Trainer Tips: Debunking Socialization Myths


Does your dog need dog friends? What’s the best way to socialize them? How can you help them relax around new dogs, humans, and situations? Leigh Siegfried, of Opportunity Barks Behavior and Training, has some tips.


For years the word “socialization” has been a buzzword in the American dog ownership experience. New puppy owners hear that word and often feel under the gun to have their puppy have direct interaction with other dogs.

Too often this word conjures a number of concepts that are old, out of date and not realistic for the life stages of your dog. With the growth of dog parks, daycares and the popularity of Puppy Bowl, many people feel that their dogs “need” to be able to thrive in these environments, that their dogs “need” dog friends. Not so.

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What is socialization?

Exposing your dog to novelty in the environment and all the “things” that are in the environment­ humans, other animals, objects, new places. Socialization “training” is also helping your dog learn to relax when uneasy and to look to you for guidance.

How to “socialize” a dog?

Socializing a dog or puppy involves your active participation with your dog, where you go places, interact with things, people, animals or simply hang out and observe things from a distance.

Socialization does not only refer to your dog interacting with other dogs off leash. Reality check: you will not expose your dog to everything that they will interact with in their lifetime, so do the best you can do, and if life tosses you and your fuzz butt with a curveball­ a trashcan that falls over or a person in costume that approaches them or a hot air balloon landing in your backyard­ secure your dog by their collar and rub them down and help them negotiate the weirdness that may be going on in their world.

Teaching your dog to move through odd situations with grace vs. panic is the basis of teaching your dog how to solidly respond to life’s little socialization surprises. And bonus­ it sets you up as a predictable and trustworthy guide!

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Where to “socialize” a dog?

Places like dog daycares and dog parks are hotspots for dogs that already enjoy the company of other dogs and are friendly towards dogs. They are not ideal places to attempt to “socialize” a dog: with an unknown social history; that is extremely fearful of other dogs or that has had multiple aggressive experiences with other dogs­ consult a professional trainer for these pups to get a recommendation on the best course of action.

Your best bet is to go out and about, sit on a stoop, mingle or get to know friendly dogs in your neighborhood and join them on a walk or hike or simply hang out with your pup and have them take it all in and observe the world around them.

Note: Direct off leash interaction is not the only requirement for dogs to be learning and socializing, simply observing other people and animals is also creates a learning experience for your dog.

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“When my dog was young he loved dogs, and we went to dog parks or daycare, but now I’m not so sure.”

Yep, we hear this all the time. Do not expect your dog that has had some social interaction with other dogs to love that kind of interaction forever. As our dogs grow and age, some of them are super fans of off leash play with other dogs, while other dogs can grow into adolescence and maturity and become much more choosy about who they want to play with or become snarky towards young puppies (which may be very appropriate by the way).

Respect what your dog is telling you and if you see increased snarkiness, your dog may be saying, “this is not my idea of a good time anymore.”

Or, this could be a reflection of the kind of interaction he or she is having­ 50 dogs at an off leash park with high energy play? This may be too much. Joining a few other stable dogs on a walk or hike? This may be much more comfortable.

In short, chill out on socialization. Yes, it’s important, but it’s not just the idea of your dog being able to be in a group of dogs off leash. That’s ideal and convenient for many dog owners, but it may not always be on the table as an exercise option for the long haul.

So take our advice­ work hard on a good recall, and get out and explore other low pressure environments like parks, trails, spots for off leash adventures and games around the house that help exert energy but also give you alternatives to parks. Your dog will thank you for it!

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Leigh Siegfried is owner and Training Director of Opportunity Barks, Behavior and Training.  Opportunity Barks offers private lessons, group training classes, workshops and day school training programs for dogs at their new East Falls location.

Opportunity Barks
3510 Scotts Lane
Suite #3112
(next to East Falls Glass Works on Scotts Lane)


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