Socializing your dog is one of the most important aspects of your dog’s training

Socialization is an often talked about and mostly misunderstood topic amongst dog owners and even dog trainers.  Many schools and trainers even offer socialization classes that are all but useless and actually teach bad habits.  Many feel that it is taking your dog out to play with other dogs.  That can certainly be part of it – but if that is the extent of socializing your dog – you are missing out on a lot of opportunities to help your dog grow and develop.

Real socialization means teaching your dog that the world it lives in contains many things and it is a safe and positive place.
Miriam Webster defines Socialization as
Simple Definition of socialize

  • : to talk to and do things with other people in a friendly way
Full Definition of socialize
  1. 1:  to make socialespecially  :  to fit or train for a social environment
The full definition should be your goal with your dog.  Teaching your dog to fit in to the world around it.

How to socialize your dog

To socialize your dog means to expose it to the world around it. In other words – “see/hear/touch/smell & explore this – it is part of our environment and now let’s move on.  It’s no big deal.

Lincoln – the large black and tan mix was very dog aggressive prior to his training. Rigorous obedience and very careful and calculated socialization transformed him into a new dog. See his video here.

I want my dog to be neutral or positive to most things – neutral is my overall preference.
I don’t want my dog to become overstimulated every time she sees another person, dog, cat squirrel or car/bis/bike etc …
if my dog is neutral to these things – that means she feels comfortable and accepts everything around her as part of her “normal”. Neutral also means that it is easier for her to focus on me than if she is overly stimulated by them.

Puppies like children need to feel comfortable in the world they live in

Think of how we expose our kids to the world around them: We bring them places with us – careful to not force them into situations they are not equipped to deal with. Gradually we introduce little stressors when the timing is right and appropriate for that individual child.

The goal should be to have a well balanced dog

We don’t force them to play with or say hi to or hug every person they see.  We want to build a sense of well being and confidence as well as healthy interaction and manners.  Balance is the key and too many trainers and people socialize their dogs in a way that teaches the dog bad habits such as getting overexcited when they see other dogs or people. Often they will even force dogs into situations they should not be in in an effort to “make them more social” and this leads to higher levels of aggression and other problem behaviours.
Helping a dog overcome a fear of stairs – video

Pro Dog Training Tip #1

When socializing my dogs I make sure to be the centre of focus and fun. In other words – we go out and explore and as much fun as they have meeting people and dogs and exploring the environment – the most fun they have is with me.  This really helps in training – because they want to be with me more than anywhere else.

Bonus Pro Dog Training Tip #2

If your dog is particularly stressed in a specific setting or environment – make a point of taking it there and feeding your dog there for several days.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly this helps normalize the environment in your dog’s mind.  Some dogs make skip a meal or two but most will get right into it once they get past the initial hump.  An added bonus is that if you plan on travelling with your dog it is great that they learn to it wherever you off them a meal.  My dogs have eaten in the car/van/truck, in a parking lot, even on the side of a highway or parked at a gas station while on road trips.