Socialization and Civility

Socialization and Civility

In This Chapter

  • Calming your puppy during socialization
  • Conditioning your puppy to accept people of all sizes, races, and genders
  • Introducing your puppy to wild animals, noises, and other interesting objects
  • Handling a pup’s wary or defensive response

Your puppy is hard-wired with a prime socialization window. During this window, which is between 8 to 12 weeks, her brain is developing and she’s receptive to new experiences. She’s constantly looking to you for your interpretation of these experiences. This is the time to introduce her to everything she will encounter throughout her life, from objects and people to noises and other animals.

Even though some of your early excursions may be restricted until your puppy is fully inoculated, make every effort to expose her to a variety of stimulants so that she’ll be more relaxed when she’s presented with something new.
If your puppy is older than 12 weeks, don’t despair. Even though your puppy has passed her impression window, she’s still open to your example when she gets overwhelmed or excited. A noticeably defensive or wary reaction simply indicates that your puppy has no conscious memory of such an occurrence and isn’t sure how to act. In these circumstances, your reactions to both the situation and the puppy are important. Placating, soothing, or corrective responses actually intensify a puppy’s reactions by focusing attention on the inappropriate behavior.
Wondering just how to handle your puppy during this formative time? This chapter is here to help.

Calming Your Puppy Based on Her Age

Puppies, like children, go through developmental stages, and each stage brings with it a new perspective. In the earliest stages, everything is new, and your puppy’s trust in you is innocent and faithful. As she ages, however, she’s prone to challenge and question your opinion while still being unsure of life’s variety. Maturing puppies, especially those going through adolescence and puberty, have their own set of opinions and must be consistently persuaded to mind you. All this makes for a creative approach to socialization.

Acclimating a young pup (8 to 12 weeks)


When she’s very young, your puppy will mirror your reaction in all new situations. If you’re nervous, she will be too. If you get excited, uncomfortable, or edgy, she’ll follow suit. Expose your puppy to new experiences under controlled circumstances so you’ll be centered and prepared to deal with your puppy’s reaction.

Young puppies generally react to new situations in one of four ways:

Fearfully: Noted by a hesitant body posture, these puppies pull back or scurry to leave the environment. Often they scratch to be held or acknowledged.

Calmly: These pups are patiently observant and have a relaxed body posture and mild curiosity.

Actively: Because they’re very interactive, these puppies explore the new stimulation with gusto and may be hard to calm down or refocus.

Defensively: Puppies who act defensively may back up, hold still, or run forward. Or they may do all three maneuvers and bark or vocalize their feelings in some way. Their ears may be flattened against their heads, and they may hide behind your legs or try to climb up into your arms or lap.


Any attention given to a puppy reinforces her reaction, which is fine if and only if your puppy is reacting calmly. Other responses need redirecting. Read on to find out how.

Instilling confidence in a fearful pup

Fear is a common response that shows your puppy doesn’t like to make interpretations alone. Because of your pup’s dependence, new situations will demand your guidance and direction.

Finding the Red Zone

If your puppy has an intense reaction (one that’s fearful, overexcited, or defensive) to a new situation or person, determine her Red Zone: the distance from the stimulus where she can stand
comfortably. Stand just outside this zone and handle your puppy calmly using commands, toys, or treats to keep her focus.


Don’t coddle your puppy if she has a fearful reaction. Your immediate attention indicates submission, not leadership. Your lowered body posture and high-pitched tone convey the message that you’re afraid, too.

A better response on your part is to stand tall, either ignoring your puppy or kneeling at her side. Brace her by clipping your thumb under her collar and holding her in a sitting position. Above all else, though, you need to remain calm and assured: Your puppy will be impressed by your confidence.

Capturing the attention of a calm pup

A relaxed reaction is a good sign that your puppy will take everything in stride. Some puppies are so relaxed, however, that they don’t register the distraction you’re introducing, such as a grate surface or a uniformed police officer. If this sounds familiar, use treats to bring your puppy’s attention to the situation at hand.

Containing the excitement of an active pup

The puppies in this energetic group love life. To them, new experiences hold endless possibilities. Even at a young age, passion emanates in everything they do. The goal in new situations and introductions isn’t to bring these pups out of their shells. Instead, the goal is to successfully contain their excitement. To displace their enthusiasm, use toys and the bracing technique.

Defusing a defensive pup


An early defensive reaction (before 12 weeks) should be noted and taken seriously. If the tips in this book don’t lessen your puppy’s intensity, hire a professional. The onset of adolescence, with the release of adult hormones, will intensify an aggressive response. Deal with this behavior immediately.

In the meantime, fit the puppy with a head collar (see Chapter Home Sweet Home), and keep her at someone’s side in all new situations. The direction “Stay” should be repeated as this puppy is braced.
Catching up an older pup (12 weeks and older)
A puppy past the critical socialization time may have a more pronounced reaction to new situations, especially if she has no similar experience in her memory bank. For example, an older puppy who hasn’t navigated a stairway or hardwood floor may actually be terrified at the prospect. How you handle such a situation determines her future attitude. A dog who is fearful of specific things is more leery of new situations throughout her life.


Discover your puppy’s body language and take it very seriously. Focus on her eyes, body position, tail, and mouth. Even though she can’t talk in words, your puppy will tell you everything if you listen with your eyes. Check out Table 7-1 for guidance.

Table 7-1
Reading Your Puppy’s Body Language
Body Part
Squinting, darting,
Focused or shifting
Attentive, focused
Glaring, hard
Low, arched, pulled back
Shifting from forward to pulled back, approaching but then immediately avoiding the person
Comfortable posture, moving side to side
Pitched forward, stone still, tense
Tucked under belly, wagging low
Tucked under belly, arched slightly over back, fluctuating between the two
Still, gently swinging above rump
High, wagging enthsiastically
Still above rump or arched above back in a tight repetitive wag
Pulled back, often in a semi-smile
Terse, trembling
Painting, normal, may be parted in a growl or vocalization
Tight, unflinching, may be parted in a growl or vocaliazation
Turn your “can’t do” puppy into a “can do” dog by being the example you want her to follow. When your puppy’s response is pronounced, you need to stay very calm. Keep your eyes focused on the situation at hand (not on your puppy) and interact with the stimulus — be it a person, situation, or object — in the manner you want her to mirror.


If you look at your puppy or even glance back at her, your posture and visual confirmation may get misconstrued as insecurity. For example, think of playing on a team: The captain wouldn’t shout a direction and then look to the players for confirmation. The same rules apply with your pup. When directing your puppy, stand confident and focus on the situation at hand.

Teaching Your Puppy to Be Accepting of All People


Regardless of your puppy’s age, her ability to relate to others around her will be determined by three variables:

– Breed influences

– Socialization experience

– Your example

Even though your puppy’s breed drives are predetermined, you can vastly shape the future through socialization and positive modeling.

Socializing your young puppy (8 to 12 weeks)

A young puppy will look to you to interpret everything in her life. How you interact with and greet people from all walks of life will be her greatest example. Disciplinary issues evolve when too much excitement is present during greetings. These issues evolve because your puppy interprets this excitement as hyperactive play, and though it can be fun initially, it gets old fast!


A better plan is to actually have a plan. Expose and introduce your puppy to as many new people as time allows. You should follow the same routine whether the person is 9 or 90, dressed down, uniformed, or in costume.

Mothers are right when they say good manners start at home. When greeting your puppy, be very casual. Even though you may be beside yourself with delight, stay calm and interact with your puppy only when she’s calm too.


Condition your puppy to a leash and collar, and keep these items on her when meeting new people. Use them to guide her, as if you’re holding a young child’s hand. When possible, ask people to ignore any extreme reactions, from hyperactivity to fear or defensiveness. Simply put, when she reacts extremely, act as if your puppy isn’t even there. When applied for a few minutes, this approach will de-escalate any concern and will condition your puppy to look to and reflect your reaction.

After the new person is an established presence, which takes about one to five minutes, kneel down next to your puppy, brace her by clipping your thumb under her collar, and hold her in a sitting position (see Figure 7-1). Repeat “Say hello” as the person pats your puppy.
Figure 7-1: Bracing reassures your young puppy when meeting unfamiliar people.


If your puppy is fearful or tense, ask the person to shake a treat cup and treat her so that she shapes a new and more positive outlook.

Shaping up older puppies

Is your older pup out of control or poorly conditioned to greeting new people? Don’t give it another thought. She may become hyper when the doorbell rings, react defensively to men in uniform, or act warily around toddlers, but you can reshape her focus with patience, ingenuity, and calm consistency.


When left unchecked, such behavior may result in a dog who’s permanently wary of children or defensive with the delivery man. Consider living with this erratic behavior for ten or more years — I guarantee it won’t be fun. However, this is one of the few times you have the power to reshape your future.

Remember the following three key things, regardless of her pre-established habits, when introducing your puppy to new situations and people:

– Whoever is in front is in charge.

– A confident and calm body posture conveys confidence and self-assurance.

– A steady voice will be followed.


No matter what your puppy’s behavior is, it developed in large part because of your attention. Puppies repeat anything that ensures interaction — they don’t care whether it’s negative or positive interaction. If your pup is hyper, you likely tried to calm her by grabbing her fur, pushing her, or holding her. When a defensive or wary reaction results in a soothing and high-pitched “It’s okay,” the translation is that of mutual concern. What this puppy needs is a human example of confidence, which is conveyed with clear direction and a calm, upright body posture.

To resolve this greeting dilemma and recondition your pup, do the following:

– Create a greeting station in sight of, but at least 6 feet behind, the greeting door (as detailed in Chapter Teaching Everyday Etiquette).

– Secure a short 2-foot leash to the area and repeat “Back” as you lead your puppy and attach her before opening the door.

– Ignore your puppy until she has fully calmed down.

Though it may be difficult to ignore her initial vocalizations and spasms, it won’t take long for her to discover that a relaxed posture gets immediate attention.
Encourage everyone in your home to respond in kind: No one gives the pup attention until she’s considerably calmer. You can leave a bone or toy at her greeting station to help her displace her excitement or frustration.


If your puppy is defensive or fearful, put a head collar on her. This head collar automatically relaxes your puppy because the weight placed over her nose and behind her head stimulates the same pressure points her mother would use to calm her.

Also, in order to help her become used to new situations and people, take your puppy out and socialize her with as many new people as you can find. Teach and use the directions “Let’s go,” “Stay,” “Down,” “Wait,” and “Back” as described in Chapter Training through Your Pup’s Growth Stages. Here’s what these commands teach your pup:

Let’s go: Instructs your puppy to walk behind you and watch for your direction.

Stay: Stresses impulse control and focus. Precede this direction with a “Sit” or “Down” direction.

Under: Directs your puppy to lie under your legs or under a table. These safe places reinforce that you’re her guardian and protector.

Wait: Instructs your puppy to stop in her tracks and look to you before proceeding.

Back: Directs your puppy to get behind you and reminds her that you’re in charge.


If your puppy is wary of a person, ask him or her to ignore the puppy and to avoid all eye contact. Eye contact is often interpreted as predatory or confrontational and will often intensify your puppy’s reaction.

Introducing your puppy to people of all shapes and sizes

Getting your puppy comfortable with life needs to start with introducing her to the variety of people she’ll meet in her lifetime. Each person will have a unique look and smell. So that your puppy doesn’t mature into a dog that singles anyone out, you need to socialize her early on with the whole spectrum. Check out Table 7-2 for guidance.


The use of a creamy spread (such as peanut butter, tofu, cheese, or yogurt) encourages a gentle interaction. Infrequent use means that your puppy will be enamored with any situation that produces this delight.

Table 7-2
Meeting New People
Treat Location
“Gentle” and “Stay”
Yes, if excitable
Braced to prevent jumping
On the floor, or put a creamy spread on the baby’s shoe
Using a creamy spread on the baby’s shoe will direct your puppy to this body part. Say “Ep, ep” to discourage facial interaction.
“Sit,” “Down,” “Back,” “Stay,” “Gentle,” “Follow,” and “Say hello”
Yes. Consider two so the child can direct if the dog is trustworthy.
Braced or “Back” behind your feet
Ideally, the child gives the pup a treat. It can also be thrown if your puppy’s wild or wary.
A creamy spread in a tube or on a long spoon can be extended to a calm puppy in a “Sit” or “Down” position. Teach your puppy a trick (Chapter Ten Crowd-Pleasing Tricks) to encourage a happy interaction.
Opposite sex
“Follow,” “Stay,” and “Say hello”
Only as needed in public or if your affection
has an extreme reaction
Braced or at your side if your puppy’s reaction is inappropriate
Other person gives the treat unless your puppy is wary. Then treat can be tossed or given by you in close proximity to the other person.
Be calm and comfortable, not unnaturally excited or affection ate. Puppies sense feigned affection and find it odd and unconvincing.
“Back,” “Stay,” and “Under”
Absolutely. Cos tumes are scary for surround,
and the leash gives you the ability to “hold your puppy’s hand.”
Braced in the “Stay” position. Kneel in front and hold her steadily. Don’t pet her until she’s calm.
Yes, initially.
Wear the costume yourself. Place it on the floor and surround it with treats. Allow your puppy to watch you put it on.
“Back,” “Stay,” and “Say hello”
In public and when unmanageable within the home. Otherwise, no.
Braced during a greeting. Use a ball or toy to encourage a normal response.
Yes, when meeting the person directly. Otherwise, no.
Dogs aren’t racist, but some will notice variations in skin color. Seek out different environments to expose your dog to.
Shapes and sizes
“Back,” “Stay,” “Follow,” and “Say hello”
Use a dragging leash and hold the leash if your dog is startled or reactive.
Braced during a greeting. Use a ball or toy to encourage a normal response.
Yes, when meeting the person directly. Otherwise, no.
A trip to town will expose your pup to a variety of body shapes and sizes.
“Follow,” “Stay,” and “Say hello”
Leash initially and always in public.
Walk by nonchalantly and say “Follow.” Brace if unsettled. Use “Stay” direction to stabilize reaction.
Use treats to encourage your puppy’s focus on you when this person is present.
Wear a hat or costume if your dog is overtly reactive. Expose early and often, especially to delivery people.
Sporting Equipment
“Stay” and “Sniff it”
Discover your puppy’s Red Zone (see sidebar earlier in this chapter). Observe at a distance and gradually bring your puppy closer.
Use treats or a toy to encourage your puppy’s focus.
Lay the equipment on the floor and encourage your puppy to “Sniff it” as you explore together.
People holding equipment
“Stay” and “Sniff it”
Yes, unless you’re holding the equipment.
Discover your puppy’s Red Zone (see sidebar earlier in this chapter). Observe at a distance and gradually bring your puppy closer.
Use treats or a toy to encourage your puppy’s focus.
Lay the equipment on the floor or hold it yourself. When you see another person holding equipment, do treat exercises at a distance.

Conditioning Your Puppy to Life’s Surprises

Socializing your puppy to all of life’s surprises is just as important as training her during the first year. Though a puppy may know a four-star stay in your living room, if she falls to pieces once you hit the road, you won’t be able to take her anywhere. And your puppy has so much more in store for her than a variety of different people. Exposing your puppy to all of life’s surprises will encourage calm acceptance and healthy curiosity to anything new the two of you may encounter.

Other animals

I recently worked with a 1-year-old terrier-whippet mix who was rescued from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Not only was snow a new concept to her, but squirrels were riveting. Sweet and demure, she turned 180 degrees when facing the prospect of chasing a yard full of busy, gray tidbits. Three directions were needed for this pup: “Back,” “Sit-stay,” and “Wait.” Impulse control was the order of the day.


Whether your pup is young or old, she must learn impulse control when she notices other animals in her surroundings. When you notice a critter before your puppy does, instruct her by saying “Back” and guide her to your side. Then kneel down facing the critter and use the command “Sit-stay” to encourage your pup’s containment. If your puppy’s radar alerts first, however, you’ll notice it in her ears, which will be erect and riveted. She’ll orient herself toward the distraction. When she does, direct “Back” and kneel down to brace her. Finally, instruct “Stay.”

As your puppy’s impulse control matures, encourage her to follow you by using the “Follow” direction. You can discourage any interest with a quick tug of the leash. Praise and treat her for resisting the temptation.

Weather patterns

Your puppy’s first thunderstorm may be a memorable event. The best thing you can do is absolutely nothing. Emotional reassurance on your part will get misconstrued as mutual fear, and your puppy could quickly develop a phobic reaction to the situation. By staying calm, reading a book, or laying low, you’re setting an example of how to act in a storm. Also consider taping a storm and playing it at low levels during play or feeding until your puppy is conditioned to the sound.


If your puppy has already developed a fearful reaction to storms, fit her for a head collar and guide her on the lead through each storm, acting as though nothing is happening. When possible, stay on the ground floor, offering your puppy nothing more than a flavorful bone. Pay attention to her only when she’s relaxed. Her reactivity will improve in time. Speak to your veterinarian about medication if the lead training doesn’t work.

Some puppies don’t like going outside in the rain and others don’t ever want to come in. Even though your puppy is unlikely to change her mind about the rain, you can try winning her over by leaving her inside as you play outside in the rain — but make sure you play where she can watch. If you have no luck, it’s time to get a big golf umbrella and plan quick outings with your pup.


Snow and cold present another issue, especially for tiny or thin-coated breeds. When the temperature drops, your puppy’s muscles contract. This contraction includes your puppy’s bladder muscles, which makes elimination difficult, if not impossible. Consider a puppy coat and, dare I say it, booties when faced with cold weather. If your puppy is small, consider teaching her to go on paper exclusively or in addition to eliminating outside. If you don’t like the papers inside your home, consider putting them in the hallway or garage and using them only when the weather’s bad. Flip to Chapter Housetraining for Success for more on paper training.


You’re walking down the road, whistling and strolling happily along when suddenly you notice three gigantic black garbage bags wafting in the wind. You visually assess the situation and are quickly done with the thought process. It’s not, however, so easy for your puppy. Puppies assess new objects with their mouths and can’t emotionally settle until they’ve had a good sniff. Whenever possible, approach the situation like a grown dog. Doing so will provide a confident, assured example for your puppy to follow.
Let the leash go slack when safe and hold the handle as you approach the object. Kneel or bend down to your puppy’s level and pretend to sniff the object confidently. Wait patiently as your puppy assesses your reaction. When she approaches, speak calmly, petting her and tucking her into your side when she’s comfortable.


If you can’t approach the object, simply kneel at your pup’s side and brace her as you remind her to “Stay” and then “Follow.”

Various noises

Included on my list of important noises to socialize my puppy, Whoopsie, to were fireworks, trucks, construction noises, sirens, and a baby’s cries (because I was pregnant at the time). Each time I either approached a loud situation or set one up, I kneeled and braced Whoopsie. If she was startled, I would back up until she was more at ease and then would repeat the handling technique. When she could comfortably face the distraction, I would calmly instruct her to “Stay.” Gradually we moved closer and eventually the instruction to “Follow” was enough to assure her because she had integrated the noise into her stimulus memory bank. I encourage you to follow this same approach with your puppy.


If your puppy has a more startled reaction, or if your puppy is older and unfamiliar with a noise or situation, you need to craft your approach to limit the intensity. If your pup looks like she might attack or run from a distraction, she’s clearly in a state of panic. Retreat from the situation immediately and figure out your puppy’s Red Zone (refer to the sidebar earlier in this chapter). Work on treat- and toy-based lessons, brace her, and gradually move closer to the distraction.


If a specific sound is unsettling to your puppy, tape-record it. Play it at gradually increasing volumes while your puppy is playing or eating. If she’s still startled by the noise, lower the volume and play it in a distant room.


You’ll have to wait until your puppy is inoculated to go on field trips. However, when your vet gives you the green light, go, go, go! Away from her home turf, surrounded by the unknown, your puppy will suddenly grow hyper with impulsive excitement, fearful, or defensive. Each reaction gives you the perfect opportunity to step in and direct her by using all the techniques found in Chapters Dealing with Daily Hassles and When Anxiety Strikes. Even though these techniques initially take a commitment of time, you’ll have the lifelong freedom to take your dog along with you wherever you go!
Regardless of your puppy’s response, use the directions “Let’s go,” “Stay,” and “Wait” as you navigate new places together. By doing so, your direction and posture says to your pup, “I’m the leader, follow me!”
In addition, bring a familiar bed or mat for your puppy to ride on in the car and to sit on when you’ll expect her to be still. If you’re going to an outdoor restaurant, her veterinarian, or school, bring her mat along and direct her to it. Her mat will act like a security blanket, making her feel relieved, happy, and safe.

Quieting an excitable response

Freaking out with excitement is a common response to a new place for some puppies. Fit this type of pup with a head collar and brace her frequently. If she’s motivated by food, use it to focus her attention. Stay very calm and be the example you want her to follow. Brace her securely before people approach you.


You’ll have to work hard to teach this type of pup not to jump. If she rolls onto her belly during a greeting, say “Belly up” to encourage that response.

Correcting a fearful reaction

A fearful puppy needs a guardian and protector to step up and direct her: Here’s your curtain call! Avoid the temptation to bend and soothe your puppy. Instead, use a head collar to guide her — a neck collar can intensify fears because it may feel as if it’s choking her. Brace her when she’s most distressed and stave off admirers until she’s more sure-footed. When it’s time for introductions, bring yummy treats and be generous. Point training is another effective technique that helps build confidence; you can read about it in Chapter Using Cool Tools and Groovy Gadgets.

Chilling out a defensive reaction

This defensive puppy takes life a little too seriously. Socializing her will be necessary to calm her intensity. Put a head collar on her and sit on the outskirts of a given activity or social setting. Teach your puppy the term “Back” to mean “Stay behind me because I’m in charge.” Repeat “Stay” when necessary, and remind her to “Follow.” Over time, your pup’s resolve will melt. Make a commitment now to socialize the paw off this puppy. However, remember that it may take many outings to mellow her caution to where she’ll become more pleasant to have around.

Sarah Hodgson