10400799_1048096481599_8614_nShe stood atop of the massive metal bleachers, her puppy triumphantly standing on one of the rows, as she called down to me.

“Aren’t you going to socialize your puppy?” she asked.

“I’m good.” I said with a smile. “I’m going to work on engagement down here.”

She looked perplexed. As if I had just spoken a foreign language, and then she continued working her dog in and out of the metal rows, offering plenty of treats as the two moved up and down the aisles together.

Occasionally, the puppy lost his footing. At times, he’d slip and slide and I’d see a ripple of fear pulse through his body. But he always recovered. Always followed. And always moved along side of his owner (albeit at times with a bit of coaxing) as she navigated her way up and down the shiny metal surfaces.

When she became confident in her puppy’s “socialization”, she made her way down the metal steps and met me on the grass.

It was then, she began her schooling.

If you know me, you know I’m not one for unsolicited training advice. But she was my friend, so I listened as she spoke, our friendship quelling my typical irritation.

“You know Meagan,” she said as she walked my way, “you need to expose your dog more – he’s going to develop fears. You are in a critical socialization period.”

“I’m good.” I asserted again. “I’m just going to work some fun engagement and focus exercises down here.” She pleaded with her eyes, and then gave me an disapproving grimace, to which I clarified, “it’s just that we are hyper focused on this right now. But thanks for the input.”

She resigned her argument, making her way to her SUV to load the puppy up, giving him plenty of praise and affection for working so hard to conquer the obstacle.

I didn’t see her drive away as baby Edge, my 4 month old (at the time) Belgian Malinois, and I quickly became immersed in a game of engagement, focus and strategic play.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. And you may decide we can’t be friends anymore. But hopefully, you’ll hear me out when I say it….

Here goes…..

I don’t socialize my dogs.

I know. Big gasps and sighs, and lots of folks downright disgusted that I say that.

But here’s the story. I’ve raised over A HUNDRED puppies in my career. Don’t want to toot my own horn, but raising puppies confidently is something that I’m D*** good at (excuse the language….or asterisks….but I’m passionate about this point). Ask anyone who has seen it….it’s kind of a speciality.

And every time I hear stories about how important socialization is, or how critical exposure is, I just shake my head and quiet my frustration because I believe strongly that it SIMPLY….ISN’T…TRUE.

I don’t socialize puppies…..wait, that’s a lie.

I socialized my first puppy Koby extensively. And if you haven’t heard me tell the story, or haven’t followed along on the blog much, I’ll give you a very quick backstory.

Koby was my first puppy back when I was in college and well before I knew any better. He came to me during the “Rainbows and Butterflies” time in my life, where I swore love was all you needed to change the world.

He was extensively socialized under the direction and supervision of our trainers from the time he was 10 weeks old all the way up until he bit someone in the face.

We took him everywhere – exposed him to other dogs, enrolled him in puppy socialization classes, let him meet all kinds of people and brought him everywhere we were able to when he was just a young pup.

And while we were working feverishly to prevent fears and bad behaviors from developing, many very severe issues began overtaking our well socialized pup, including (but not limited to) separation anxiety, very serious human aggression and reactivity towards other dogs.

So tell me again how socialization prevents fear?

These days, I don’t socialize my puppies. Well, not in the traditional sense. I take my puppies places often. But I don’t let people pet them. I don’t let them play with other dogs. I don’t “expose” them to different surfaces and make them climb all over anything and everything in order to “prevent fear”.

I don’t do any of that. And yet, I consistently raise very confident and driven dogs. And not only that, I regularly turn very timid puppies or puppies with severe issues (ahem….Shank) around and boost their confidence so that they actually work….and work well!

How is that even possible?

Here are the top 3 reasons I don’t socialize young dogs.

Reason #1 : Genetics Matter

Listen. No one really talks about this. But for those of us with working dogs or service dogs, we know without a doubt that genetics play a major role in our dog’s behavior. LIKE MAJOR.

12745418_10208806548299973_2342433802921710701_nTo my point, I have two dogs that are closely related. Both are anti social with strangers. The older one came to work with me every day at a very busy doggy daycare and got tons of exposure. The other got none. Both lack social graces with strangers.

I have another dog from different lines who came to me at 7 weeks old. And this puppy is a social butterfly. Absolutely perfect with other dogs, people and kids and totally trustworthy with everyone he meets. But socialization didn’t make him that way. He was NEVER socialized. That’s just how he is.

Don’t believe me? Here’s another example. I raised a dog from a pup who, at 2 years old decided she didn’t like female dogs. Like REALLY didn’t like them. Her daughter was raised by someone else. And she was a dog park dog – extensively socialized. Until she hit 2 years old, at which point she decided she didn’t like female dogs. Still think it is a coincidence? What if I told you that within that line, aggression between females consistently happens right around maturity? And for those of you arguing that it’s just a female thing and females just don’t typically get along, I’m here to tell you I have plenty of females that do (and yes, they are the same breed – just different lines).

And what about this one? My puppy is LOUD, barks like crazy and went through a resource guarding phase when he was young. And so did his brother. And so did his other brother. And their other brother did too. All raised in different homes, with different people and different rules. All with the same behavior. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Genetics matter!

A LOT of social issues (or lack thereof) are genetically inherited. Social dogs are social dogs. It’s the anti-social ones you need to work on (if that’s your goal).

Reason #2 : It’s Counter-Productive to Engagement

Check the blog lately. I’ve been hitting engagement and focus hard. And since it’s at the forefront of my brain, I’m going to hit it again.

Think about it. If teach my puppy that every time we are in public he gets all sorts of affection and attention from every person he sees, and if I teach my puppy that every dog is a playmate, why would he want to engage with me? In fact, in most exchanges, unless you are really good at this socialization thing, you simply become the person that is holding your dog back from all of the fun things in the world.

When our dogs regularly get rewarded by their environment, they learn to hold value in many things that AREN’T YOU. And when they do that, those things are built to compete DIRECTLY with you for your dog’s attention.

People aren’t as distracting if they never reward my dog. And if I’m the only one playing with and treating my dog, I’m going to be the most valuable thing in his environment. People and other dogs become background noise. They are just there….moving….but never engaging or threatening to steal my thunder.

Reason #3 You can do more harm than good

So remember when I told you that story about the bleachers? Yeah…well, I saw that dog the other day, and guess who is afraid of the bleachers? I’ll give you a hint…it isn’t puppy Edge who is now 10 months old and afraid to climb on nothing (despite never being exposed). It’s the dog that was “socialized”.

Puppies are young and impressionable. And sometimes, drawing focus to scary things and “pushing” the issue can actually make those scary things even more scary.

Accidents happen, people step on young puppy’s toes, other dogs get too rough and puppies stumble and fall off of things. And at a young and tender age, they are quite impressionable. So extensive socialization can very easily end up doing more harm than good.

So what do I do?

Ok. So I don’t lock my puppies up and shield them from the world. I don’t keep them cooped up in the house and wrapped in bubble wrap. And I don’t keep them from climbing on different surfaces. But if I’m going to expose them to different surfaces, textures and obstacles, I do it at home, in my yard where my puppy can move and explore at his own pace. This way, I’m not drawing any unneeded attention to the scary stuff, and I’m not forcing the issue. And my puppy is learning in an environment that is familiar. We can explore obstacles out and about once my puppy has had a chance to grow up a bit.

And I do “Socialize” my puppies. Just not in the traditional sense. Instead, I take my puppies places and focus my attention on fun engagement and focus games, and teaching the mechanics of strategic gameplay.

When we are out and about, we simply PLAY….

10400799_1048096521600_8958_n…… And as a result, the world becomes background noise….

…… And as a result, my puppies learn to focus on me…..

…… And as a result, nothing scary happens and my puppy leaves every encounter with even more confidence than he began with.

And listen – I never push the issue. I don’t get my puppies out to new places every day. I don’t push young puppies into new environments. I want them to grow and toughen a bit. I want them to build their relationship and trust in me, and I want to spend time building their drive and engagement so that they know the games before I start playing them in public.

Plainly stated, my young dogs learn FIRST that I’ve ALWAYS got their back. That I will ALWAYS keep them safe and that I won’t push them into a situation they aren’t ready for. It’s my job to keep them safe and that’s a job I take very seriously.

And I want my young dogs to learn that I am REALLY FUN.

If I’m successful in teaching those two lessons, the world becomes a far less scary place and I’ll end up with a confident dog every…single…time.

Now you may still be skeptical. And if I haven’t convinced you yet, let me leave you with one final story.

Crash is a Malinois who came to me as a young puppy – his owners having aspirations of him becoming a police dog.

The first day with me, he cowered and peed himself and wouldn’t come near me – just the sound of my (very loud) voice was too scary for this little guy. As time passed, Crash stayed terrified of the world. Instead of playing with toys, he would avoid them, certain they would come to life and attack him when he wasn’t looking. And one evening at training, I uncovered his intense fear of PVC as I picked up a piece that was laying on the field.

Crash’s fears were so intense as a young pup that I swore he would never work.

But instead of pursuing the traditional socialization techniques to get Crash over his fears, I simply let him grow up. I just let him be a dog. If I was going to have to resort to training to get him over his insecurities, I wanted him to be mature enough to handle it.

And I’ll be honest – I thought I was going to have some serious work to do. But that work wouldn’t come until he grew up and matured a bit more.

But Crash surprised me.

He is now 10 months old and I just finally put him back into training. My little terrified puppy who couldn’t even go near PVC laying on the ground, worked like he had been doing it all of his life. No fear at all. And this was his first session back with ZERO socialization or exposure efforts in between….wait, not true….I took him to the beach once. But otherwise, he just hung around the house, went for walks around the neighborhood, and simply grew up.

I am confident that if I would have socialized Crash, or tried to push the issue of getting him over his insecurities at all, regardless of how confident I am in my abilities, he would have crumbled and I would be faced with the task not of training a dog for work, but instead rehoming a chicken of a dog who was afraid of his own shadow.

Guys, I don’t socialize my dogs. At least not in the traditional sense. And if I did have social issues to overcome, I’d for sure do it when my puppy was older and could take it.

Instead, my focus is on teaching engagement. Teaching my puppy that I am the BEST thing in his world, and building his work ethic so that the world in essence becomes background noise. And I spend my days more than anything, teaching my dog that I’ve got his back. And that he can trust me. And that I am fun.

So judge away. And disagree. It’s ok. I’ve got thick skin.

But remember, (and I’m just going to leave you with this final thought right here) the only puppy I ever REALLY socialized was Koby….the dog that developed human aggression, dog aggression and severe anxiety.

Just let that sink in….

And I really hope we can still be friends, even if we agree to disagree.  😉

Want to learn our proven protocol for raising a confident and engaged puppy? Join us for our Puppy Raising 101 course. The fun starts January 19th!

Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

    223 replies to "More Harm than Good: 3 Reasons Why I Never Socialize my Puppies"

    • Jennifer

      This makes so much sense to me, I really wish I’d read this sooner! Thank you so much. 🙂

      • Blue Merle

        Me too. ^

      • Lynda Caughlin

        Wow , great article, i went through the same experiences with previous dogs i have owned. the 2 dogs i have now i did not socialize in the traditional sense and they are the most grounded , go any where 2 dogs i have owned, I too want my dogs to learn and enjoy engagement with me first and fore most before we tackle other things and all gauged on the personality traits of to the pup!
        thanks for this article, as i have noticed the trend of “socialized dogs” to have alot of issues.

      • Marlene mahoney

        I don’t socialize Lola not because she’s a pure pit but we are happy just being together as a family

      • Tiffany Laitner

        I really liked the article, but I do have a question as it relates to conformation dogs. You need a performance dog completely keyed into you. No distractions, no matter what….people or otherwise. How does this translate to those of us with conformation dogs who must be able to be handled by complete strangers at any time (i.e. judges on the table or on the floor, ringside hand off to a new handler, etc…) I am in no ways at all a fan of flooding. Body signals/stress signals are very important to read in order to have a happy well adjusted dog. So how would you train a soft tempered somewhat shy companion dog? In my breed, males, even those with sound genetics behind them seem to be predisposed to being shy and resource guarding of family members, unless handled early. They seem unwilling to allow anyone but one or two of their family members touch, handled interact with them. You can spot a dog who has not been handled outside of its own home a mile away. Those puppies/dogs who are taken out on a daily basis are much more outgoing and friendly, which translate to a more confident dog in the conformation ring. Looking for suggestions. Thanks

        • Meagan Karnes

          I love this question because I’m in the midst of working on this right now. While far different than conformation, in my sport too, my dog must be handled by others in some (in my opinion) pretty offensive ways (i.e. grabbing the nether regions). For my dogs, I teach this as an obedience exercise and practice often. It’s assigned a command (essentially stand and don’t move!) But I do this once the dog is older and can tolerate it, staring slow and rewarding frequently. A quick touch followed by a reward, working my way up to asking the dog to tolerate more between rewards, always cautious of stress thresholds and always working to stay below them. I do short frequent sessions followed by lots of play. 🙂

          • Calvin wilbon

            Hey I’m a young trainer that’s continuing to learn and I wanted to see if there was any way. I could speak with you

        • Elaine Reed

          My male is just that: very friendly and out going. I took him everywhere with me for first 20 months or so. I only ended it when I got my second dog. And since COVID I’ve basically stopped in place. My second dog was a holdout for the ring but after the final consideration, she was cut. Both are great dogs, both bred for the ring, but both cut in the end. I’m the winner in this game. She is also very friendly and outgoing. They are Aussies. She’ll be great in some things but my boy will do well in herding I think.

      • Dave

        This was an interesting article. I’ve been greatly debating whether or not to take my whippet pup to a socialization class. I’m in Los Angeles, and honestly… What I’ve seen mostly just seems like trendy stuff for people to do with their dog, and a way for people to make money. The pup came from a very experienced show breeder. The first few days with the pup were a bit stressful. He seemed to have more anxiety than I anticipated. If he didn’t have constant contact with me, he would freak. I had a well recommended local trainer come out to “assess” him. The assessment basically consisted of her talking to me for 1/2 hour about stuff I could have found on the internet myself, but it cost me $125 to get from her. She looked at him sleeping and said he didn’t look nervous. lol

        Since then, I’ve been carefully taking him out into a residential neighborhood, since he has not had his second shots yet. Hysterically, the only thing he showed significant fear of, was an ice cream truck. He was a bit afraid of some barking dogs, but after just a couple weeks, he doesn’t even pay attention to them now. He mostly just monitors things from afar, with basic curiosity, and decent confidence. I’ve slowly introduced him closer to busy streets. He’s sat right next to noisy garbage trucks and all kinds of stuff. He loves people and goes right up to them, tail wagging. Any time he starts to get a little overwhelmed, he gives me the ‘look’ where he’s like… ‘I don’t like this dad’. I then pick him up and sooth him, or let him sit in my lap and observe until he’s OK with it. I never force him farther than he wants to go. If he is still nervous, I just take him home. To me, this seems like a good way to do things. I feel like bringing him into a room with a dozen crazy puppies and people could easily tun into a negative experience, that could do more harm than good. I’m still not sure if I’m doing the right thing though.

        • Boaz Migdan

          Sounds to me just like the way papa nature does it. ever seen wolf cubs on NG? after they get out of their birth cave they go and explore and the minute they are frightened they come running in. who r we to know better?

        • karen

          Whippets are velcro dogs in my opinion. Mine was easy and outgoing, but hated strange situations unless he was attached to me: shot clinics, baths, stuff like that. Walking, playing, being handled by a known handler for show… no worries1

        • Elaine

          I have a pup who is now 8 months I haven’t wanted her to socialize with other dogs because she is a house pet. When I got her she was supposed to be humble but was frightened to do everything. Outside, inside, people and all. But she knew I was Mom. I took her to a dog park and the dogs tried to mount her at 5 months. So you better believe I didn’t take her again. I have a resident in my community who calls her a menace because my dog knows she doesn’t like her. Like my children I don’t bring my puppy near anyone that she’s uncomfortable with.

          • John

            And now youre going to have to put up with an aggressive dog for the rest of your life or until pink juice lol

    • Leigh Smith

      I think I am in love. Finally….an end to this pushing all sorts of stimuli at pups.

      • Ron

        Ive been doing this approach since i got my puppy..at 6 weeks old, hes now about 16-17 mos old..Malinois, male. Im not a trainer…just an owner. This article is going to help me u derstand just what it actually is that im doing. Let his instinct influence what i do. Many things mentioned in this article, he just does. Inhabe a few issues i want to work through and may actually need a trIner for but in the meantime i am going to let him work at his pace and help steer his drive.

    • Roxie Sotak

      As a past search dog and ring sport handler I can’t agree more. I hyper socialized my search dog in only one way, when we went on walks my pockets were full of cookies, and if I saw a trusted person I made sure my puppy saw me give that person a cookie to share with the puppy. No petting, no ohhhhh and awwwww, no leaning over and ruffling the head and back, just a lovely cookie and “gotta go, Mom and I are busy, thanks for giving me Mom’s cookie”. He grew to love everyone and everything, no fear and totally engaged in me to the point that one night when it came to breed him, I was sitting on the couch while the bitch’s owner held her head, I moved my hand on my knee and boom…. My dog dismounted and came over to see if I wanted something first before he got down to “business”. That was the dog I wanted. He succeeded every obstacle with joy and power and laughed together with me through his whole life.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Sounds like you guys had an amazing relationship. Love it!

        • Lesley

          First of all, socialization is enabling a youngster to develop APPROPRIATE responses to those he or she is intended to RELATE to. The example of the puppy on the bleachers is not an example of socialization it is a poor example of Habituation. In fact it sounds more like flooding. So many people misunderstand socialization. It really isn’t about chucking so many interactions at a puppy, it should be about learning not to be either afraid or a bully. The point about genetics is all very well but what about all those cross breeds? What about rescued dogs with no antecedents? Not everyone is in a position to estimate their puppy’s inate tendencies based selecting them from a litter of choice.

          • Meagan Karnes

            Yes. I completely hear you. The problem is, your definition of correct socialization is not the widely accepted one. The widely accepted version encourages people to take their dogs out and get them interacting with people and other dogs consistently. And most people don’t know how to read stress signals. The average pet owner doesn’t know things like “Habituation” or “Flooding”. So they hear socialization and they make ALOT of mistakes. There is never a time when I find the traditional and widely accepted notion of socialization to be beneficial. And regardless of genetic make up, I will always practice guarded socialization with a focus on engagement and work ethic. I find it to be most productive and what I always advocate as a safe alternative to traditional socialization.

            • Sophie

              We have started fostering a rescue puppy who we have no knowledge of her life up to being rescued in a kill shelter at approx 4 months old.

              Assuming she’s had very little contact with basically anything and is particularly fearful of people stood up.

              We are not sure what to do for her… she’s improving in the home but has a melt down outside. She’s improving in our garden a tiny bit. Should we continue to just get her entirely comfortable in one aspect before trying to move on to anything else?
              She is likely about 5.5 months now and I’m worried she won’t have a very bright future if we can’t help her to see the world as a less scary place.

            • Meagan Karnes

              Best bet is to get with an in person trainer – they can put eyes on your pup’s behavior and give you the best course of action. Best of luck to you!

      • Solara

        With that history I would imagine they are a nightmare at the vets office, unable to cope in a crowded group setting off lead (i.e. family comes over for the holidays) and if they ever get loose? I would bet no stranger could help catch them. They may look great in the ring but are they really adequately equipped for LIFE?!

        • Tamandra

          Wow that’s a lot of assumptions!

          • Ron

            Has a point though..my Malinois male, is a nightmare in some situations..hes just so hyper…and bloody strong. Hence my need for so e professional help and advise.

        • John

          Yep 100%

    • Paula Wright

      Thanks Meagan.. Wise advise and a good reminder for me !!

    • Alain Fortin


      I dont write much on internet.

      Been training since 1974 , sch, ckc, private dogs.

      Your social idea is interesting,

      Bred labradors and germ..shep.

      And you are write that social behavior is different in same litter.

      I never stoped to think about it seriously,
      But you tickeled my mind about 2 dogs reared in a far away backwoods and when we arrived these pups now 4-5 yesrs old were social as a priest, of coarse they bark upon arrival they snif us and became friends.

      They were from good lines, of work IPO, also.

      In this same litter, 2 females were put down ,owners had bad time socialising them , lived in city.

      Yep, you tickeled something to think about and answered many thoughts i had.

      Sorry for my english,i dont write often.
      Have a nice day,
      I will follow your site,


    • Randy

      great read and great points!

    • Sarah

      Cool article and it actually makes a lot of sense. Think back to before this fixation on rearing dogs like we rear children…dogs of the 50s or so…were they so much less social, more timid or more aggressive than dogs today just because they didn’t attend “puppy kindergarten”?

      Is puppy socialization really just a marketing ploy developed to hook in new dog owners early and make money off of them for the next year + as they go through puppy kindergarten and levels 1 – 3 of obedience? And it’s a great motivator too, by the way, to use fear to motivate people to participate in these programs.

      I had always just sort of accepted puppy socialization as a “thing” though I never pushed it much. My own dogs weren’t socialized outside of normal daily exposure. I guess I can’t think of a situation where lots of socialization helped a dog…how would you know what he would have become had you not socialized him? I can, however, think of plenty of situations where puppy kindergarten made already fearful dogs even MORE fearful of other dogs as they were forced into those situations and expected to interact.

    • Steve White

      Love your out look ; Good training I agree with you 110%; Let them learn something on their own and in their time

    • Bob Hennessy

      Another great article, Meagan. So many good points. I love your writing skills as well. Fun, agile and to the point. thank you.

    • Sue Matthews

      Thanks so much for writing this Meagan… your experience mirrors mine in so many ways. For too long, puppy buyers have been told to expose their puppies to “100 people/places/noises/surfaces/other dogs in 100 days.” Unfortunately they were not warned about developmental fear periods, and so in their lust to socialize their dogs to meet some experts’ expectations, all they really accomplished was to flood those pups beyond threshold and create a lot of problems that in many cases are very difficult or impossible to undo.

      I’ve been breeding, raising, and training service dogs since the late 1990s. I have yet to wash out a puppy or adult dog. The common denominators have been the same elements you described: Genetics (they are all descended from my original service dog), protecting the puppies from flooding during sensitive periods, building a trusting relationship with me and a few other dog smart people, assuring that any dog to dog interactions are with dogs well known to be excellent puppy raisers, and most of all, giving the puppies time to mature both physically and emotionally in a consistent environment that is fun, safe, and rich with confidence building and problem solving games. By the time they are older and ready to work in new environments, the transition is entirely seamless. They have had no problems with new environments or distractions. They ignore people unless they were asked to ‘say hello’ briefly,or with ignoring other dogs. After training is largely completed, some of the dogs have remained with me to work as my service dogs, and other have been placed with other individuals who need assistance. Those dogs have all transitioned to their new people very easily.

      Thanks again for explaining it all so well.

      • Sandra

        I am 68 years old, have chronic balance problems from my cancer treatments. I otherwise am in pretty good health and plan to reside in my little beach house, with some outside assistance when the time comes and with a service dog. Will you email me to let me know if you train health/age related service dogs or if you can refer me to someone of your caliber? Thanks.

    • Julie

      I believe that your technique is actually a GREAT technique for socialization, but one that many average pet owners don’t do because they don’t know. That said, I also feel puppy socials ARE actually valuable, but that the vast majority are run poorly and with no focus on engagement and unfortunately often a full on free-for-all with no steps to protect a fearful dog. They’re often flooding. It takes finding a darn good program, and that’s rare. I think It’s a stretch to say they are all bad, but indeed, many are awful. I honestly feel really proud of our groups, but we take great strides to move very slowly and spend at least half, sometimes most of the session working on engagement.

    • Amber

      This was an amazing article, I really enjoyed reading and it makes so much sense. I never would have thought that over socializing a puppy could lead to those issues. We managed to adopt a pretty great dog last summer and he’s been one of the best dogs I’ve had. The only major issue we’ve had with him is that the kids make him really nervous and it leads to some nipping.

    • Gracie

      I recently read a behavioral study that I wish I could find again, but it essentially stated that socialization is massively important for puppies – even to the degree that it is best to socialize now, and train them later, because there is a window in their development that will close forever if you fail to teach them boundaries and manners. It stated that allowing your puppy to organically experience the world around them and learn from it is key to having a healthy adult dog. It outlined that the puppy should be allowed to ignore other people and dogs and it should be allowed to learn that other people and dogs can ignore *them*, and so on.

      How can isolating your dog from all other animals ever help them from learning how to interact with them on a healthy level? I just can’t see how /never/ socializing a puppy could ever be good.

      Forcing your puppy to do things that scare them is bad. Socialization is not. I work with dogs for a living and the ones that give me the most problems are the dogs that were never properly socialized with dogs or people. Whenever I hear a new client mention “Well, he’s never really been around other dogs…” I know I’m in for a difficult week.

      Perhaps since you only have bred dogs, and as you said genetics is the biggest factor, that is why your puppies never need to be around other dogs? Because the average dog owner doesn’t have a 10,000 dollar pedigree; they rescued, adopted, or purchased from a pet store/craigslist/etc.

      In my experience, the average puppy absolutely needs to be socialized. There is a dog I work with regularly that has absolutely no understanding of “enough is enough”. He cannot play with other dogs. He is not aggressive; he is just WAY too boisterous. He ignores warnings and body language and continues to jump all over the other dog and needs to be removed. As I suspected, he was an only dog and had limited contact with other canines as he grew up and his owners indulged him whenever he wanted attention. He never learned that being neutral/ignored was okay. He barely handles being left alone.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks so much for your comment. I want to clarify that I am not a breeder. I am a trainer and have raised over 100 puppies for working applications from different breeders and have trained over 1000 pet dogs over the course of my career – all different breeds. I “socialize” but not in the traditional sense. I don’t take puppies out every day and I never let them to engage with people or other dogs outside of our home environment. They can see them, and move around them while playing engagement and focus games but I don’t let them interact, as my personal experience is that it is detrimental to development. I’m happy you get great results socializing dogs. It has been my experience that a focus on engagement and building drive and work ethic is more productive. But I’m always thrilled to see others getting great results.

        • Lori Fausett

          Nice reply and one I truly believe is accurate.

        • Dezray

          Thank you for the thought provoking article. I believe relationship and confidence building are very important topics. When train working dogs, do you have a specific method by which you transfer the strong bond you created to a new handler? Do you teach handlers specific techniques? Once a dog places high value on the one to one bond, they probably seek that with other handlers in your absence?

          • Meagan Karnes

            If I’m transferring a dog to a new handler, yes, we spend time together so that I can teach the handler a few tricks to ease the transition, and more importantly, to get the handler on board with the training that was done. But given the confidence we build, the transfer tends to go pretty smoothly.

        • Glenda Cusker

          This is awesome. I agree.

        • Kim

          Meagan, You are very informative and I can appreciate your input. I believe one of the key points you made and not many people may see that highlighted is: Genetics. With that said, my Belgium Malinois have always had exceptional responses to other people and dogs and it had nothing to do with not socializing.

      • Nancy Jocoy

        I read your comment and will say the absolutely greatest dog I have for social skills is an intact male GSD who was only socialized with a handful (my own and one other) of reliable adult dogs (when he was a young pup) who, themselves, were working dogs who were dog neutral. He is a working cadaver dog and can work in the vicinity of loose dogs and they don’t even exist in his mind if he is working. .

        If he meets dogs, the genetic hardwiring (and maybe the limited exposure to my own adult dogs as he was a puppy) is there and he has the basic social graces. He is not bothered by snarky dogs. As a puppy, I always put me between him and strange dogs. In the past I had dogs who had puppy classes, puppy playtime etc. No. I wound up with fear reactive dogs or dogs who could not do obedience because what they really wanted was to play with other dogs. My current dog was extensively “socialized” in that he was exposed to all of the rest of the world as “background noise” but not socialized in the normal context Only me and his work were interesting and he is extremely focused when he does work. I absolutely find truth in this article.

        Perhaps it depends some on your goals. I don’t want a dog I can take to the dog park and have him play with strange dogs. I don’t care whether or not he is a social butterly and need him to ignore other dogs and people. I cannot tell you how many compliments I get about his wonderful temperament. After years of having past dogs with issues, I am definitely sold. I will say I did have more controlled interaction with people for him but Search dogs do have to spend a lot of time engaging with people. Agree, though, genetics is a large part of it as well.

    • Tamandra

      This. So so true. I have learned on my current dog. My saving grace is that I have a huge play relationship from early on. But if I had scaled it way back, it would’ve saved a lot of grief. I think it’s just too overwhelming, especially for working line dogs, to have constant stimuli bombardment. And ‘problems’ I thought were going to be very hard to overcome, just dwindled with maturity. And the genetics affecting it all? So much yes!

    • Ann Burke

      In credibly interesting article.. Definate food for thought your clearly getting sound results.. Well done brilliant work and commitment to getting the best out of our four legged companions

    • Jennie Creighton

      Have you worked with Rough Collies and would you still recommend your socialization approach? Thank you

      • Meagan Karnes

        While I haven’t raised Rough Coated Collies from pups, I have worked with a handful as older dogs. I do advocate this approach for any breed. I haven’t found one I’ve felt wouldn’t benefit from a more guarded socialization approach. But I’ll caveat that by saying that in no way am I recommending locking puppies up and letting them live in a yard or home while they are young. I would say take them out – don’t overdo it – and play lots of fun engagement and focus games. Don’t force them into busy areas right off – work up to that. But always keep the focus on you. That’s always my recommendation, regardless of breed 🙂

        • Kathie

          Thank you! I have an 8 y/o Mini Aussie. Her litter was very fussy and she seemed to be reactive. I took her to a puppy class for socialization. A Chelsie X fresh out of the shelter came tearing over to her. She didn’t cry but I am sure she wrenched her bad elbows. With a lot of work, I can take her out but I hypermanage situations because she cannot handle it. Her older half-sister was never taken to be socialized and has leaned that agility people have treats. 🙂 Red will go up and beg for treats.

          I have a 5 y/o Aussie that was never socialized but early passed a CGC with my home training. Bryn is the happiest dog with a terrific disposition (genetics). Per the breed standard, Bryn is cautious with people.

          At agility trials, the number of people who think all dogs should play and be friendly drives me nuts. As long as my dogs are not attacking other dogs or people, they can stick by my side without interacting with every dog.

          I am getting a new puppy tomorrow. I was driving myself a little nuts trying to figure out the ‘right’ thing to do because she will be my next agility dog. We will go to the park, etc aND just hang out with some good treats. Her parents have good dispositions and we will be fine!

          • Meagan Karnes

            Yes yes yes! Love it 🙂 And sorry about your experience at puppy class. It’s an all too common phenomenon sadly. But kudos to you for all of the really great hard work you put in! Love it!

      • Reija & Alva

        I have a rough collie and I could tell about her socialization.

        I am not for the idea of rubbing the puppy’s face into everything possible, presented as socialization in the article. You should never force the puppy to approach or to be in space the don’t like.

        And I agree with the OP this trait is inherited. If you do not have your puppy yet make sure the parents are confident and social. Alva’s parents were both trialed at sports.

        I let the puppy explore. Alva was a very social little puppy. She wanted to meet everyone. I was no one to say no. She liked most dogs as much. I wondered if she’d stay as hypersocial for collies have a reputation of shyness and fears.

        I took her to places. The busy streets in the middle of the city, the railway station, public traffic (pets allowed here) and so on. She was not afraid of anything except a barking big dog she could not see. After an excursion day I usually gave her a day off or two and only walked her in familiar environment. I wanted to be sure she would not be overstimulated and had enough rest.

        I tried to make sure she had only good or neutral experiences with people and dogs. She had a puppy playmate. I had already started her obedience training and when she once ran off to another dog without permission I arranged a lesson where she learned that I am better than other dogs. She does not know how to ask permission but I try to teach my dogs that they are not allowed to run everywhere on a whim and that if I say here they have to come.

        When she was three months she met my parents’ dogs for the first time. At that point I should have addressed her excessive playing with their younger dog P for P later developed resentment towards her. P is shy and a bit nervous. Their older dog was a good lesson though. She did not like puppies so when Alva approached, Netta the Tervueren gave her one freezing glare. Alva stopped and went away.

        At four months or so Alva had a fear period. Gone was the hypersocial puppy. She avoided people. Her attraction towards other dogs never faltered though. I never forced her to meet new people. I did not arrange hot dog feeding rings with other people. By the age of one year she had brewed into a calm, curious, friendly dog who during the years has learned to like people petting her. Before, I suspect, she wanted to see people because she is curious, not because if she really wanted to meet them. Alva can be taken everywhere and she is good with puppies and timid dogs.


      Excellent article!!! Training dogs for 20 yrs professionally…. all mine raised as you describe, with very selective and careful socialisation. I would not say we don’t socialise (that means raised just at home) but rather that we don’t over-socialise. People need to know the dangers of oversocialisation…. you can have too much of a “good thing”.

    • Barbara Liliom

      Let me tell you I experienced the same with my puppies. I had a very shy puppy and I thought sighhh I have another shy puppy… and I let him grow up I did not force him to do anything and he began a confident adult. I had a puppy who was not confident with people and I gave her to a girl who lived in the city. I thought socialization will help her. She developed more fear of people she is still panicking if I take her to the city. ( I got her back) So I think you are totally right and I do the same. Dogs listen to me they focus on me where ever I go.

    • Mark

      Think I’m going to agree to disagree with this one Meagan.. There are a few very salient points in here though. First Genetics matter. Second that many folks don’t know what there doing or miss the fear periods and don’t know when to lay off. In many instances they may do more harm then good, (have to agree with you here.) Trying too hard to socialize there dogs.. (I am totally against dog parks for example..) Personally I have trained thousands of dogs of every breed. What I have found is that with skill. Knowing how to socialize and what to do with building a quality inviromental program, is the key.. Building a working dog as I call it, is an art. Especially a working dog that you want to get more out of because of there end duties.. Your slant on engagement is spot on. (One of the many reasons I hate dog parks..) What I took away from this article the most, and the comment replys. Is that folks take things so literal. They each perceive what they read in there own particular way.. Most will come away from this one, going the other way too far and robbing there dogs of critical development that they need.. Developing a working dog is an art. For me I will stick with my “People Places & Things” program that I have created and used to success for so many years.. it includes teaching a solid greeting behavior to my dogs, as well as a lot of agility to build confidence. Also noises and other inviromental stimuli.. The catch I think in all this, is knowing what your doing and not pushing the animal when you dont have to, or when you see that the dog is having a problem with something.. Knowing when to back off and not to push.. Also having a few tricks in your bag. How to use drive to get the dog through things.. Using a strong dog to help a week one. How to use these things and others, so as to not let the dogs young mind go into a worry state.. Like I said it’s an art. In the end knowledge and experience is key.. Well written article though. Like I said, with quite a few very salient points..

      • Anna

        Yes, I agree with this. The key to training puppies is learning what the body language cues mean and when to encourage vs when to back off. Varying methods can be used, but for most puppies meeting friendly new people, well behaved and tolerant older dogs, and going new places is an important way to reinforce inherited attributes. The worst thing you can do is leave your puppy at home, and it must be reiterated that teaching focus in new places and situations can only occur if you’re actually taking the puppy along for new experiences.

    • Patricia Giovannoni

      Reminds me of what my Grandfather used to say about dogs ( and humans ) ” You cant knock out what is bred in , and you cant put in there what is not in there ” and that was years before anything was known about genetics

      • Mark

        I like this one Patricia, sounds like your Grandfather was a smart man. 😉

    • Jane Wood KCAI

      Such good sense and so well written. I and many trainers have been singing this song in the UK for a few years but we are up against breeders and vets who insist on ‘socialisation’ without explaining what it actually is. The misconception is that it is about exposing the puppy to as many dogs as possible as soon as it is vaccinated. This of course leads to dog orientated dogs with the results you so brilliantly describe or dogs that learn to bully or dogs that learn to be fearful as a result of these experiences. These puppies of course don’t have recall skills in
      place yet so the whole thing goes horribly wrong at the very earliest age. Thank you so much for this.

    • Abby

      I really like this article, and honestly it makes a ton of sense. It also makes me feel better about the lack of socialization my puppy (now 9.5 yrs old) received. I was 10 when my mom brought my corgi home to be the “family” pet. He quickly became my pet although I have 2 siblings because the cuteness wore off quickly when potty training was involved. At first mom was all for socializing and taking him places, but then she began having severe allergic reactions, and dog hair was no longer tolerated in the house and certainly not in her car. So Bentley was put in my dad’s office garage off the house where I continued to play and care for him, and although he always loved people he never really liked other dogs and would fight with the neighbor’s little SHITzu (spelling intended) if they ever happened to cross paths. I just appreciated my dog for who he was, and just decided he’d always be an only dog, and that was that. Until I went to college and brought him with me as soon as I could. He went everywhere with me (TSC runs, to farm chores, trail riding), and suddenly he wasn’t attacking other dogs anymore! He went to the dog park and ACTUALLY PLAYED NICE (after a short warm up period). He has even been a wonderful foster brother to 4 dogs and 2 cats. His littermate, Bella, is owned by my aunt and her story is the exact opposite. She was taken everywhere as a puppy. Spa days, parks, the school she teaches at. Everywhere. But she’s not outgoing or good with other dogs. She barely tolerates Bentley and they were best friends as pups. Where Bentley is confident and well behaved around other dogs and people, Bella will cower next to her mom in situations with too much excitement. Now neither of us are anywhere near professional dog trainers (although I’m proud to announce that I start apprenticing with an accomplished trainer this week), but I think Bentley’s story is a good example for this article.

    • Tyler

      I’m going to start by saying I agree that exposure to get them over fears in not really a good idea and can absolutely do more harm than good. However, I’m not really sure how not letting your dog socialize has any benefits. For situations involving training police dogs, yes, bit not canine companions. If you don’t want to do it that is your choice and there’s nothing wrong with that, we all have our ways but there are plenty of negative benefits to doing that as well. – most dogs understand that you are not just the one holding the leash but you are their best friend and the alpha. Dogs are naturally social creatures and trying to deny that behavior can cause depression. – there is no direct competition because love and affection is not a competition, that sounds more like a personal issue. – my dog knows she’s going home with me at the end of the day but you can see her light up when people pay attention to her and there is nothing wrong with that, she’s all the better for it. She remains loyal and doesn’t ever leave my side to go play with someone else when we are outside but will wait until she crosses paths with someone.- I let her socialize naturally and never forced it though and that’s what makes the difference. As far as the rest of the training went, I trained her without treats and the treats are just for special occasions, she learned she doesn’t need treats to listen. – I’m not saying what you are doing is wrong and it’s ok that we have different traing methods but pushing the idea of non socializing to people who aren’t experts in raising dogs seems like a bad idea. – source: 25 years of working with animals and studying behavior.

      • Melinda Schneider

        Tyler, while there’s some sense in what you are saying, you should know that hierarchy theories (alpha dog, etc) have been disproven. Dogs do not understand you when you try to be the “alpha” dog. Dogs are smart enough to know that WE are not dogs! That theory came about based on studies of captive wolves. It was later learned that wolves in the wild behave very differently. It is also known that, while dogs descended from wolves, dogs are now an entirely different species. To suggest that they behave as wolves, and should be trained similarly to the way wolf packs operate, it as ludicrous as saying that humans children should be raised as chimpanzees or gorillas! Wolf packs consist of families, parents and 2-3 years of offspring. While there is an alpha pair, they do not use violence or punishment in the raising of their pups. The alpha pair is simply the breeding pair in pack and the alpha male decides where the pack should go and when. Dogs learn best (and this has been proven scientifically) when we partner with them (rather than “be the alpha boss” over them) and use reward-based training. Food treats are often the easiest, but certainly not the only, positive reinforcement that we can implement. Many dogs are just as easily rewarded with a toy, a game, a pat, praise, or the opportunity to play with another dog or to chase a squirrel. Life rewards (called Premack after the man who first suggested we use them) can be very powerful. You are certainly on the right tack with your “natural” socializtion and you are right that force has no place either in socialization or in training. But if you do a little more research and start implementing treats into a system based on focus and attention to YOU, you may find that your training rises to a whole new level.

        • Justin Eugene Stauffacher

          Sorry but I need to point out that most theories are never disproven, rather critiqued. Such is the case with dominance/alpha theories. While it is true that the alpha male is simply the one who decides where the pack should go, hunt and when, that is just a more accurate description of an alpha. It is the leader or the one in charge. This does not disprove the dominance/alpha theory. When you use positive reinforcement with food training, you decide when the dog gets the treat, you are the alpha or the one in charge of those resources. I don’t disagree that you are also working with the dog, but confusing the alpha as meaning the victor of violent exchanges is incorrect. Also, human behavior and how we raise our children are extremely related to chimp, bonobo, and gorilla behavior, Google it. Just like the alpha in a wolf pack is the one who decides when to eat hunt etc., so is the same with dogs and humans as we decide where they go and when. Laslty, there is no current genetic evidence that suggests dogs are a different breed from wolves, although it is being researched heavily due to the variety of phenotypic differences

          • Justin Eugene Stauffacher

            Excuse me , I meant to say there is no proof dogs and wolves are different species. A species is defined as
            “a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.” This is perfectly consistent with the idea that they are a part of the same species as wolves, albeit one of several sub-species part of an entire species

    • Melissa

      Incredibly valuable perspective, Meagan. I always try to teach my puppy parents never to force their dog to do anything that makes them (the dog) uncomfortable. After all, the typical pet parent only spends an hour or 2 a day in public. The other 22 hours are spent together building a relationship, bonding and teaching your puppy that you are the best thing in their lives. Or, as you so eloquently put it, that you “have their back” and are fun and trustworthy! I think many of the reactive and fearful dogs I have in private lessons may have been subjected to the type of traditional socialization that you have stated can be harmful.
      Your article now gives me a solid platform on which to help them understand that the world should be considered background noise, and they should be their dog’s “go to” hooman! Thank you.

    • Dennis Murray

      we have Australian pure dingoes, the first one we had we didn’t socialize, she had a great fear of anyone who she did not know.

      as we wanted to take our dingoes out to the public to show the true nature of the dingo, we very soon learned that dingoes need to be socialized form an dearly age, from around 4 weeks, as dingoes have a pack instinct we had to become part of the pack, then we had to become pack leader so as the pack felt safe when we were out and about showing our dingoes to the public, the way we become pack leader is to make the dingoes sit before they are fed.

      now 20 years latter all our dingoes are socialized as are all dingoes that go out tom the public, if we do not do this our dingoes would have a nervous break down every time we took them out.

      Dingoes look like dogs but they are not dogs they are closer to the wolfs and as such need to keep that pack confidence going. so if you have a dingo you must socialize them.

      • Melinda Schneider

        Dennis, Meaghan is not suggesting that puppies and dogs should not be taken out and about, rather she is saying that it should be done in a way that reinforces attention to the owner/handler rather than an insistence on interacting with every dog and person they meet and every environmental challenge. It sounds like you are doing a fine job with your dingoes (who admittedly are not the same as domesticated dogs, nor are they exactly the same as wild wolves). It certainly makes sense to have the dogs sit before meals, that’s called manners which is quite different from “pack leadership.” See my comments to Tyler (above) about pack (hierarchy) training. You may think that’s what you’re doing but honestly, it sounds more like positive-reinforcement training and that’s a good thing!

    • Roger Williams

      Now if all the people who see me with pups and want to pet them could read this, that would be cool! lol Great article. Genetics are the key.

    • Marc Dillemuth

      Interesting. I can understand it if you are trying to create a strong bond with just one person. I wonder if this holds true if you’re training a dog for a large family with many visitors??

      While I had 3 Tervuren I found it curious with my current Aussie that at 11 months we went on a long morning walk on a mountain trail for the first time. While she trusts me I found her to be quite scared of all those new smells and noises from wild animals. I even stopped to take her picture and 3 deer crossed behind her. She stayed but turned her head very cautiously. And I nonticed her tail was tucked most of the walk. This is a dog that came from very good stock in the herding world.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Yes. For sure. If the dog learns that it doesn’t get rewarded by its environment early on, the handler doesn’t necessarily matter much 🙂 Big families are great and no problem. The dog will just be easier to manage down the road. And many dogs have an initial apprehension with things like deer….until they realize they are strong enough to make the deer run! After running a herding center for years, I can say this response is quite common until the dog is shown they can actually “move” the animal with their pressure.

    • Natalie

      Do you recommend the same approach with all the breeds?
      How about dogs which are naturally wary of strangers from early age and will bark and lunge although they not suppose to be guard dogs?
      How about dogs which are just a companion dogs and are not trained for an intensive one-on-one work?
      How about the pups and adults which later will be sold/rehomed to other people- how the focusing on one person will help?
      And how does it applies to times when the pups need to undergo something what is not pleasant for them- like veterinary or grooming visits and handling by strangers?

      • Meagan Karnes

        Hi Natalie. Great questions. Yes. I recommend this approach with all breeds. I allow exposure in my environment at the dog’s own pace. If dogs are naturally wary of strangers, I would give them an opportunity to grow up a bit and mature and at about 8-9 months I would begin counter conditioning measures in order to combat any insecurities. I don’t like to push dogs that are naturally wary in stressful situations until they are a bit older at which point I would be very strategic about my exposure. Keep in mind, for the first 6 years of my career, I was strictly an anti-aggression trainer, working with dogs with severe issues. I’ve always found this approach to work well. I feel like the techniques apply well for both working dogs and family pets.

    • Anja

      I was wondering if or when you would introduce the dogs to others in a play situation? Do you have dogs come visit at your home environment or leave playing till they are adults?
      Thanks, I found this article very interesting 🙂

      • Meagan Karnes

        Hi! I allow my dogs to play with other age appropriate dogs in my yard. I’m very fortunate that I always have multiple training dogs and multiple puppies here at any given time so my dogs will always get at least some dog exposure at our home.

    • Shelly

      Such an amazing post, thank you. How would i go about preventing one female attacking another all the time? Your advice will be appreciated.

    • Raven

      I’d venture to say you DO socialize, and very well… Your pups see the world, but framed in work and focus. That likely IS better for your pups. However, your average pet owner won’t be able to do that, so discouraging socialization in the traditional sense may be counter-productive. Your example of what not to do is unlikely to happen with a pet dog, too. But some trainers run to the extreme with many things… I think that is what you are pointing out, really. Exposure to the world, but not ‘everything is amazing’ training… My head would explode too, if I was supposed to think everyone and everything was as awesome as the next. 🙂

    • Angela

      As a senior living alone who acquired a 61/2 week old AKC GSD from a back street breeder (shame on me but I just knew he would be better off coming home with me than many others!). I never stressed him in his early months/years. I did allowed him the opportunity to meet other dogs and humans BUT I always encouraged him to stay focused on me, I knew we were going to need to walk together in life and I wanted him to know I always had his back. I was lucky because he he came equipped with a quiet, thoughtful demeanor so our partnership had a lot of potential. Now, as entire male (kept that way for health reasons, not for breeding) at 3 years old I have a dog who people often comment about. “What a sweet well trained dog” they say. Yep, he sure is but his genetic makeup brought so much to the table. My training was very shaky but I always kept these thoughts in my mind …. “you have as much right to be a dog as I do to be a human … I will allow you to use your brain … I do not want you to become a Zombie.”. My boy is a competent scent dog … Morel mushrooms and now being trained for blood tracking/game retrieval. Whenever he is faced with circumstances, scary or otherwise that he has never previously experienced he looks at me and asks “OK, what now?”. It is such a joy to partner with a dog such as this!

    • Ted

      Some breeds require more exposure than others to be comfortable in new situations. I would say the chow chow is one. I also raise and breed catahoulas and from my experience, if you don’t take the pup out casually, they will develop issues. Some bloodlines are more high strung than others. That’s unfortunate though. So when you are thinking about getting a catahoula for cow/hog work, you have to weed out the ones you don’t have a preference for then you end up with a dog you know you will like.

    • Carolyn Tanner

      I have to say, after reading your article……..I accidentally did what you are talking about with a Doberman pup I had. He was happy (and I do mean HAPPY) and extremely energetic! He was my 3rd dog and I just didn’t have the time to spend with him that I had done with my other two. He was not the bravest dog in camp, but I didn’t really push him much. He became very social, did some introductions to IPO with him and also some SAR work.
      He did the SAR work like a pro, was hesitant with the IPO, but good prey drive which could have been channeled into defense if handled properly. He turned out to be very confident in public. Stayed focused on me, ignored others and became a very nice dog. I sadly had to sell him (he went to become a movie dog) because one of my females hated him. Anyway, your article was an eye opener to me and helped me to understand more about the idea of socialization – or whatever you want to call it. I have a friend, whom I’m very jealous of, who has accomplished exactly what you are talking about and her dogs are superior to all I’ve seen! Thanks for putting it into words for me!

    • jon

      Nice write up.

    • Bob Proyr

      My Standard Dachshunds and Carolina Dogs are their own pack and therefore do not need another pack member (although they would accept one if introduced properly). My dogs are not made for the dog park, they want to walk, take in smells, and in general take in the environment. The Carolina Dogs all have great recall partly in my opinion, because they are “engaged” with me instead.

    • Kae

      That’s ridiculous. Socialization doesn’t mean playing with every dog and getting a treat from every person. My two dogs who grew up in a pet store playing and getting attention all day still knew they couldn’t do so without permission. They were perfect citizens and at the dog shows. My current two dogs grew up in the country nowhere close to the city, training classes, or stores that allowed dogs. And while I took them out as often as possible and ran a few dog training classes they are not nearly as reliable at social situations. They were exposed but not enough to proof the desired results. Socialization isn’t being ADHD on the bleachers all over with a puppy. It’s teaching that puppy how to be a dog. If you want a dog who runs willy nilly crazy up and down the bleachers getting food from people then that’s what you teach him, and if you want a dog who hangs out on the bleachers with you watching the game then that’s what you teach. One trip to the bleachers won’t do either.
      It’s ridiculous to say you don’t socialize because that sends the wrong message. It’s how you define and refine Socialization that’s different.

      • Meagan Karnes

        For sure. While I don’t tend to tell people their approaches are ridiculous, I understand and agree with your point and on multiple occasions I did caveat my statements by saying I don’t socialize dogs in the traditional sense and that I don’t keep them cooped up and wrapped in bubble wrap – that I focus on engagement. But I absolutely wouldn’t put a young puppy on bleachers. Just not my style 🙂 So very pleased to hear that you got excellent results with your dog and strategies. I love hearing about good successes!

    • Alithia

      (n) a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.

      Applied to dogs – a process whereby a puppy acquires information and learns how to act and respond to varying environments and society as a whole. Which, in my opinion, is exactly what you’re doing. You are socializing them! You’re exposing them to new things – cars, public areas, etc which are new, but also come with a barrage of new things – sights, smells, etc.

      I think the key fact here is that people don’t understand what socialization is supposed to be. The definition is simply to provide your dog with new experiences in a controlled environment whilst taking cues from your dog to ‘have their back’. If the process is moving too fast for them and they look like they need some help, give them help. If they’re having a ball and the environment is still stable, let them enjoy themselves. If they’re having a ball, but puppies are starting to go over their own thresholds and the environment is slipping to uncontrolled, remove the puppy.

      Just my two cents! Socialization should never be a dog park, or some other sort of uncontrolled environment. Set your dogs up for success!

      • Meagan Karnes

        I absolutely agree!

      • Solara

        This definition Alithia is why the title REALLY bothered me. 🙁 The puppy IS socialized.

        Quote “I don’t socialize my dogs.” Gives the completely wrong impression and is not factually accurate. Later she does state “wait that’s a lie” but long after John Q Public has read that headline. This article has been posted on MULTIPLE training lists with people now claiming they do not need to take their puppy places because of this headline. So many members of the public don’t bother to fully read an article, TL;DR is a true phenomenon. Instead, people read the taglines and think they are getting a ‘free pass’ because this awesome trainer doesn’t socialize so they don’t need to either.

        • Bridgit

          Headlines are chosen to attract attention and that is exactly what this one has done. If people are stupid enough to read only the headline and not the article and therefore decide they don’t have to put any sort of effort into raising their dogs then well, they are just stupid.

          I thought this was a great article, Megan, and 2 years too late for me! I have had dogs all my life but never ‘trained’ one for anything more than come when called and sit on command. Never had any need to really. We lived on 10 acres out in the country. Our dogs, from GSD’s to beagle mutts were never ‘socialized’, puppy classes were never heard of in those days. All our dogs barked when people arrived but were happy to be petted and would play with the occasional visiting dog or a dog we passed on our walks.

          Flash forward 30 years and I have now got 2 Tervs. The first, a little bitch, I took to puppy class, only twice. She laid under the chair and quivered the entire time. She is a wonderful friendly dog, she just doesn’t like other dogs. I call her a ‘people dog not a doggie dog’. The other was an entire male, he was very social with both people and other dogs. I never took him to a puppy class. Both dogs went everywhere with me but no situation was ever forced.

          Then I got a Malinois. He was fearful from the day I got him. I tried the socialization walks and at first he was good. But while I’d never heard of a ‘fear period’ this boy suddenly was fear aggressive in previously ok situations. I now have a 2 year old who is wonderful with people he knows but is very unpredictable with people. While he is good with my Terv she just can’t be bothered with him, she doesn’t play etc. I am trying to work thru this by doing just as you have said. We go to the park and keep at a comfortable distance from other dogs while playing games with lots of rewards. I hope to someday compete him at agility trials but until I can trust him that wont be happening. Also, the other male in his litter is just like him while the two bitch pups are wonderful. Just found out that his G’father was the same. And the pups had to be taken from the bitch at 3 weeks old as she was attacking them!!! GENETICS DEFINATLY MATTER!

    • J

      Our puppy was really scared of other dogs as a puppy, so we took her often to see other puppies. She just stood in the corner, trying her best to avoid other dogs. After a couple of weeks, she started happily playing with other puppies. But in the following weeks, she started super-angrily barking at other dogs on leash. It took us two years of very intensive training to get rid of that behaviour. I still don’t know if we did anything wrong, but if I could try again, I would skip the whole socialization part.

    • Alicia

      Thank you for this article. I totally agree with your point about letting puppies grow up before pushing them to engage in every situation. My GSD came from strong working lines but very easily distracted in social situations and appeared to be afraid of every noise. At about 8 months old he ruptured a blood vessel in his ear which was about the same time we were working with a local trainer who is big on socialization. We needed time off for surgery and healing. Once we went back to class he was no longer jumping at every sound but still easily distracted. I decided to give him some time off to mature and what a difference that made. He’s a well adjusted family member who is a pleasure to have around. He may not be doing SAR, police work or competition sports but I could not have asked for a better family companion. I would not hesitate to skip the socialization and give the next puppy time to grow up before taking on the world. Bloodlines have always been an important characteristic for me because it does help give an idea of what may be personality traits like aggression or milder personalities that should be considered in the selection process.

    • Helene

      Wonderful article, Meagan! It definitely gave me lots of food for thought. I would argue that describing your efforts as not socialization isn’t accurate, though. You clearly are socializing your dog through gentle exposure at home, and while you’re out, all of the background stimuli is also still a form of socialization (and even counter-conditioning to a degree, depending on the puppy’s fear levels and how rewarding and fun your focus games are).

      I don’t know if I would recommend people “not socialize” their dogs, especially those vulnerable to insecurity and wariness of strangers (putting aside your anecdotes, there are SO many breeds out there for which we have decades and decades of evidence that lack of exposure and socialization leads to fearful, and violent adult dogs) but having strangers come up and pet your puppy and turning every new experience into an “event” is almost certainly not the right approach! I think your approach of allowing that all to be *background* noise and keeping the focus on the handler is brilliant, and certainly something I’m going to keep in mind when working with my dogs.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks! And yep – I hear you. I said later in the article, “I don’t socialize my dogs – well, not in the traditional sense”. I for sure call these strategies “guarded socialization”. But correct – people shouldn’t wrap puppies in bubble wrap. Hopefully that point I made was clear enough 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment and awesome feedback!

      • Tristan

        She seems to socialize them very well I thinkg 50% of the people in here are pet owners that look at them as cute cuddling humans and the other 50 are mal and working lines as in handlers yes I want my dog to be able to focus on me and listen regaurdless of the environment if your LEO your k9 is perfectly being raised perfect the bond between handler and k9 is strong to work and stay focused how many people are yelling and have their camera phones out, also I have trained mwds that handler has to have a strong enough bond to turn that well social dog to make it through all the task with confidence and turn on and off that dogs aggression if the person is actually working their working k9, I don’t want my k9 to look at me like all good things come through me not running around a dog park while some untrained big dog comes and scares my dog during a critical moment due to the lazy owner that wont engage with his dog so his dog will never recall if it sees a pack playing but if you can follow commands and block them out youll have a truly trained dog also working k9 breeders like her if she is training a k9 that is going overseas there are random wild dogs roaming everywhere I wouldn’t want my k9 to play with rabbie infested dogs the other 50 percent are misunderstanding socializing from your POV and they are moreless thinking about when they take trips to petsmart and there pet barks which probably came from the pwner while socialization at the wrong timing in the order of respect and trust and all of that their dog to drag them in the play yard and 20 dogs hoover over it, that owner pulls the leash gives the dog tension and bam you have created dog aggression in the future as to where Meg is saying she sets up dogs up for success by building the relationship where your dog trust you due to the respect to make her happy the dog is working on sit shaking ready for that reward ot even realizing its a storm drain and doesn’t have a clue nor care what it is at the time…..but dog parks im sorry im not going to let someone’s dumb dog ruin my good dog.

    • Tami

      I have raised 9 puppies over the past 20 years and I’m also a LVT for over 30 years. I must say that I am a proponent of puppy socialization, but I realized after reading this article… not in the traditional sense. I will do a puppy class or two depending on the dog, and I do take my puppies most everywhere. I will let them interact selectively while playing or after they are done working, but I have also seen the benefit of having the puppy focus on me more and not so much the environment or other dogs and people. The read up above makes a lot of sense to me and I tend to do much of the same thing with my own dogs and didn’t think much about it… it was a natural way of doing things for me. As a result my dogs are well mannered, very social, and greatly loved by most everyone who meets them. I know there will be those critics who will hate on these ideas, and it will depend largely on what you’re planning on doing with you dog in their lives. I don’t think that this information should give license to those dog owners who do absolutely nothing with their puppies until they have behavior issues or they drag them into the vet clinic for their neuter or spay and that’s the first time they have been on a leash, rode in the car, walked into a clinic, get put (or shoved) into a kennel, and be handled by strangers. I have seen countless numbers of dogs like this and they are scared and stressed out to the max, which then poses a serious safety concern for those vet staffers that have to handle such a dog. I have seen so much change in how dogs are raised and trained over the years and I’m pleased to say that the updated and positive methods are a welcomed change! Thanks for writing such a bold article from another perspective! I believe that training and learning is a lifelong thing for dogs and their handlers! Kudos!

    • Joe Fisher

      Excellent Article!
      How do I subscribe to just this blog? I looked at the top, there are a bunch of different categories, but none that say “collared scholar”


      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks! On the upper left hand side of the blog, you can enter your email and select which categories you are interested in. They are all part of The Collared Scholar blog – just different topics. You can select all or one, depending on your interests so you control which types of articles you receive 🙂

    • Hannah Zulueta

      I love love love your article. I totally agree. My first Boston didn’t want anything to do with me when we were out – she wanted to say hi to every one … because … that’s exactly how I socialized her.
      With these two I have know we have not spent the early months going out to the public areas as much… because for the same reason I want them to listen and pay attention to me. And I use treats and affection when we’re out with the aim that I am more interesting than others. I actually even will tell some people who want to pet them .. not this time they are in training … when that person (typically a child) I can see is overly excited and rough … and I don’t want my dogs to get triggered by her/him. Anyway you articulated it so well. Thank you!

    • Sue Bittner

      Thank you for such an aspiring article, I totally agree with you, (and admire your responses to those who don’t) I’m not a trainer or breeder but have owned many large dogs over the years. Mainly GSD’s but dobermans as well.
      My childhood shepherd, (many moons ago, ) was not socialized outside of family, friends, known dogs, etc. And she was perfect.
      My Doberman went with me everywhere, and didn’t need much socialization as he was entirely fixed on me at all times, thus, eager to please, and a pleasure to train. Next~ a high quality female shepherd, (socialized everywhere, every day almost, and several obedience classes) one of which was the German Shepherd club of n.j. where the instructor informed me she needed as bullet to the head, as she was a major risk factor. (Went after everything on two legs or four. (I think I developed my muscles trying to control her) sadly, I had to return her after exhausting every avenue available to me, as I did not live on a farm where it was just her and I.
      Onto my current guy~ A intact two year old male shepherd from a responsible breeder, (she also bred the pup in the movie, “I am legend”)
      Anyway, he’s absolutely perfect, focused on me, but does play well with other dogs. Loves people and kids, and was raised with a cat.
      I never really socialized him much, due to a health issue afterwards, and then having to move, but he is absolutely perfect, and I wouldn’t have him any other way. Thank you for this insight, as prior to seeing this I’ve felt guilty for not getting him in all the programs and classes everyone just about insist upon. And also, never really thought about the differences, with socializing my female (as example)
      To not socializing him as much. Very insightful, thank you so much for sharing~
      Sue B.

    • Kacy Green

      A friend shared this blog on facebook and the Collared Scholar name stood out to me so I had to jump on and see that it was still Meagan. Hi! My husband adopted Rupert the basset hound from you back in 2008. He’s still with us, about 10 years old now. We’ve since left San Diego and moved to Humboldt County, where Ru gets weekly romps through the redwoods and beaches with our other baset, Cowboy. We are still so delighted to have Rupert our lives and we think of you fondly, often. Thank you for taking a chance on Ru, and ultimately a chance on us. Hope all is well.

      • Meagan Karnes

        OMG! RUPERT! So good to hear from you guys! Send pics 🙂 I’d love to see him and Cowboy! meagan@collared-scholar.com – I can only imagine how much the dogs love the redwoods! So great to hear from you!!!

    • Jake

      So, I’m going to start by saying you have opened my eyes. We adopted a retired racing greyhound almost a year ago. He came to us from the south, only being exposed to other greyhounds and not much human interaction. He was amazing on leash and very respectful of people and other dogs. Even on our walks. People are always amazed by a greyhound while out and about and always want to say hi and pat him. So we’ve always let them. For about 6 months now, he’s been getting a bit more daring on leash and tends to pull and tug. And go where he wants, not where we want. This has resulted in almost swallowing a cob or corn whole. And he’s also made it a habit of jumping up on people when they greet him. We’ve tried to break him of it by turning our backs when he jumps. Or telling him no jump. But nothing has worked. Do you think it’s the fact that we let people touch him while out and about? He has also developed this weird reaction to other dogs where even if he just spots them, he freezes up and glares at them. And will not break his glare. And will even start walking towards them. So this is really making your article ring clear. Maybe what we thought was the right thing all along, is actually the thing that’s made him this way. Any input would be helpful. He’s a large dog. Very gentle. But I’d hate to one day lose that attribute.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Sounds like he’s getting more confident in his environment and is getting quite a bit of reward from the environment. For sure spending some time on focus and engagement and limiting reward from other people and the environment will help 🙂 Love the greyhounds 🙂

    • Solara

      This title is MASSIVELY misleading. You DO socialize your dog. Maybe not as extensively as other experts recommend but if your puppy leaves the house and visits somewhere new, that IS socializing. In fact the DEFINITION of socialization is — Socialization is the means by which human infants begin to acquire the skills necessary to perform as functioning members of their society.

      Source: Boundless. “Theories of Socialization.” Boundless Sociology. Boundless, 26 May. 2016. Retrieved 15 Sep. 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/sociology/textbooks/boundless-sociology-textbook/socialization-4/theories-of-socialization-44/theories-of-socialization-273-10450/

      So please do not try to pass this off that you have unsocialized dog that does great when you take him out in public. A dog that is literally not socialized is one that does not even see strangers for at least a year, does not leave the house, never visits other places or views other dogs/animals. IF this was what you were claiming to do with your dog I would give this article a lot more credence.

      You do socialize, just differently. Please change this misleading title.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Hopefully people read the article and don’t structure their training around an assumption made about my title 🙂

    • Shelly

      Love this article. I have a couple questions though. Do you let your pup interact with the dogs you have at home with you? What is the means of exercise that you supply your dogs? I am looking to get my next performance dog and am looking at the newer ways of training.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Awesome. For the most part, yes. I let my young dog engage with my dogs, making sure their interactions are with dogs that are stable and size appropriate. I do however, ensure they spend plenty of time solo as well and lots of one on one time with me – I don’t want the other dogs to be their entire life – I’d rather I be at the center of everything as they develop. And I have property so they have room to run here. Then, we train and play engagement games. I take them out perhaps a few nights per week for training off site. But otherwise, its just games and training around here 🙂

    • Terri Hicks

      I really enjoyed reading this. I am owner training my Service Dog. Jasper is the second Service Dog that I have trained for me. We do have the issue that he wants to greet every dog and I have to get him out of that habit. I might go back to the old rules that I had loosened up on and that is that I need to be hand feeding him again and not allow anyone, not even my roommates to pet him or give him treats.

      I worry everyday if I am training him right but in this house we have 2 other dogs and my Jasper is the biggest one( 75% Boxer 25% Bernese Mountain dog) , he is also the most well behaved. I think I will turn his training around for a bit and use what you are doing and see how it goes. He is confident and performs his tasks and PAT very well except when we see other dogs…

      • Meagan Karnes

        Awesome 🙂 Yes – revisiting engagement and focus while preventing reward from the environment is a great way to get him back on track! And that worry is common – I think we all at one point or another worry whether or not we are training our dogs right. Keep up the great work with your pup. I’m confident it will pay off in the end!

    • Grandpa

      This system maybe working if You have dog only for yourself. But if You have 14 chicken, 12 ducks, 2 goose, 13 cats, 4 horses
      3 goats, 2 sheep. and 1 pot belly pig .Some time we have 3 grandchild playing around. Two of our dogs are trained in same manner, and they are danger for everyone.

      • Meagan Karnes

        I have chickens, ducks, tortoises and my nieces and nephews come over often. The system works great for all of my dogs to keep them well rounded and confident! I think it’s all about implementation of the processes – I don’t think its necessarily a socialization issue if the dogs are dangerous.

    • Shelley

      Really interesting article! And I have to admit it’s reassuring to someone who is planning to get a dog after twenty-some years without one. I have been really stressing myself out about all the things I might do wrong! The idea of not pushing myself to do something I might do badly is definitely a relief– I am pretty sure I can provide low-key social interaction without making a mess of it!

      As to the bit about genetics and the dog’s natural tendencies– when I was a kid I did have a dog, a Siberian husky from a respected show kennel. The breeder picked my puppy for me, with an eye toward choosing the pup that would be best for a little girl. It was the Seventies, we knew nothing, the dog lived outdoors, we were way back in the country with little opportunity for the dog to meet people… And he was seriously the nicest dog in the world. Gentle, friendly, patient, when we decided to take him someplace (including a few shows) he always handled it way better than we had any right to expect. I can’t take any credit for how nice that dog grew up to be, he was just naturally a nice sweet dog.

      I do hope to do a better job by my next dog, but I hope genetics give me an assist again!

      • Meagan Karnes

        Sounds like that was a GREAT breeder 🙂 I wish more breeders paid closer attention to temperament! And I’m sure you’ll do a great job! Best of luck with the new pup!

    • Rose Barham

      I take in older puppies and one I took in seemed super sensitive she was 11 weeks when I got her and terrified of everything from a door opening or shutting. Basically she didn’t know if she wanted ti be in or out. She would cower and run/hide if I tried to teach her anything until one day I was out in the park with just her running free to try and get her to play with me. She then trained me. As I was walking I’d dropped the toy. I turned and with a jolly voice said silly me I dropped your toy. As I walked back to get it she ran ahead grabbed it, threw it in the air, caught it again, bounced around with it. Her antics made me laugh out, this little dog had just shown me how she wanted in interact with me. So I took the toy held it over her head, she sat I dropped the toy for her and she bounced around again. It was a breakthrough moment and it was an accident!

      • Meagan Karnes

        Ahhhh. I love this story. My favorite statement ever… “she then trained me” – I can’t tell you how many times my dogs have trained me 😉

    • Roswitha Bed

      Hwllo Megan
      A friend postet your opinion about socialisation. And I had the same “gutt feeling”, based on personal reflection, seeing lots of pups (in Switzerland we normally walk our dogs extensively and off leash, letting them do as they please most of the time).
      I had 3 Mal bitches and followed most of your environment and socialisation training always keeping my attitude to myself a bit. People could not relate and I could not really explain. It just made more sense to me. Develop trust first.
      Thank you for your article. It was a pleasure to read.
      Roswitha, Switzerland
      Thanks for

    • Katie C

      I like the approach described in the article – but have a couple of questions: 1) does this approach work with older dogs who have deep rooted confidence issues and 2) if so, how do you execute this approach when two dogs feed off of each other’s insecurities?

      • Meagan Karnes

        Yes. It absolutely works – and works well 🙂 I’d recommend working the dogs individually – lots of focus on engagement, focus and fun. Keep them working solo, get their confidence up independently and get the games set and reinforced, and then, add in the second dog slowly, starting in a low distraction, neutral environment and working your way up the ladder always keeping energy and rewards high 🙂

    • Nora Porter

      What advice do you have for people who adopt dogs when they are not young puppies? For example–my youngest Aussie, Kali, is from a great working/performance line. She was to be kept by her breeder for performance (herding), and when he first turned her out with the cattle (I’m not sure of the specifics), she got kicked–hard–in the head by one of the cows. She’s physically fine other than a small chunk of her tongue missing from where she bit down on it, but that’s when he realized she didn’t have instincts for herding and wanted her to go a companion/agility home instead. We adopted her at 9, almost 10, months old. Before we adopted her, she lived on the farm with many other Aussies (some from the same lines, some not), cats, horses, sheep, etc. She’s 2 now and scared of so many things. She’s improved a lot from when we first brought her home because I am VERY protective of what she is exposed to–I don’t want to overwhelm her and push too much, too fast. I’ve been basically trying to go off of abused rescue dog protocol from what I can glean from books/blogs/etc. She was scared of trees, wind, birds, strangers, other dogs, the sky, the ceiling, fire hydrants, cars…you name it. She is no longer afraid of trees, wind, birds, or fire hydrants. We’re improving. She learns a lot from being with our older Aussie, Sadie (9 years old + not afraid of anything, especially if the new thing has/smells like food…). I do want to get her into agility because she has so much focus on me & my fiance, and a MASSIVE desire to please us and seems to really enjoy having a ‘job’ whether it is learning a new trick or simply sitting for a treat at home. But I am so afraid to take her into a group setting because she scares so easily. We’ve gone to the dog park a couple times, carefully, and she’s done better than I expected. Mostly she stays on the edges, comes back to us a lot, but she will play with other dogs if they approach her and seem friendly. Any advice would be great!

      • Meagan Karnes

        Great work! My recommendation is lots of fun engagement and focus games starting in a low distraction/low stress setting and slowly working up, always making sure to stay under her threshold (that line where she goes from happy to fearful or stressed). Work hard to keep her working and having fun under threshold with simple fun engagement tasks and slowly add in the tough stuff, always gauging her stress as you add in a layer. Reward often and keep the energy up! Hope this helps 🙂

    • Maggie

      I am happy to socialise my puppies but many people over socialise them, they don’t watch their puppy to see if they are feeling stressed, they just march on with the socialisation. Socialising when a puppy is stressed will make problems but socialising when the puppy is relaxed and it is limited can and does help the puppy. My dogs are not working dogs, they are family pets and having 3 active sons whose friends were usually at my house my puppies were socialised in their own home were they felt safe. Now I take dogs that people haven’t been able to do anything with or dogs direct from the pound with no know history. Trying to force these dogs to socialise can make the problems a lot worse, they see people, I talk to people when I have my dogs with me, but unless my dog shows they want to approach someone they are not forced to. I see so many people try to force their nervous puppy be friendly to someone who wants to stroke them that they are making the dogs much worse and thy can’t see it.

    • Anne

      I find myself hoping that many dog owners out there aren’t hurrying off to protect their puppies from the dreaded “socialization”. Your examples are more of flooding than any planned socialization, and that view will confuse those who don’t understand the difference, like the person who was flooding her puppy. It is essential to get as much early “socialization” for a pup in order for it to learn the skills it needs in later life, after the fear stages set in. Proper socialization involves planning, so that all experiences end up being positive associations. If one doesn’t do this correctly, one ends up with a dog who will not be able to cope. However, to skip this step would be a disaster.
      As far as the bonding experience? That comes with training. Any good trainer can create a solid one person bond with a working breed who is genetically disposed to bond with one handler.
      Bottom line, “socialization” is not a dirty word, and is essential to the development of every dog.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks so much for your comment. While I may disagree with your position, I always love hearing the points of view of others and the different perspectives that are out there. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

        • Karen

          I’m with Meagan, there is no need to drag one’s puppy out to “socialize” with the world in the typical manner. Puppy classes, meeting people, doing this and that to expose it to everything is just counterproductive. The worst dogs I know are the ones that were “socialized” in this way. Your puppy gets all the socialization it needs from its littermates; when it goes to a new owner it needs to focus on that person.

    • Sarah

      Oh, thank you for this.

      “Socialization” is one of the two terms that I really wish social scientists had chosen different words for because what the social scientists meant was not quite what the words mean in everyday usage. Who can blame well-meaning puppy owners for getting it wrong when their understanding is naturally so different from what social scientists mean? They are applying the wrong definition – “socialize” as we humans do when we are at a party.

      For so many of my pet people, their number one issue is, “My dog doesn’t pay attention to me.” Inevitably, these well-meaning people have tried to do the right thing: “socialize” their dog to other people by getting the other people to give the puppy treats (i.e. teach the puppy that other people are more rewarding than the owner and will give a reward when approached – does the owner give the puppy a treat every time it approaches?) and having their dog play with other dogs (i.e. teach the puppy that other dogs are more rewarding than the owner and are there to be played with – how many of us can compete with another dog anyway in terms of the fun we can provide vs high energy play with another canine?). Then people are baffled as to why they get no attention when other people or dogs are around.

      Added to this, we’ve done away for the most part with making it worth paying attention to the owner through compulsion (that’s for the most part a good thing), but we’ve replaced this with making the handler a food dispenser rather than a rewarding object in him/herself. So many of my pet people arrive not knowing how to play with their dogs, just give them treats. Talk about a double whammy.

      I’d also like to erase “It’s all how they’re raised” from the language. It just isn’t – I agree, genetics are huge, whether it is a pet or working dog. If you have a naturally shy dog, forcing it into uncomfortable situations isn’t helping the dog. There is so much pressure put on dogs to be the world’s best friend and when they don’t turn out that way, there can be a sense of failure and disappointment in the owners, which isn’t great for their relationship with their dog. Let’s take that pressure off. If the dog is loving and well-behaved with the family, and polite and neutral around other people and dogs, isn’t that enough? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to build confidence – we should, gradually – but let’s accept that some dogs, like some people, really don’t want or need a huge social circle and forcing them just makes them defensive.

      As a trainer, my experience has been that pet people do get it when things are explained to them in clear, everyday language. They are no more or less intelligent than dog trainers – they are just not obsessed the way we are and couldn’t care less about terminology. They might not call it engagement, but it’s what they want and they deserve to be taught how to get it – and how to make informed decisions when they have to balance finding ways to keep their dog stimulated and exercised in the context of their busy lives while keeping a family pet engaged with them. I’m not going to tell anyone who works all day not to take their dog to daycare, for example, but I do want people to know what the consequences are and how to balance these consequences if they don’t like them and if they are willing to put in the effort.

      I also think we’ve over-thought some things. In the olden days when I was young, nobody took their puppies to puppy class. Nobody worried about “socialization” and checklists. The puppy/dog came home, lived with the family, went for walks, learnt to live with the cat, might (or might not) have gone to an obedience class for some very basic training, and lived as a dog, much loved but not anthropomorphized into a baby with fur. In our neighbourhood, most of them were not confined to a garden – when not in the house, they could usually be found lying on their front steps. They were nice, stable, sociable dogs to the point that as an eight- to ten-year old, I would walk my dog around the neighbourhood by myself, accumulating several other dogs that just naturally joined us as we went past their houses and dispersed and went home again as the walk ended. Everyone was off-leash, there were no dog fights, and I don’t recall a neighbourhood child ever being bitten.

    • Sam Kabbel

      Finally, a professional that makes perfect sense! Thank you for saying what needs to be said! I fight with this all the time with my clients trying to explain that allowing your puppy to binge on people and his environment will just make his owner irrelevant! Plus it creates a playground of potentially inappriate or bad experiences that are just unnecessary. I encourage my clients to allow their puppy to window shop or watch TV which means to look but don’t always touch or interact. The interaction comes from his handler and the rewards come from his handler. And finally his experiences are guided by his handler! Thank you, Meagan for saying something that is not popular in such a wonderful and confident way! Sam Kabbel, CPDT-KA, Pet Behavior Solutions

    • Madison

      I wish I had found this article earlier. I unknowingly had done this with my husky but my newest puppy, – a 6 month old female GSD x Australian cattle dog, has to go to daycare while I work a 24 hour shift if my parents are unable to take them both.
      She’s recently been “verbally” aggressive about things she doesn’t like, including growing and bearing her teeth about being picked up, going in her crate, getting off the couch, or getting in the car. She’s never had a bad experience in any and I’m wondering if it’s all based on anxiety.
      I’m really hoping to break her of that if you have any tips I’m dying to figure this out.
      My husky wasn’t socialized nearly as much and his attention is always focused on me or work when we go for a walk or anywhere and I just don’t know how to get a more positive relationship with her. She’s always super excited to see me after work and snuggle and loves being by my side 24/7 but when it comes to things she doesn’t want to do, she’s definitely more aggressive than I’ve ever seen. And it’s not getting better

      • Meagan Karnes

        Hi Madison. I can’t unfortunately give advice on aggressive behavior online. All I can recommend is seeking help of an in person professional that specializes in aggression to get a handle on your pup. If it were a dog I was training, I would start by making things that she was getting “verbally aggressive” about more fun. Look up “Crate Games” by Susan Garret. Things like this can take the conflict out of crates etc. And these games can be transferred to other areas where there is conflict. But again, anti-aggression training is full of risk and I absolutely don’t recommend tackling it without an experienced professional to guide you. Best of luck!

    • JoAnne

      You are amazing… I run my own training center, and run puppy class, because people want to “socialize” their puppies. I try to convince them that the dogs need to learn social skills, not “socializing” with another puppy. In my puppy class, they learn to focus on their owners, with the commotion of other puppies and adults around. Unless I am demonstrating something, I do not treat their puppies, I want the puppies to look to their owners for everything.

      Two people recently, with littermates, chose to leave my class early every week so they could take the puppies out and “socialize” them by letting them roughhouse, as I wasn’t letting them do that. I warned them about doing this, and sure enough, a few weeks later, the pups were coming in with no focus whatsoever on the adults, and literally screaming to get to eachother, and fur up when other puppies got too close…. I lost one, who stopped coming, the other listened, and realized the error, and stopped it immediately. The puppy is now around 6 months and doing wonderfully…

      What you say makes so much sense, and the problem that pet people have is thinking their dogs must play with the other dogs and people to be socialized, so many puppy classes just allow puppies to play with every dog and every other person. Loved your article.

    • Bell

      Hi there, what an awesome article! Very eye-opening, and embarrassingly enough as an avid dog-lover, and someone who enjoys to tinker with canine ethology and modern training techniques in my free time, I have to admit this is the first I’ve properly heard of “engagement” in dog training. I recently bought a Shih Tzu x Chin puppy (she is now four months, had her for around two) and while shy at first she has completely come out of her shell- all on her own! I am all about steering away from rigid over-exposure and allowing puppies the dignity to overcome first experiences themselves (of course with my supervision) and thus grow their own confidence.

      This coming Jan/Feb, I will be bringing home a German Shepherd puppy from a great breeder and am super excited, but I do have a few questions if you wouldn’t mind. I want my GSD to focus solely on me, my training, my affection, so forth. I want to be his world, just as he will become mine. So, how do I allow for a relationship between my Shih girl and my GSD, whilst remaining the sole focus of my GSD’s eye? I want them to get along as they will be living together, be walked together, eat together, etc. but I don’t want her to become more important, and certainly don’t want to be the party-pooper who constantly takes him away from his new play-mate. Also, my Shih is extremely stubborn in training and just in general (very true to her breed), I am afraid my GSD will pick up on her bad habits and copy her. Any advice as to the integration of these two would be greatly appreciated!

      • Meagan Karnes

        Just make sure you spend a lot of time working focus and engagement with your GSD on his own, away from your other dog. Also, ensure both dogs spend time away from one another on their own, and both dogs get one on one training and attention from you. You want them to have playtime and be together, but not 24/7. Work to strike a balance 🙂

    • Onionear

      Hi. When I got the link to this article via a small dog related group on facebook I was very sceptical, but after reading the article I feel the opposite. I can relate to everything you said, because my idea of a socialization is much more closer to your way of training. I am only at my first dog and he is only 9 months old, but he is spectacular (granted he is of an “easy” breed being a springer spaniel).
      I have a degree in taking care of animals, I do not know if there is a proper english word for the career name but here it is basicalöy just animal nurse. At least 50% of our studies consentrated on dogs: feeding them, training them, breeding them as well as just their basic biology. Our teacher was huge on socializing and she would always name it the most important part of a puppy’s training. But it was not the kind of socializing you said is the general idea among most unexperienced dog owners.
      I was really lucky to live in a town and neighbourhood where it was possible to keep my young puppy off leash when we went out. I think this played and will continue to play a major part in my dogs basic training and skills. I hope I will get to do the same with my next pup. I didn’t drag him everywhere with me, but everywhere we went I made sure his experiences were positive. I had heard of and seen enough pets that are afraid of the vet’s or the car to know I wouldn’t want that for my dog.
      The only thing I literally had to work hard on was meeting other dogs, because I live in a small town that doesn’t have dog parks or any other place that has a lot of dogs present. We went to a neighbouring city to puppy play hours and one basic training class mostly to teach my dog to be trainable even with other dogs distracting it.
      Of course my work is far from finished since my pup is still growing both physically and more importantly mentally. And I keep doing my best everyday in the hopes of ending up with just the kind of dog I want him to be.

    • Caroline

      Hmmmm…..some of it is common sense but the bit about the dog on the bleachers is not socialisation in my opinion. Like many have pointed out in the comments, owners get very confused about what proper socialisation means and end up flooding their puppy with multiple stimuli then misreading stress signals and ending ip with problems. I also think it depends on where you live as to just how much they should be exposed to. Living in the middle of a busy capital city, i would be mad not to familiarise my dogs with all the big stuff that could absolutely terrify them if they encountered it unexpectedly eg. Huge noisy buses, planes, motorbikes, busy crowded public areas etc etc. Likewise, we dont have any cows or horses wandering around the city and so the first time my puppy saw a horse (in a nearby field at a dog show) he was terrified of it……what price socialisatin now?

    • M

      Thanks for being sane about things. Teaching a dog to be confident in themselves and their people does wonders. It baffles me that people don’t believe in SSA or that it can just be socialized out of them. Or how the dog/lines are so often ignored.

    • Suzi Ironmonger

      I’m sorry, but I think this article is misleading. I am a breeder, trainer and behavioralist and I socialize my puppies extensively. BUT, you indicate this is incorrect and harmful. The example yu give of the bleacher pup is not abou socializtion. One should alway set the pup up for success and the pup should trust the handler to protect him or her from any harm with correct socialization. But I do take my pups to a lot of different places and let them meet a lot of different dogs in a safe an appropriate manner. While breeding is an extremely important part of this scenerio, not all the puppies in each litter come out as perfect little pups nor are they tall the same. Careful, considerate and safe socialization allows each pup to develop at their own speed and to the best of their abilit. It can mean the difference between a great dog and a mediocre dog, in my experience. I have worked with many dogs who were inadequately “socialized” as puppies and who cannot cope around other dogs and sometimes even people. While handler focus and engagement are excellent tools, I have ocassion to want dogs who are not handler focused. Herding is one such activity where I do not want the dog to take his eyes or concentration off the stock. He should only have an ear “open” for commands, if needed. As much as possible I want my herding dogs to use their instinct and natural ability to handle the situation. Like with a cutting horse, if the dog has to wait for each direction, he will be “behind the eight ball”, so I avoid putting too much “handle” on my cutting horses and too much focus on my herding dogs. In short, genetics is an extremely important part of a physically and mentally sound dog, BUT proper socialization is also important and part of the foundation of any dog. Please do not promote “no socialization”, but rather promote correct socialization, including avoiding occupied dog parks! I know we are basically in agreement,, I just take offense to the wording you are using as I find it very misleading.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks so much for your comment! I definitely think we have different opinions on socialization. And I definitely would still put heavy focus on engagement work in lieu of traditional socialization on my herding dogs (I used to run a herding training center). I feel strongly that a focus on engagement, so long as you do drive work as well, won’t detract but will instead strengthen your work. My experience has been that my dogs work when they need to, without hesitation or the need to check in, and with strength and confidence, regardless of the (at times) excessive amounts of engagement work I do. If my dogs are constantly checking in, it would tell me I wasn’t doing something right. I for sure look at this a bit differently and of course I don’t think that all puppies come out perfect. But I for one don’t believe that socialization is the answer or cure, nor do I find it all that necessary. But that’s just been my experience. It’s the awesome thing about dog training – I always get to chat with folks from all sorts of backgrounds, with different opinions and experiences. It’s awesome 🙂

    • Chrissie Turner

      I do definitely agree with your methods, and spend my life trying to teach folk you need a social dog, in that they are confident in their environment, but not a sociable dog that wants to meet, mug every other living thing, and that socializing is not meeting everything, but is seeing everything and knowing their owners are there to protect them. Unfortunately some do take it to the extreme in that they spend their entire time teaching their dogs to leave, and stay with them exclusively, to the detriment of their poor dogs. Def need a middle ground methinks. And others leave it till they have the monster mugger, and then spend their lives trying to sort it. Give me a dog anyday. Lol. Keep up the good work.

    • dawn

      i agree. my dog will be 3 and never wanted to socialize so i never pushed him. hes fine off leash ,but someone got to close to me the other day, he stayed down but started growling ,then the idiot wanted to pet him. i told him not to ,but he got to close and my dog lunged. with a shock collar on. he wants nothing to do with other people and i to believe its genetics, hes my 8 th gsd and this is just the way he is. i socialized him as a pup but even then he wanted nothing to do with other people. he is a great watch dog so i agree! its genetics

    • Mary

      I have had several dogs during my lifetime, usually two at a time and I never did much socialization to speak of. No dog park, no daycare and only limited puppy classes. I now have a 11 month old Lab/Rott rescue that I have had since she was two months old. Listening to ‘everyone’ tell me that I needed to do classes, daycare and socialization that is what I have done. What I have started to see is that she is now resource guarding with food toys etc. She is a bully with my 9 yr old lab who is very timid and will grab onto her neck or tail and just pull. One other thing I notice with her is that she has little connection with me. I only seem to her like someone who keeps her fed. She has been going to daycare once a week for about 6 months, I don’t know if the resource guarding is just an adolescent stage or if I have created a little monster here. Any thoughts?

    • Carol Post

      This makes such good sense to me! My Potcake, Miss Rica, came to me at about 5 1/2 weeks old from a gutter on North Eleuthera. She’s the love of my life – sweet, smart, funny. She did the puppy kindergarten thing, then regular obedience classes followed by Canine Good Citizenship. She did well, but has always been iffy around other dogs, and I have to be vigilant around strangers and ask them not to kiss her, just gentle strokes, or better, a “hello, pup”. There are some dogs that she just hates and I have, for the most art, no idea why. Some clearly give off aggression signals; some none perceptible to me at all, but she picks up something that she doesn’t like. So…I avoid contact unless Rica gives me clear signals that she wants to see and interact with another dog. She loves and is so gentle with puppies. She may well have had some terrifying interaction with another dog or dogs before she came to me – who knows? But, as fear aggression is sometimes a problem, I think that I should have been wise enough to let her call the socialization shots. The training had been great for my other dogs, but clearly, genetics and early environment make a huge difference. Mea culpa. That being said, she plays the best game of hide and seek ever! Thank you so much for this article. I’ve shared it and hope it will be read and read and read.

    • Jim

      I’ve had 4 GSDs.
      The first was my childhood best friend ’till I was 11 or so.
      The second was a 5 mo. old rescue that was with me for 12 yrs. No real training. Great dog, great drive, kids would come ask if she could play, would bark at strangers, but never offered to bite anyone. (Although you’d think she might).
      The third was an American Show dog I got from a breeder that was recommended by the President of the GSD club of NC. One of his dogs was even pictured in Winifred Strickland”s book. Even though I heavily socialized her, trained her by said book, Took every precaution. She would let you in the yard, but not let you out! She bit neighbors, a child, a nephew, and a lady seeking charitable contributions, for which I had to pay hospital bills. Almost killed neighbors little dog. Vet bill. She had a spinal condition at five years old, and had to put her down.
      The forth, even though both parents came from Slovakian kennels, she was a grandaughter of Ursus Von Batu, from Jeck von Noricum. West German show lines? Anyway, Big Old Bucket of Love! no drive, easily scared, absolutely the sweetest animal you could ask for. Would trust her in a room full of babies. She passed recently at 12 years old. Heartbroken.
      I’m planning to adopt a working line GSD from a respectable breeder. All of her dogs are very social, well mannered.
      So, I’ve been devouring TOO much info. and and still quite confused. I think I’ll take the pup out, meet safe people and safe dogs on his terms, have a party or three during the “window” , meet some safe kids on his terms, train obedience, and be my companion and hope for the best. But yes, you can pet my dog.
      Only problem, we have a Cocker Spaniel that is extremely jealous, So we’ll have to take that very slow.
      Enjoy your article, read every comment. Wish me luck!

    • Angie

      As a very novice dog trainer I’m really REALLY loving your articles. It’s giving me a new perspective I’ve been craving. I wish I had more opportunities to learn these things first hand. Thank you for sharing these things. … I type horribly formal and sound like a bot, sorry. . .

    • Deborah Skaggs

      I am by no means a dog trainer. Mine are my babies and companions, but I agree with you. I had one that I tried to “socialize” the traditional way. When he turned 9 months old, he became very dog aggressive….to all dogs not just my other two. I ended up having to rehome him to a one-dog household. I now have a rescue that was a throw-away and never socialized. I rescued her at 5 months old. She now loves everyone and every dog she meets. She still has her fears, mostly of loud noises and sudden movements, but is a very loving (and believe it or not protective) dog.

    • Wendy

      I totally agree with you! I have a Corgi that was socialized and I brought her to work with me until she was 2yrs. She got plenty of exposure to all kinds of people. After the age of 2yrs. she became a little aloof and skidish to loud noises…common traits for a Corgi. I believe no amount of socialization with other puppies or humans would have made a difference. She is who she is.

    • Shay

      Wow!! How refreshing!!! I have never traditionally “socialized” my dogs, and yet, I have always had perfectly behaved dogs that are perfectly adjusted in ANY situation. If more people trained like this, there would be much less dog behavioral problems and many more happy dogs and people!

    • LHigham

      Question: I loved your perspective, really made sense and I’ve been in dogs 50 years. The only concern I have is if the dog is an only dog at home and not engaging with dogs outside how do they learn body language? Don’t they need interaction early on to have social skills?

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks! My opinion is that sociability is genetically inherited and a lot is learned during the first few weeks with mom/littermates making further socialization unnecessary. I’ve had dogs been completely isolated from other dogs until they were 9 months old end up social butterflies that love to play. They didn’t have to learn body language to end up that way. The only time where I’d say socialization would be key, is with dogs that inherit a bit of instability with other dogs, those separated too young from their littermates, or those pre-disposed to dog to dog issues (certain breeds etc.) But even then I’d be very cautious, choose age appropriate dogs for socialization, and in fact, for me, more often than not, I’d wait until the dog was more a bit more mature to work on dog to dog skills. 🙂

    • Kara

      God this article is dripping with condescension. I am surprised your back isn’t broken from how hard you are patting yourself on it. So your friends ask you why you aren’t socializing and instead of telling them your reasoning you just make some passive aggressive comments how “you’re good.” Ridiculous. You may be good at what you do, but your attitude sure stinks.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Sorry this particular article rubbed you wrong. I’d love your feedback on which part specifically you found to be a passive aggressive comment about how good I think I am. While I will always be authentic in my tone, surely that wasn’t my intent and moving forward, if I can alter my wording so that people don’t misinterpret my intentions and so that I can reach and help more dog owners, it’s a win! Thanks.

    • Joanne

      This made me feel much better about our newest family members, two dane pups that were rejected by their dam and raised by us from 4 weeks on. Since they were so young we kept them home til 4 months old. When I discovered my boy gets motion sick in the car. As a result, they weren’t socialized in the sense advised so often. My boy isn’t anti-social exactly, he politely greets people on walks, but makes it clear he’s not interested beyond that and would prefer to keep walking with me. (His brother is a bit more outgoing) He’s pretty aloof with strangers, though when we have guests, especially children, he adapts pretty fast. Kids he solicits attention from within hours, but adults it takes longer for him to show any interest (after the barking phase he goes to the “sideways glances that say I don’t know you so I don’t trust you yet.”. ) Anyway, I thought I was a complete failure because he’s not social in the sense of greeting strangers with enthusiasm. However, this puts it in perspective. I didn’t get him to be everyone’s best friend, but a member of our family, and as long as he tolerates company and is polite, I can live with it easily.

    • Dee

      Wow. This makes so much sense. I have a 5 year old gs/rotty mix. She is about 80 lbs. As a puppy I’ve taken her to puppy socials, all kinds of obedience classes, and she is still a nut. My family often jokes that my dog has a PHD in training, but is still so badly behaved. She is dog reactive and very high strung,, any loud noise she goes crazy. At about one years old, she used to be an avid dog park visitor (I have learned my lesson) she was attacked by two dogs. My once sweet dog, became protective, scared and defensive of people and mostly dogs. We had to take her to behavior modification classes. They really helped with her people aggression and her dog reactivity. She is and will always be a work in progress. Also any advice would be much appreciated.
      I recently adopted a male gsd who is less than a year old. You must think I’m crazy. I was hoping with his mellow personality that he would help to balance my female. This article really helped. I am going to start obedience group classes with my male, but I will keep this in mind and not over socialize.

    • Sue

      This article was great. I have a 6 month old Cane Corso that would be considered more the new ‘americanized’ size corso (she will likely be close to 130 when fully grown). I walk her daily and work on distraction (or maybe more appropriately redirection?) a lot. When she sees a dog or when we are in tight space with people i will often hold a treat in my hand that she can lick as i walk past or through. I don’t want to avoid the situation, but i want her to stay connected to me and not become a barking/dragging 85lb puppy. I have had several tell me that i’m doing this ‘wrong’… would appreciate your thoughts?

      • Meagan Karnes

        I would ask people for more constructive feedback. Instead of them telling you that you are “wrong”, ask them what they would do differently. I think what you are doing is just fine 🙂

    • Melissa

      I learned this lesson by accident.
      I “force socialized” my first Cane Corso from the time I got him, at 12 weeks old. While he will always be my first heart dog, he had horrible social anxiety his entire life. Shortly after he passed, I got a juvenile Corso, 16 months old (I still had a senior female who had her own issues and I did not think she would tolerate a small puppy). I learned quickly that this new pup, a bratty teenager, simply was not going to “learn” the same way.

      Luckily a good friend and KPA trainer took me under her wing and taught me how to teach him – first by letting him be exactly who he is and by learning to let him come to trust me in his own time. Once he trusted me to remove him from any situation that made him uncomfortable, for any reason, he became curious about everything and began exploring…in his own way…in his own time. At 7, he is an amazing ambassador for the breed and one of the most stable dogs I have ever had the pleasure to work with. With rare exception (very rare and usually because I am not paying attention), he lets me know with a quick look that it is time to exit a situation, long before he is close to going over threshold.

      I have taken those skills into the rescue world and I have fostered dogs who have come to me so damaged, physically and emotionally, that I was the foster of last resort. All, with the exception of one, have gone on to be placed in forever homes where everyone was set up for success.

    • H. Carter

      What a relief to read this. I can finally stop beating myself up. Tale of two Schnauzers. My first one (2005), took her to puppy kindergarten, lots of walks, lots of playing with the neighborhood dogs, lots of visits with adults (no kids to speak of in the ‘hood). Matured into a sweetheart of a dog. 2009 November, get my second Schnauzer. He’s going to be my conformation dog. He’s in the house with her. It’s “winter.” I walk him, but I don’t really take him anywhere. He doesn’t meet other dogs, or many folks. I’m thinking the girl is enough socialization. He matures into a big butt of a dog. Hates dogs, Hates kids. Hates people. Resource guards. I’m blaming myself for this, for not socializing him, for the past 8 years! Did come to find out his mother is not the nicest of schnauzers either. But Dad is a sweetheart. So I figured it was all my fault he was so screwed up. I got him into obedience, to try to straighten him out. He is a lot nicer these days, but I still can’t let my guard down if he’s out. And he could care less about engagement. I’m getting a puppy soon. I had it in my head I would socialize the hell out of him. But maybe not. Maybe, like you say, it is all about genetics.

    • Chris

      This article made me feel better about not taking my puppy to dog parks and other places to socialize her. She is growing up very confident and curious. My older dog, I got as an adult, from a man who claimed to train dogs for the military. The dog has been hard for me to work with, but I don’t think he was trained at all. But now, after a year, he is much calmer, though far from perfect.

    • laurie

      While I like to “socialize” my pups with puppy playtime, etc., it is my mission to make sure it is positive. If I see a situation that I don’t like, I will pull my puppy aside and just play with them, until they feel comfortable to venture out again and engage with other puppies. I trust their reactions to other puppies.

      I really like that the very first thing you mentioned was genetics. After being heavily into “rescue,” I decided to get a bc puppy from a breeder. I didn’t think that temperament would be a problem, since I was getting this dog from a vet and had met the mother. After numerous issues with training and his aggression towards other people and dogs, I called the breeder. Eventually I got the comment, “oh, he’s just like his pappa!” Not what I wanted to hear. Other people commented on his “lines” as some of the more challenging to work with. I had this dog from a puppy and thought that I was responsible for his temperament. I don’t think so anymore. So glad he was rehomed into an environment where he could thrive. My home just wasn’t it. And as a former rescuer, I no longer believe that the bad behavior of a dog is primarily a reflection on its former owners!

    • Bette Isacoff

      Though I have had a 29-dog show kennel (Siberians ande Finnish Spitz), and owned protection and/or schutzhund GSDs out of Germany for 26 years, and do professional dog training, I am now facing a problem few are willing to acknowledge. After massive tendon reconstruction in my left hand, I was forced to make my next protection breed a smaller, lighter one . . . enter the Belgian Malinois. A phenomenally responsive, all-you-could-ever-hope-for-in-a-dog dog. A dog with the genetic anomaly poly A22. Though there are milder forms, ours has the most severe type. He has been in treatment at Tufts for three years and, with intense desensitization and counterconditioning, as well as medication, has made remarkable progress. I just want to get the word out that not all Malinois with “rage” behaviors have bad temperaments (his couldn’t be better). I would be happy to discuss this issue that is adversely affecting the breed with anyone interested.

    • Elizabeth Payne

      My youngest pup was socialized more in the sense of what you are talking about and not the typical “take him everywhere” stuff. As a trainer, myself, I thought at one point I might have messed up, but his dad lacks confidence and my pup acts just like him, which I think accounts more for his behavior and not what I did or didn’t do. When taking him out on a walk recently he was amazing! People yelling, dogs barking, garage doors opening and closing, etc. and he didn’t flinch! He also did a decent job focusing on me. Now, I am glad I read your blog and will be sharing this philosophy with many!

    • Cathy Rogers

      I think you nailed it!
      I don’t know my dogs parents, personally, but I do know that the genetics are strong with this one. She’s a Blood Hound/Coonhound mix.
      She’s the only dog we ever tried to socialize, because “experts” said so, has the same issues as your first “socialized” dog. We stopped after one particularly bad day of “socializing” gone wrong. We’ve just been at home, building our family relationships, and living life. It’s been about fifteen months, now.
      Question is, now what? Is it ever too late, once that “socialization” has left its mark? She’s almost three years old.

      • Meagan Karnes

        I’m so sorry. That’s so frustrating. It’s never too late. You’ve just got a bit of “un-doing” to do. You might have to work a little harder, but you can absolutely get there. Focus your time and energy on engagement only. Don’t worry about training or behaviors. Instead, reward engagement like crazy. I’ve got a few articles on the topic if you search the blog that will help give you a jumping off point. Best of luck!

        • Cathy Rogers

          Thank you! That’s mostly what we’ve been working on…when we work. Engagement, with a little obedience here & there, as that needs recreshing upon occasion. Usually when she seems to think that she’s earned a promotion, then we go over some obedience. Most of the time, we’re just focusing on being an awesome pack (read: solid family) and engagement is almost an “autopilot” part of that. Engage her, when we go in the yard. Engage her when it’s food time. Engage her whenever we get home from having gone somewhere. Engage her when it’s time for a bath, etc.
          I will look for your articles, for sure!

    • Lizzy

      I agree with this method. Why is it so hard for clients and other professionals to understand this? I have Posted this on a group I own of over 4000 members. Thank you for writing this. 🙂

    • Lizzy

      I commented Above , but needed to tell you, that 3 years ago I aquired a cane corso/fila cross pup that was bred in a junk yard. I did not purchase this pup. They shut this man down. She sat in the back of the crate , so fear ridden , never being inside a home. Every other professional friend I had , gave me every opinion in the world. No thank you. I opened The crate door, and never went near her or spoke to her . She came on her own. Every thing she has done, is on her own , on my property with me. I never Spoke words to her, except praise fun games. She was free to explore. She is now 3 years young, intuitive , confident and extremely large haha. Her entire world is me. Some would think she has separation anxiety, because she likes to be wherever I am. Including the bathroom. However , she has not needed a crate since house broken. Has never destroyed or created any mess. I leave And she is content laying in the front living room on her bed in the sunny window. She stayed on my property for 4 months straight before I took her to an actual place. Yes she went for walks and all, she had to become her in an environment she felt safe first and bonding with me. 2 years into the journey I was diagnosed with RA. Which makes it difficult some mornings for me to get up out walk to make coffee or go down my own stairs. I nevee Taught Winnie service dog skills, she intuitively became my source of balance, my leaning post to get out of bed , manage my stairs without falling. I can Not Express to you or anyone else enough , how this method, your method you have written of is a phenomenal tool for raising any pup. Sorry for the long post . I felt Compelled to share. Thank you again

    • Judy Reilly

      very interesting, with out even knowing this I actually do this, 🙂 I think the word is expose.

    • Tabita

      Thank you so much for this article. This article gives me so much hope.

      I recently got a puppy, now she is 4 months and 3 weeks old, and after a first playtime meeting today I got slammed because according to the trainer I didn’t socialized her properly in the 2months-4months window. My puppy was a bit scared of the crazy puppy play today, didn’t engage as much as intensely with the other dogs, and would get very skittish and growl a little at first so I was very worried that I had messed her up, I never really heard that you had a 2 months window and that is it.
      I’ve been taking her out every since she first came in, around the block for walks, to work with me on the subway every day, and she has been exposed to dogs at these walks and parks and is great with people. But I got very scared and quite sad today. Anyways, after reading your article I felt better, thanks! (:

    • Justin Eugene Stauffacher

      I disagree with this article in so many ways I don’t know where to begin. Your first story about the dog who was socialized from ten weeks old and then bit someone in the face conveniently left out any of the circumstances surrounding the event. Likewise, when you describe the dog as anxious and fearful you leave out any potential reasons he may have developed these traits. Moving forward, you place an absurd amount of weight on genetics as the main determinate of a dogs temperament and personality. Anyone familiar with current genetics knows that genes for anxiety can be turned on due to environment or nurture. Dog trainers alter a dogs temperament all the time through use of behavioral techniques, they can increase prey drive, lower anxiety etc. Also, it is very difficult to over socialize a puppy. Unless every person you introduce them to has a handful of treats, they will still see you as the main influence in their life, as their true companion. Eliminating exposure to decrease the background noise is counterintuitive. Sure, they may appear to see you as the only thing in their world, but puppies are smart and curious creatures with heightened senses. Most training begins this way, in secluded places with no distractions, but limiting exposure as a puppy could easily lead to a dog who darts once they see their first squirrel, or who bites a kid who appears aggressive but is just being a playful kid. There is no downside to socializing a puppy, unless your dog literally spends more time with other ppl than you. Failures to habituate and desensitize correctly don’t prove your point, they only show how bad trainers can misuse these techniques. When a puppy is exposed to a multitude of people he learns to distinguish between normal and abnormal behavior. You’re right that they are impressionable at this young age, which is why it’s the best time for them to learn about normal genuine human behavior, no matter if the person is dog savvy or not.

      • Justin Eugene Stauffacher

        By “there is no downside to socializing a puppy” I simply mean that it is difficult if not impossible to over socialize them, not that you don’t socialize your pups. There could be a plethora of reasons why your experiences with socialized pups have been bad, other than that they were over socialized. Think of it like this, prey driven dogs who were raised around cats since puppies, are generally less likely to attack one. This same principle can be generalized to many circumstances. On the other hand, take a dog who was never exposed to cats and has a high prey drive, then watch how they react to their first cat sighting. Because they haven’t had exposure at a very young age, it is likely that they will see nothing but prey and chase after it, even if it seemed as if you were the center of their world, which technically you never will be. If a male dog smells a female in heat, do you think you will still be his entire world? Even highly trained police dogs get distracted out in the world if they are not focused on performing their job

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks so much for your opinion. While we fundamentally disagree, I appreciate you taking the time to share a different perspective!

    • Justin Eugene Stauffacher

      You’re welcome and yes we do disagree on some fundamental issues, but looking into your work I can see that you are very knowledgeable at what you do!! Thank you for taking the time to read my post and respond. I am slowly but surely breaking into the dog training world, as it’s a little difficult with my main experience coming from my own dogs and a bachelor’s in psychology, and in pursuit of a Msc in Psych. I wish you well in your work with your dogs!!

    • Aayden

      I just read this article and I am curious about something. I recently adopted a 6 month old boxer pup who is afraid of the world. Would this work for him? If so, where do I start? Sadly this guy had a rough start and was primarily kept in a crate his whole life.

    • Donna

      As a pet owner, I found this article interesting. I listened to the advice of a “dog trainer” and put both of my lab females in a puppy socialization class. (same parents, different litters). My 2.5 year old lab is working her way towards being reactive to other dogs (the very thing we tried to avoid all along) and my 1 year old is heading in that direction. I am not going to blame it all on the puppy classes, we are just pet owners after all, but I could relate to some of this as I have successfully raised non-reactive labs in the past without the assistance of a trainer. Go figure!

      I ditched the “trainer”, found one who could work with the 2 dogs on a one-on-one basis (me being the most important one!) and we are navigating through the errors of half-understanding! We are now able to walk semi-efficiently along well traveled dog paths without snarling (although the youngster still gets a bit “hackly”) and things are improving. Reading this suggests I need to consider leaving the pup at home for another 6 months old and just keep to our known areas until she isn’t so worried.

      Thank you for sharing your knowledge! Now I am going to look for an article on loose-leash walking lol.

    • James

      Thank you for a good perspective and well written article. You can certainly see there is a big difference in options out there on what to do but its great to hear all the stories and a background of your feelings!

      We have tried many socialization practices with our pups over the year – definitely with mixed results!

    • Sarah

      This is a great article! I think I agree with you. We had/have two purebred black-tri Australian Shepherds from 8 weeks old. The first pup (now deceased after 14 years) became an aggressive dog. He wasn’t a very socialized dog with strangers, but was okay with family members he grew up with.. We hired a private trainer who worked with him. We took him to classes and outings, but he never developed into a dog that could not be trusted with strangers. He nipped a few times and wanted to chase anything moving or running. You get the picture? Well, after he had passed away, sometime later we ended up with another black-tri Australian Shepherd pup like the first. He turned out to be the same temperament as the first, as if he were reincarnated — a very confident dog, extremely intelligent and quick-witted. (BTW, neither of these dogs were purchased from a reputable breeder – just someone who had a litter of puppies.) This one was socialized much more than the first. He went to puppy and obedient classes, socialized at the dog park, took him into stores, he goes on daily hikes — sometimes twice a day, and never lunged or barked at strangers . He was, what we thought — the perfect puppy – until he was about 14 months – then the problems began. — he changed into a dog that can’t be trusted. He is four years old now. We love him, but it is not easy owning an aggressive dog. There’s always precautions we must take. We could never rehome him. Many times, I’ve contemplated that maybe we were just failures at raising puppies. Yet we had three others, one a Mini-Aussie, one a Siberian Husky, and the other an Aussie/Border Collie mix. None of those dogs ever exhibited fear aggression and were as friendly as can be. So, yes, I am convinced it probably doesn’t matter if a dog is socialized or not. It’s the genetic makeup, unless, of course, it is extremely abused,

      • Casey Wood

        If you are ever interested in seeking out an in-person behaviorist we would be happy to refer one in your area. You can just send us an email.

    • Liv Hagenberg

      Hello Meggan. I’m looking to get myself a cattledog, but has been torned with the approach of socialization, cause I didn’t wanted to risk anything with dog owners who have no clue about dog behavior. My brother got a pack of 5, 4 females and one male, but it dosent sit well with me, introducing my pup to an already strong bonded pack. So this might be for me. More so then any other options.

      My one question would be; if I then want to do rescue/search work with my dog, and it would have to work on its own, would it be able to do so independently without feeling like it would have to be in my reach, and have “support in sight”? Hope it makes sense 🙂

      Best regards, Liv Hagenberg, Denmark.

    • holly

      I adopted a deaf jack russel after having a laid back toy poodle for 19 years. I thought he’d be great to take to dog parks and it would be fun to watch him play with other dogs. At first it was, he was so funny and absolutely fearless but the more I would expose him to other dogs, the more anxious he would seem to get until he would randomly start snapping at other dogs and every doggy day care I took him to asked that I not bring him back. The last straw was when at a small breed dog park, he latched onto the neck of a small poodle and tried to kill the poor dog. There was no interaction that led to that and it was terrifying. I haven’t taken him to another dog park since and it’s to the point where I have to muzzel him to go on a walk because he goes stark raving mad when he sees other dogs just passing. I just wonder what happened to him or if it is all just genetics.

    • Rita

      I have told my students that the word “socialization” when it apply to dogs is absolutely the worst word out there.. Most times people apply socialization to dogs as they would to people. Meaning going over to many scary houses, forced to play with many dogs of different sizes and temperments, and having to be mauled by good meaning dog lovers. So glad to read your articles. I am really enjoying the articles.

    • Gwendolyn

      Firstly, your articles are all well written and I respect you as an obvious dog lover and trainer. Also this article is quite old so I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t see this but here it is anyways.

      All of these claims and all of your advice in this article are based off of personal annecdotal evidence. You reference back to your dog Koby all over your blog. He clearly had a huge impact on the way you perceive dogs and of course we all go off our own personal experiences. But here’s the thing. Science says the opposite of what you’re saying. There have been many scientific studies on socializing puppies proving that dogs that go through reasonable, controlled socialization show less human and dog aggression/fear. Your annecdotes will never be as reliable as scientific studies or of decades of trainers’ consensus on socialization. Nobody’s ever will because one person’s experience is a tiny sliver of reality and the only way to get a good picture of what goes on is to get many perspectives as well as take hard data.

      If you were only applying this advice to your own dogs I might care less but you’re putting this message out there to thousands of people that you shouldn’t socialize your dog when it’s been proven scientifically that you should. Science beats Koby not learning from socialization well. Science also beats all the dogs you haven’t socialized (in a classic sense) that turned out just fine. There will always be outliers but the data remains the same.

      I’m positive you love your dogs and are a very capable trainer but this is something that I really needed to say something about. Thanks for reading, best wishes.

      • Meagan Karnes

        No problem. I welcome alternate opinions on my blog. I never expect us to all agree. That said, I continue to stand by my opinion. As a scientist by degree with years of working in academic research, I can tell you that science is not absolute – especially behavior science. In fact, behavioral studies are being challenged daily. For me, I stay current on research, and I use it to shape my training to an extent, but I cannot refute my direct experience and what works. As a result, I’ll continue to rely on my direct experience, over rearing dozens upon dozens of puppies of various breeds, and working as a professional whelper and puppy raiser for years 🙂 This is the protocol I’ve used that consistently works and gets fantastic results 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing a different perspective!

    • Lydia

      This article is amazing. I started this approach with my dog (the first I’ve ever trained) when he was about a year and a half. I wish I had been doing it all along! Sadly, I was told by trainers to do the exact opposite and I trusted them.
      I’m happy to say that since I’ve started training for engagement with me (and to ignore all other dogs) he seems to be doing better (during walks etc). We still have a long way to go though!!

    • Aida

      Hi thanks for your great article! I have this seven month old female golden retriver puppy that is super fearful of outdoors right now. She started as a timid puppy and was barked at by our neighbors dog at age of 5 months which ended up to be so traumatic for her. We have been trying to take it slow, do the obedience training and all the good things. We had to take her to the vet and everytime something got her into the flight mode and again she got supre scared for maybe 2 or 3 times. Its been two months and she is not improving, she is great indoors but I am afraid we just made it worse for her outdoors, as she would not walk away from home and nothing we try makes it better. Do you have any suggestions? I greatly appreciate your comments and thoughts.

    • Gail

      My pitbull, who I got at a shelter at 6 months old, was a social butterfly from the moment I met her. Super friendly beyond description. Yet her profile said that at her previous home, she was caged 10 hours per day and then tied outside. She really didn’t know how to play with other dogs and a Rottweiler at a dog park in New Hampshire taught her quickly when he bit her when she was too pushy and wouldn’t leave him alone. At that moment, she learned to approach dogs, sniff and then playfully jump backwards. If the potential playmate doesn’t respond, then she walks away. She’s still very sociable and friendly with people and dogs. It’s her inborn personality. She’s great around people and other dogs including puppies. She loves all animals.

    • Stacey Deardorff

      Would love to learn more !!!

    • Shay

      Hi there! I really love this article. I just got my first puppy, a 12 week old Chihuahua. His dad was a show dog and his mom seemed rather nice. I’ve started training basic commands and playing tug and chasing a ball with him (fetch is in the works!) He is really scared of people and dogs. He has become used to car sounds but any indication of a person, other dog, loud unknown noises and he freezes and almost always runs. I have been using sit and look at me with chicken breast to help him overcome his fears. I let him run away (always on leash and in our yard unless he wants to venture out on his own terms) if he wants to, but try to do a sit with reward as soon as he feels comfortable again. I do try to not let the situation escalate to that though. He has improved a lot with new noises and a tiny bit with seeing or hearing people qhile in our yard. I tried a dog social where he ran under a table and barked/lunged at any dog who approached. He doesnt lunge at people though, just cowers and runs. A few people habe pet him while im holding him which he is better with, though i feel that isnt the best idea? Anyway, I held him for the rest of the class which greatly calmed him.
      So I was wondering should I hold him in new situations and/or pick him up when things are too much? I don’t drive, so should I carry him to the places I want to “socialise” him in like a quiet field or park? Should I bring his little carrier?
      How do I have friends over without him feeling uncomfortable and without having my full attention?
      If a friend wants to bring their dog to my house, is there a way to make him feel comfortable while i can’t focus completely on him and games?
      Also I’d love to know what games/things I can do while we are out “socialising”.
      I’m also guessing picking him up and letting strangers hold him is a terrible idea.
      Sorry for all of the questions, I’m just trying my best to give the little guy the best life I can!!

      Anyway! I hope I can get some advice from you or anyone with experience. Thank you so much!

    • Jeana

      I agree completely. I actually get aggravated when I see people hauling their dog EVERYWHERE, even to the Marina Tiki Bar when its 100° in the shade. Pretty sure that dog would rather be at home in the a/c or under a nice shade tree. I have 3 dogs & people are always asking….why didn’t you bring your dogs? Well, because they are dogs, not people & they prefer to be at home doing what dogs do. My dogs don’t need socialization in the “normal” sense. They are happy, healthy, well rounded dogs who stay home & protect their territory. They aren’t humans nor do they need to be treated as such.

    • Elyse

      I adopted an 8 week old timid but friendly puppy who was only aggressive towards dogs. He did great with strangers until around 5 months old. I socialized him atleat 3 times a week with people and dogs. After socializing him he began being extremley aggresdive towards strangers even if they just let him sniff them he would bark and growl sometimes even lunging. I think socializing him ruined him. He does great with dogs at the dog park and will let strangers pet him at tge dog park and at the play ground he goes to as well as our house. Even at the vet but anywhere else that he is unfamiliar with he barks and growls if anyone tries to pet him. He is fine being right next to soneone inches away as long as they dont try to touch him. He has seen a positive reinforcement behavioral special so he has great recall and lustens to me really well when scared and i can keep the situation from escalating by putting him in a down stay. I hate when people assume he was not socialized enough as i had socialized him constantly. My other dog that passed away never showed signs of aggression and he didnt have hardly any socializtion as a puppy so i guess i shouldnt have socialized Louie because it obviously didnt help. I feel like there is no hope for him. Its very discouraging and stressful because im afraid he will bite someone someday. I took the standsrd advice to socialize him but next time i get a puppy im not going to socialize them since it doesnt help. Oh well everything always blows up in my face i should be used to it by now.

      • Casey Wood

        Thanks for checking out the article. A behaviorist might be a good option for your situation. Your vet may have some recommendations in your area. 🙂

    • Elyse

      Sorry about my typos i have big fingers

    • Jene Clyde

      To me it sounds like improper socialization techniques. I always exercise my dogs first, before we do any task, we exercise first. Exercise helps keep the mind relaxed. Then we do enrichment activities, either that’s mind games, some play, and training after exercise. Then when the dog is calm and in a relaxed state of mind we then socialize. And the social situation is always by extension controlled by me. You never want to socialize an over excited dog, Over excited socialization turns to fear quickly. But a calm dog is one who is more willing to let you take the lead and trust you to know when to end a social situation. I also been training dogs, not nearly as many as you, but our dogs also turn out very confident, very fearless, and we socialize the dogs. The difference is the dogs are always socialized in a calm state of mind, any behavior presented by either the other dog or my dog is controlled by us. Which leads to trust. They trust us, to know how to react or how to behave in a social situation. I think socialization is important. It’s just How socialization is trained.

      • Meagan Karnes

        Thanks for sharing your perspective! I agree! If you choose to socialize, keeping the dog in the right state of mind is key. I elect not to socialize as I don’t feel it’s necessary, but that’s not to say that it can’t be done in a way that supports proper learning and development 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment!

    • Lee

      So if I want to go to the dog park or park should I pick up my puppy if he or she gets scared? Or if I’m going to the beach should I pick he or she up if they don’t like the sand or where I’m walking?

      • Meagan Karnes

        If your puppy is young, I’d avoid dog parks altogether. And if your puppy doesn’t like the sand, so long as it isn’t too hot, you can spend time helping her overcome her fears by playing games in the sand, and allowing her to explore it on her terms, making sure that she gets lots of good stuff when she chooses to check it out 🙂

    • Andrea Libby Parish

      OMG….how small the world is. You were my first trainer of……Petunia the Shar Pei. What a difference you made in 3 weeks. A friend posted this today and I thought wait…. I know that name.

      • Meagan Karnes

        OMG! How are you Andrea?!?!? I totally remember you guys! Love love love Petunia. What a FUN girl! Miss you both!

    • Mr T

      I will try this technique on my current pup who is environmentally sensitive but has high prey drive. My personal experience and what I have read prior to this article is nervous are 90% genetics issue and socializing or lack off one would never change the dog. why I say 90% is because you can take good temperament with solid nerves dog and make his sensitive to one particular type of stimuli but can never take a weak nerve dog and make him confident in all fearful situations.

      I hope this article is right and I am able to raise confident dog.

    • […] – This one is one of my favorites. If you haven’t read my take on socialization, you can do so here. But the prevalent argument says something like, “if you socialize a dog early on with other […]

    • Catherine

      My miniature schnauzer has just turned six months old and has recently become fearful of strangers who try to engage with her. After reading your article re socialisation I realise that my understanding of socialisation was totally incorrect and misinformed and only served to heighten my puppy’s stress and sudden fearful aggression. These incidents have only occurred several times. Will it be possible to undo any harm I may have unwittingly caused. I have already built a strong eye contact response with my puppy and hopefully I can reverse any unintended negative imprints on her personality.

      • Meagan Karnes

        That’s the awesome thing about dog training 🙂 It’s never too late to change behavior!

      • John MacQueen

        Yes you can correct that. I have fixed dogs with bad fear aggression. Socialization isn’t the word I would use though, I think a more apt term is desensitization. In my experience forcing a dog into a situation that triggers the fear or aggression only reinforces it and makes it worse, especially in a puppy. In my experience to fix that problem you have to find a controlled way to allow your dog to be feel safe and expose to whatever causes the fear/anxiety at their own safe distance, pace, in their own time so they always feel safe.

        My last was a rescue GSD that would lunge and bite anything or anyone that got within 3-4 feet on a leash when I took her in from a rescue that went bankrupt, especially kids which really triggered her.. After a year she was very well balanced friendly, stable and confident dog. But it took regular sessions starting 100 yds from say, kids playing soccer in the park for example, and keeping her focused on me and feeling secure and training obedience and such moving a little closer each week until the screaming jerky kids became background noise. I also used a dog park, but never went inside. I used the park to start at a distance and slowly move closer week by week doing training until she was confident being right outside the fence. I don’t take my dogs into dog parks, especially a dog with that kind of issue. I followed that by paying for an outdoor dog training course not for training, but for a better controlled environment with other dogs, again allowing her to build confidence and reduce sensitivity at her own pace she felt safe with while working on obedience skills and such. Mind you there was a lot more to it than I can really describe here. I’ve never used a behavioral specialist but if you aren’t cued in on reading your dogs state of mind it might be helpful. Be careful and look around though, there are trainers out there I wouldn’t let within a mile of my dog, and your choice of trainer and method should be the right one for your dog.

        Every dog is unique in my experience, and I haven’t found one tactic or strategy that works on every dog, each has needed it’s own methods based on closely watching the dog and it’s reactions and state of mind and adapting my approach to the specific dog. And it also depends on what kind of dog you want to end up with.. I tend to take in other people’s broken dogs they rejected, or feral dogs picked up by animal control, the dogs nobody else will take. Some I kept, others I foster, vet, train and adopted out.

        I came across this site out looking at info on Malinois, as I just had my 14yr old GSD put down for health issues a few months ago, the poor girl lost all use of her whole hind end apparently from genetic issues… But I’ve decided I’m too old and probably not active enough any more for the high drive/energy and focus of a Malinois though I have never actually worked with one I have had dogs with similar drive and focus and energy. I’m actually considering buying a dog from a breeder for the first time in my life, and choosing the dog I want rather than taking in and fixing whatever broken animal ends up in my lap. At my age making a 15yr commitment it may well be the last dog I ever own. And with such rampant health issues in GSD’s I hesitate to go with that breed too so my search goes on for a dog that I think will be a good fit for me.

    • D

      I love this article. Thank you for writing it…I feel less alone as I follow my instincts with my wary puppy.

    • Ellen Landauer

      Hi Meagan, I just found your site from myschutzhundlife.

      I am very touched by this article – because I walked a similar path as you. I’ve spent the last 20+years studying with an extraordinary mentor – a real ‘dog-man.’ His ideas on socialization were so much aligned with yours. Sadly he is no longer with us but his work lives on in me.

      I raised two high-drive working bloodline German Shepherds with this trainer. My previous experience with conventional training never resulted in the bond of love and cooperation I so yearned for. Now I would NEVER ‘socialize’ any puppy or dog! Totally agree with you – why allow my pup to be petted by everyone or played with by every dog? A recipe for disaster!

      I spent a lot of time with my trainer, sometimes helping him with some of the most messed-up, dangerous, frightening dogs you ever want to see. Often my trainer would say, ‘Yeah, the owners did everything right with this dog.’ When he got deep enough to begin to heal them, it was almost heartbreaking to see how much love was in there that had been nearly killed by well-meaning ignorance.

      I agree so much that we are our pup’s / dog’s protector. Also learned from my trainer that like you say, as the maturing process takes place, if you take it easy and don’t pressure them to do things they are not developed enough to do – later they may be ready – with NO ‘training.’ And finally – yes, I agree about innate temperament – which is why I live with working bloodline East German Shepherds. (Admire the working Malinois – can see why they are a favorite of yours).

      I was feeling very much alone in my convictions about socialization until I found this beautifully written article. (Also liked the one by Carissa Kuhn on Raising a Schutzhund puppy).

      Will continue reading your articles – thanks for all your work! Am going to Pin this article as well 🙂

    • Alexandra Dittmann

      Meagan, THANK YOU for this article. A true heavensent, especially in these current times with quarantine etc. going on.
      You are so right… After having played the traditional “socialization game” with a working line German Shepherd pup, (rescued from being put down by a local “breeder” here in Portugal about to put her down because she was the shyest of the litter and no one wanted her) – to NO avail – what you say totally resonates with me.
      So, with our new family member (female Portuguese Estrela Mountain Mastiff), your approach is going to rule the day! Also, thanks to you, I understand better why her breeder took so much time presenting all 3 adult females to me when I went there to look at the puppies, emphasizing their “calm and balanced” disposition as very typical for his kennel: Sweet and loving towards him, whilst wary, aloof, but not at all shy of us as strangers. Bless the power of genes… I bet you he didn’t drag all his pups around towns/beaches/dog parks/pedestrian zones to “socialize” them, either; for them, it seems their natural behavior as very established working (herding) dogs.

      All the best to you in these times, and thank you so very much! Kind regards, Alexandra

    • Kit

      How I wish you were in the uk. I’m panicking about my springer spaniel…20 weeks old and terrified of people. I couldn’t socialise her due to coronavirus…and she won’t go near anyone except me and husband. I’ve no idea how she will ever see a vet. If someone speaks to her outside she tries to run and if they still ‘come at’ her she starts screaming. Cant find a trainer near me and have no friends or family near by. It’s such a worry. I take her out everyday and she observes everything but she isnt improving.

    • S

      This makes so much sense to me, I wish I’d read this sooner. I’ve had 5 dogs, and the one I socialized the the most, from the youngest age, is the one with the problems. Severe dog aggression, very suspicious and even fear-aggressive with strange people, separation anxiety… While the youngest one, who’s puppyhood was mostly spent playing together in the woods, occasionally going on a walk around the city (and playing there too) is a very confident young dog. I thought it was just the confident nature of this pup, but I’ll definitely leave doggy parks, pushing my puppies to meet people and trying to visit everything between the sky and the earth, away from my future puppies lives, and instead just focus on ME and working with me being the best thing in the world.

    • Justin

      My puppy is 4.5 months and I did the traditional socialization. He is starting to fear trucks terribly and it’s hard to take for walks. My new trainer said I overdid is it and put him over the edge. We are basically starting over. Is it too late to start over or will he have problems for life?

    • saved by dogs

      Very useful information. However, it is difficult to resist these cute creatures.

    • Julia

      I love this article in so many ways! And I wish (and hope) that people start to recognize the similarities in young dogs and young children and their fear and stress reactions.

      I have never heard of a mother of an infant carting that baby anywhere and everywhere and encouraging all types of strangers to interact with their child for the child’s benefit. We don’t make babies play with things that might scare them, we guard them and comfort them. The same should be said for dogs and puppies. We let them grow and learn their own limits and correct their behavior if necessary.

      I don’t want my dogs feeling any more comfortable with a strange person coming to my house than I do my children – new things are not intrinsically good and can not be good until Mom says so. Am I making sense?

    • Danny Kraft

      I have been training GSDs, belgians and Dobermanns since 1990. I have always been in the socialize, socialize, socialize camp until recently. Let me tell you three quick stories…

      A GSD I was raising for a client came to me at 8 weeks. He was to be a service dog. The client wanted certain things done with the puppy, and despite the fact that I felt I was pushing the puppy too hard too fast, I agreed as the client was also a family member. I worked with that puppy every day, taking him to dog parks, doctors’ offices, grocery stores, etc from the time his vaccinations were done. At 1, I gave the puppy back to the client who was going to train him for service work herself. By 14 months, the dog had developed a fear of doorways, yet the client pushed on, by 2, the dog had nipped a person out of fear. Now, the dog is five, officially retired as an SD and has bitten the client’s mother, a nurse, a vet tech, a groomer, her best friend, a delivery driver and a doctor. Needless to say, we are no longer friends.

      the second was a Malinois I bought to rescue him. I socialized him extensively… I think I was 19 or 20. Instead of a driven dog who would do the protection sport I craved, I got a dog who had boundless energy but was afraid of his own shadow…

      The third is my Anatolian Shepherd service dog in training, Dewie. She just turned 1 a few weeks ago. Her socialization as a puppy included trips to the vet, walks around the neighborhood, one trip to the pharmacy where I am allowed to bring dogs and one trip to a small store where I am allowed to bring dogs. While many peopple kept yelling at me telling me I needed to work her more, she should be doing x and her age, etc, I kept doing what I felt was right. Yesterday, we went to WalMart and to some other stores. Her first time in a store with more than three people. Then later, we went to a mall. She walked in, tail up, engaged, looking around, but focused on her guidework and on my commands. She never misstepped, put a foot wrong or cringed out of fear. Was she perfect? No. She had to be told to leave the cat food and not to stick her rear too far out into an aisle, but I received many questions and comments from people asking me how long it took me to get her to that point. I said, “Oh, this is her first real outing.” I don’t think they believed me, but I don’t care. I just let her grow up…and, I’m glad I did. Now, I have a dog that’s happy at her work and will even leave her food and tasty bones when I call her to me. She’s never been petted by strangers, played with strange dogs or climbed a set of bleachers. 🙂

    • Sarah

      I have a 8 week old female Malinois. I also have four kids 2 toddlers a seven yr. old and 14 year old. I don’t let the little ones pick her up at all. Any advice for a Malinois owner with four kids?

    • Courtney

      I wish I had read this before I got my puppy, he is THE most socialized dog. Comes to work with me every single day, took him everywhere and he is more and more fearful, reactive and barks at everything!! Is there anything I can do now? I’m going to focus less on socialization and make myself the most interesting thing in the world!! Ha

    • Courtney Moore

      I wish I had read this before I got my puppy, he is THE most socialized dog. Comes to work with me every single day, took him everywhere and he is more and more fearful, reactive and barks at everything!! Is there anything I can do now? I’m going to focus less on socialization and make myself the most interesting thing in the world!! Ha

    • Lisa Ray

      Hi. I am so perplexed by our chihuahua. We got him at 6 weeks old. He was very shy a d terrified. The pandemic was just getting in full swing. Kinda dropped the ball on not socializing him. I believe I made a critical error by picking him up in such a fearful state trying to show him it was ok. This little 7 lb dog managed to twist in fear leap out of my arms and fell flat on his jaw. Much yelping broke my heart. I now only hold him sitting down and that’s when I catch him. My husband has made little more headway but still he will hunch up tick tail and run from us. He will be 1 in august. Been to bet once. He was so terrified he pooped all over me. I’ve never tried to walk him yet because putting a leash and something sturdy to hold him seems very insurmountable. He has appt coming up to get neutered. I’m dreading it. I have 3 other small dogs. He runs romps and plays non stop. He plays with toys. His fearfulness of me especially is making me fearful to try anything. If I’m eating it’s like the switch in his head releases him and he’s up in my face. If I approach him where he’s kinda stuck like corner of couch. He trembles and cowers in fear. I’m so heartbroken over this. I will never get rid of him. I don’t think must people would put up with this behavior. I am seriously looking for direction. I get on floor every day and play with him. He always keeps distance. I try to get to him. He runs circles in house to keep away. My husband has him to point of saying bruiser come here in sweet voice and he will stop and tuck tail hunched over but let him get him. I need advice. Do I seek professional help or try something different? I love him to pieces but I’m so frustrated by his behavior he’s probably picking it up. I’m at point when I walk through room I totally show no focus on him at all as he’s always poised to run like hell. Any advice I will try. Desperate in Missouri.

    • Kerry

      I’m so glad I found this article. I have a 15 wk old GSD. She is great in our home and back garden. She is a little fearful in the front garden but nothing major. However, I have tried to take her out on walks and she is just so worried. She barks at other dogs across the street. She is just looking around so intensely. I’ve been feeling so pressured to get her out and socialised from all the things I have read and seen.
      Is it ok I get her more confident in the front garden first and then just take her outside our boundary.? It’s so hard to know what to do. Thank you

    • Me

      I agree with most everything but genetics. Its not true in humans or dogs. Your DNA only gives you so much and.most all can be overcome except height and fast twitch muscle fibers.

      Ive also reared an animal or two. Very many rescues, my mom and 4 or 5 of her sisters did it well before me. Both sides of my family had farms and ranches. In all my life Ive only had problems with one dog and she was the top bred ive ever had. She had a will of No, like ive never seen before in my life. It was to the point she wouldnt come to a person with a steak in their hand. She was never abused or hurt, she was always handled well. She just didnt want to do anything for anyone or ever comply. She did what she wanted, when she wanted and that was that.

      Ive had hundred of rescues, got a dog once with a hole greater than a half inch in her belly from abuse. Muts, dogs in danger of being put done from agression and so on. Every one other than the top bred one was able to be corrected. Breeding has nothing to do with it in my opinion. Old, young, bred, muts, abused, not abused, abandoned, you name it, virtually any dog can respond to proper care with exceptional results.

      • Meagan Karnes

        This is curious to me. I’m wondering, if genetics don’t matter, why we select certain breeds for certain jobs. Why not use bloodhounds to herd sheep and cattle dogs to track and trail on a hunt. I don’t tend to see these breeds doing these types of jobs. If that’s not due to their genetics, which produce behaviors making them ideal for these jobs and tasks, what is the reason?

    • Andrea Hartford

      This article made me think back many years to my second Malamute. Our first was a male, and by the time we got Sheena, our second, a female, he was 18 months old and had seen everything and done everything from riding in cablecars up mountains, playing in the Pacific, chasing gophers in the prairies to meeting all sorts of wild animals at an animal park, (behind fences of course). He was so layed back he could handle anything. We expected Skeena to be the same. She wasn’t. We’d take her and our male, Takla, for loose walks in the field behind our house. At the least noise she would run – not to us but to our house. She spooked at everything and cowered when I gently tried to teach her anything including walking on a leash, sit, come, anything. In frustration I gave up and just let her be Takla’s companion. We moved to live in the interior of BC and when Skeena was 2 she had puppies. I was showing one of the new puppy owners how to teach their pup to heel using Takla of course because I had never been able to teach Skeena much of anything. Takla was in a mood and doing everything he could to screw up so I would leave him alone. In frustration I grabbed Skeena, clipped a leash on her saying “I’ve never taught her anything so this should be interesting. I can show you the basics”. She performed beautifully, never making a mistake. Fast, slow, figure 8s, off leash, leave your dog, recall. She was perfect. She had learned from watching and she had matured. A number of years later when we moved back to suburbia we took her to obedience classes as a companion to her granddaughter who was suffering from culture shock and we felt she needed the exposure to gain confidence. She was about 2 at the time. Skeena walked in, fidgeted and whined as we were being shown something new, then did it perfectly the first time. She learned from watching.
      So, what I’m saying is that your point about letting them mature and grow up makes so much sense to me. Thank you.

    • Amanda

      Thank you sooo much for this article. I think my google search was something like “is there a thing as an oversocialized dog” suspecting my dog is it 🥴. . And your article makes sooo much sense.

      One of my dog is 1,5 years old. She is a rescue, streetdog hit by a car as a 2 months old puppy. She has HIGH energy and medium high drive. She was very social as a puppy not easy scared, and different too many other streetdogs in the country I live in (south east asia). But when we adopted her we had to contact a pethotel to make sure we could have her there, because we needed to briefly leave the country a few months later. I was told to be extremely careful socializing her a lot so that they could accept her at the pethotel (I think they also had some bad experiences with other rescued street dogs). So once we got her we and her hip was healed enough to play with other dogs we had her socializing a lot with street dogs or neighbors dogs that lived nearby. (thinking also that there is a lot they can learn from each other that we can’t teach them like body language, or when rough plays gets too much etc). It was the start of covid so we never left home and I hoped that if we just raised her confident she would not be a scared dog for new environments. She is such a street smart dog, she can sense an aggressive dog far away and tells me if she doesn’t want to go in that direction, she isn’t afraid if new environment. But she is also OVERLY confident and doesn’t “need” me anymore. (Breaks a mamas heart). She would much rather be out roaring the streets playing with EVERYONE (and definitely the street is in her blood so genetics plays a hugs part). She is also OVERLY enthusiastic meeting people and while she definitely would run after me if she needed to chose between me and another human she just doesn’t engage with me the way I wished her to do. And that’s when I started thinking maybe we oversocialized her 🤣 seems I might be right. I am working a lot to increase engagement doing all our walks to obedience training, a lot of focus on me and a lot of treats. But I also feel like I am a bad mummy for not letting her play as much with other dogs anymore and run off leash as much as she used to. Any suggestions how I can stop feeling bad when she looks at me with eyes that says “please let me run and play”? Also how can I increase engagement with her and get her to turn to me first? I am happy she is confident and a happy dog but her overconfidence makes it that she seeks “freedom” (but she will always come back if she escapes, its just she always seeks fun somewhere else… Other dogs are just more fun then me and my treats..)

      Also i saw someone mentioning cats. We never socialized her with cats as a puppy the result is that she is OBSESSED with cats. And I always blamed myself for not trying harder to find cats to socialize with (when she was about 1 year we had a foster car for 6 months). But according to you this would probably not have helped? Maybe it’s just who she is? Or?

      In comparison to our lates adoption, a ten months old Beagle that had been in several homes before she met us (i have no idea about how she was socialized before) but I just figure she has my older dog and one other close frienddog. That’s enough. As long as she is not aggressive or scared I will not allow her to play with just any dog on the street. And I don’t know if it’s because of that or because of her history of moving to different packs but she is very engaged in me👍🥰 and keeps by my side always. Definitely genes because I am sure except for hunting and drive they are bred to be pets, with humans. But also maybe she doesn’t know how fun other dogs can be. 🤣 And I will keep it so. Your article makes me more determined to say no to everyone that wants to pet her. Where we are beagles are rare and super cute to the normal dogs around here so EVERYONE wants to pet her and she doesn’t like it (in comparison to my older dog that only wants everyones attention constantly…)

      Oh another question. When we do allow our dogs to play with other dogs you said “home environment” is better. (Which in my case is ok because they are not aggressive or territorial except for with some toys or bones) but many experts tells us to let our dogs interact first time with other dogs on neutral places.. what’s your opinion?

      Thank you once again for a great article! At least with my youngest dog I will follow these advice.. but how do I do with my oversocialized 1,5 year old?


    • Paula

      Thank you! This post has been just what I’ve needed to validate how I want to do things with my puppy. There is a lot of pressure to take them anywhere and everywhere, climbing on anything and everything, exposing to 101 different noisy busy places. Just doesn’t feel like I am setting my puppy up for success to have a good experience. We are mostly playing and having a good time together in open and mostly quiet places in public where we can move at our own pace.

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