Socializing your new puppy


    There seems to be record puppy sales right now, probably because so many people are staying home. That means there are a LOT of puppies who will need to be trained and socialized well to become good and well adjusted companions.   But with social distancing, it means we can't do our normal protocol for socializing puppies during the critical period that ends between 12 and 16 weeks of age.  The purpose of this article is to give you some ideas to safely get your new puppy out and about but still keep everyone safe. 

Permission to share is granted as long as you credit Jill Porter/Faithwalk Aussies and Mini American Shepherds.

 Since many states are only allowing essential travel, one idea you could use is have two people drive to a store for supplies. One person goes in to shop, the other stays outside with the puppy. Sit on your tail gate if your vehicle has one, or take a blanket and put the puppy on it on your hood (being safely restrained no matter what, with a harness and leash or collar and leash.)  Let the puppy watch other people coming and going. No one can come up and pet the puppy of course, but even being able to see different looking people is beneficial. You can also take treats to do a little CC&D (counter conditioning and desensitization) if needed.

For those who live in neighborhoods, you can do a similar method of sitting out front of your house, with the pup on leash. Let the pup watch people and other dogs walk up and down the street, and again be able to see that humans and other animals come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and behaviors.  If you are allowed to go out for drives, which varies by location in the US right now, you can take your pup to places where people come and go and let him watch out the window.. Keep your distance and be respectful of any regulations in place right now.

If it is legal and safe for you to walk your puppy, both because of local conditions and regulations, and your puppy has had enough vaccination history to be safe, you can walk your puppy in areas where he can observe people or other animal activity, from a safe and legal distance.  Again, be respectful of regulations and social distancing protocol.  If your pup is really young, not had at least two vaccinations (8 and 12 weeks), you can still carry him for walks, if that is legal in your area.  Some people use a dog stroller, which also works. The idea is getting the pup out to see the world in a way that is still safe for all involved.

You can have members of your own family dress up to look really different than "normal", so the puppy gets used to people with big hats, baggy clothes, sunglasses, and all sorts of things. Be creative but don't scare the puppy!

It is going to be a bit harder to get dog to dog socializing of course. While dogs can't become infected with COVID19, they can be contaminated like any other surface. That's why at this point, you don't want to let people touch your dog, or other dogs touch. I know it's less likely to spread from dog to dog contact than direct human contact, but if you are in a high risk area, just don't risk it.  Because it can be hard to access vet care, you want to be careful allowing your young pup to interact with strange dogs anyway (and that's true any time.)   Even letting your puppy see other dogs walking by can have benefit though, as again the pup sees the wide variety of appearances and mannerisms in dogs. 

The idea with all of this this stems from a quote by Jane Killion of Puppy Culture.  She said "socialization is a cultural understanding, not a cocktail party."  That means your pup does not have to be touched or right in the middle of things to gain useful information from our society.  In fact, for more cautious pups, being able to observe from a distance may be more beneficial early on anyway.  

While at home with your puppy you can also start fun basic training.  Use reward based methods that encourage your puppy, not fear based methods intended to shut down or suppress behaviors.  Keep sessions short and fun. 

Some games you can work at home include what I call "playing catch with the puppy".  For that, have two people sit a distance apart. Use shorter distances for younger pups.  One holds the pup at first, and the other calls. When the pup comes running, use praise and treats to reward. Give him a minute or so and let the other person call. Do this a few times, making it a fun happy game, and stop before the pup gets tired or bored of it. Younger pups don't need much repetition. The idea is that coming when called is fun and very rewarding. Starting in a less distracting environment is good too.

Another game to teach is the "watch me" game. This can be useful later in so many situations. Use a high value treat, hold it up by your face and stay "watch me."  Make sure the pup knows you have the treat.   As soon as the pup makes eye contact, give the treat. Repeat a few times. Again, keep it short, end before the pup is bored..  If it's a tiny pup you can do this sitting on the ground.  The idea is to teach the pup that watching your face is very rewarding, and you can use this should the pup later have issues with being over stimulated, or reactive to various stimuli.  You can keep the dog focused on you while doing CC&D with whatever causes him to react.

You can also teach basic manners  and tricks like sit, down, roll over, give paw and others.  For mental stimulation while stuck inside, use puzzle toys or things like snuffle mats. Allowing a dog to use it's nose is a very rewarding experience, it releases happy endorphins. Using his or her nose to find treats is even more fun for the dog.  Besides using a snuffle mat, you can hide small treats or bits of kibble around the house and let your pup find them.   If you don't treat your lawn with chemicals and it's safe, you can toss a handful of the pup's daily ration of kibble into the grass for him or her to find.  Using his nose and brain is a good way to tire out a puppy, much more than just physical exercise.

One very important thing to remember is to teach your puppy to be okay being alone. Since so many of us are home full time now, but won't be forever, your puppy will need to learn, in small steps, not to be afraid or stressed by being alone. Start small, and ideally work on crate training. If you don't have one, even using a different room could work. First wait until the puppy is already been taken to potty and had a bit of exercise.  Give a very high value, safe chew, and put the pup in a crate or the other room.  Wait for the pup to be happy engaged with chewing, and step out.  Ideally the pup will chew a bit and fall asleep. If not, come back in before the pup gets distressed by your absence.  You want to teach the pup being alone for a bit is good, he will have a good chew and you will come back before it gets scary. Gradually increase the time you can leave the pup, based on his age and maturity.    One thing to note, don't make coming and going a big emotional thing with lots of "baby talk".  Quietly and calming come and go.  You may risk setting your pup up for separation anxiety if you do a lot of the emotional baby talk every time you come and go, as you show the dog there is a reason to get all worked up.  Even if you miss your pup (and we all do), play it cool. 

After all this is over, you can then get those pups into reward based puppy classes, but for now, by being creative, we can still help our pups grow and develop into the best dogs we can!



I wanted to write a bit about so-called "friendly" dogs.

Permission to share as long as you credit Jill Porter/Faithwalk Aussies. Written August 2020

I have been in dogs over 35 years as an adult and have seen a lot of so-called "friendly" dogs. You know the type, the ones dragging their owners up to anyone and everything, while the owner shouts "he just wants to say hi!"

The problem is, most of these "friendly" dogs are in fact rude, have no social skills and rarely listen to their owners while distracted or highly aroused. Their owners lack basic understand of dog behavior and body language. So these dogs terrorize innocent dogs and their owners, often resulting in altercations and possibly fear aggression or reactive behavior in the victim dogs. Leashed dogs can't get away so may be pushed past their limit to NOT react. Dogs who think they HAVE to meet all dogs can be very frustrated when not allowed to, and frustration is the number one cause of aggression in dogs.

Here is the thing. Most dogs don't enjoy meeting other dogs. Read that again. MOST DOGS DON'T ENJOY MEETING OTHER DOGS. Think of it like this, when you are out in public, do YOU rush up to every human you see, get into their personal space and touch them inappropriately, just because you are friendly and want to say "hi"? Wouldn't that be SO inappropriate in our human society, and possibly have a negative outcome?

I have a little analogy I make when counseling my puppy buyers on this topic. Picture yourself shopping for groceries at the store. There will be people you walk past in the aisles without even making eye contact. Maybe you will make eye contact with a few, smile and nod and move on. Maybe you will run into someone you know and will stop to chat for a few minutes. Then when you get to the check out lane, you may have a quick conversation with the cashier. Those are all different levels of social interaction and all are considered socially acceptable in our human society. Yet people often insist their dogs meet and have more physical interactions with EVERY dog they see. It is uncomfortable for most dogs, and even worse when they are on leash. It sets dogs up to fail, to react, to lash out after more subtle body language cues are ignored, and it makes the dog lose trust in you to keep him safe and honor his feelings. If a puppy is involved he learns very inappropriate behaviors at an early age.

Instead of thinking your dog has to meet every other dog he sees, instead teach him to be comfortable seeing other dogs but not meeting, and not reacting. If you meet a dog you already know and with whom your dog has a friendly relationship with, that's different. But leave strange dogs alone. That will go a long way to preventing leash reactivity and aggression! And don't be afraid to nicely but firmly tell others not to let their leashed or worse yet, unleashed dog, approach your leashed dog. Your dog will be more comfortable with you, knowing you have his back. Teach him a "watch me" cue using food to reward him turning his gaze to your face, and practicing a lot at home first. It is a VERY useful thing to have a dog who is well conditioned to pay attention to you before you face distractions. And most of all, change the thinking that dogs have to "love everyone", "be good with all dogs" because neither of those is realistic! 

Your dog can have a few friends who are compatible with him, and that will more than meet his social needs. But these are not dogs he meets randomly on the street.

We as owners really need to understand dogs, read their body language and honor them, not try to see them or make them into human "fur kids", since that is not possible anyway.

Permission to share as long as you credit Jill Porter/Faithwalk Aussies. Written August 2020





  Let me start out by saying the critical period for socializing any dog ends at 16 weeks of age.  What happens to the puppy before that age will have more impact on the adult dog he becomes, than anything that happens later.  So if a breeder keeps the puppies kenneled outside during that time, rather than raising them in the home and taking them out for various socializing and training opportunities, the puppies may never be able to reach their full potential. I can't stress this enough.  It is critical that a puppy in a home with his new owner, and any puppy still with his breeder, is properly and extensively socialized to all sorts of people including children, to other pets, and to many different situations he will encounter in a normal life with humans!  There are many, many articles and studies that have been done in this topic, so if you want to read more, you can do a search on the web for phrases like "critical period for socialization in canines". 

   Even after 16 weeks of age, it is still very important to consider a well thought out socialization plan.

  What is socialization?  You hear that term tossed around a lot, but what does it really mean?  Socialization doesn't just mean taking your dog in public, or exposing him to a certain number or type of people. I like what Jane from Puppy Culture says - "Socialization is a cultural understanding, not a cocktail party."   It means getting him used to all sorts of handling such as having his feet, mouth and ears touched, being restrained for grooming or medical treatment and many other things.  It means getting him exposed to a huge variety of situations, noises, people and other animals, and many other things, so he will be well rounded and confident in his life.  This means household noises like a vacuum cleaner, the TV or radio, noisy kids playing, and so on.  HOWEVER, SOCIALIZING DOES NOT TRUMP GENETIC TEMPERAMENT SO YOU CAN'T TURN A GENETICALLY SHY DOG INTO A SOCIAL BUTTERFLY.  YOU CAN GIVE THAT DOG BETTER COPING SKILLS AND ALSO KEEP HIM FROM HAVING TO BE IN SITUATIONS THAT ARE SIMPLY TOO MUCH FOR HIM.

     I try to make sure my dogs meet at least a few new people a week during the first year of life. I want to get them around tall people, short people, men with beards, people in hats or shiny sunglasses, people who smoke (we don't), loud people, quiet people, people of different races, people in "funny" clothes, kids, older folks and so on.  I also try to let them see different dog breeds and other animals, around busy traffic areas, in other buildings and homes.  I groom them regularly and make handling for medical treatment part of our regular social time.  By that I mean I may practice holding them in various ways such as they may need to have blood drawn and so on.  That way when it's time to actually have treatment at the vet, they are more used to it.


   Australian Shepherd pups need plenty of sensible, controlled socializing from birth on, if they are to reach their full potential.  As a breed, as per the standard, they may be reserved with strangers and possess strong guardian instincts (see both the ASCA and AKC breed standard, the section on character.)  What does this mean to a pet owner?  If not well bred, raised and socialized, you may have a dog who is overly protective of it's home and family, or overly fearful.  This takes a lot of the fun out of owning a dog, not to mention is a major liability.  Even well raised and socialized Aussies may possess some of these qualities, but the purpose of this article is to help an owner minimize that to the point the dog is a joy to live with.  I hear some people say they don't socialize because they want the dog to be protective but a normal, stable dog that is well socialized may still be protective if the genes are there.  An undersocialized dog may be fearful so what may SEEM like protectiveness is just fear aggression and that is very unstable and dangerous.  My two most stable protective dogs were also very social dogs.

    Socializing should start before your puppy comes home.  A good breeder will be hands on with the pups from birth to the point the pup is transferred to it's new home.  Ideally that would mean the pups are born inside and handled daily, and exposed to all sorts of sights, sounds, smells and experiences.  I am doing Early Neurological Stimulation, from days 3-16, and I handle them daily in other ways as well. When they are mobile, they will meet visitors and other "puppy safe" dogs and even other animals.  You have to use caution in taking a young (and unvaccinated) pup out into the big world, but you can safely do it to some extent. I wait until my pup has his first shot, and then start taking him for truck rides, and visits to the local stores which allow pets to visit.  I don't put pups on the floor or let them come in contact with other pets in the store, at this stage.  Same for vet visits, they are carried in to avoid being on the floor or ground, until they have completed their shots.  In the mean time, I take them places where the risk of coming in contact with other potentially disease carrying dogs is low, but where they can meet people and see other sights and sounds. If you have other puppy friendly, healthy dogs in your family, neighborhood, or circle of friends, the puppy can be introduced to them after at least the first, if not second shot.   The most critical time to expose your puppy to as much as possible, but in a safe, controlled way, is 8-16 wks.  I can't stress this enough, as this is what will determine a large part of how your puppy will turn out!  Your puppy does NOT have to touch and be touched by every person or meet other dogs to be socialized too.  You can just let them see from a safe distance, and teach them not to react strongly.  Meeting the wrong dogs or people can give a bad experience and make your pup MORE fearful versus more confident.

  Another concept with socializing I want to discuss is HOW to do it.  Many people almost force their pup to meet new people, even when the experience is clearly overwhelming for the pup. I try to keep a close tab on how my pup is feeling, watching for signs of stress like calming signals.  I let them have some say in how much contact they have with new things, at first.  I think it builds confidence for them to decide how to relate to things, and I set them up to succeed by trying not to put them in situations they aren't ready to experience, but I reward them (often with food) for exploring and visiting. Once they've had their shots, I may take them in the local big farm store.  The employees generously hand out treats and it encourages dogs to want to go up to greet new people. I don't force them to accept petting if they aren't comfortable, but let them set the pace. Most of the time it's more about holding them back though, as they want to see people to get treats.  The reason I use caution and not force them is I have seen a number of dogs really damaged by that, by being flooded with more than they can handle.  You have to have a balance of positive experiences at this stage, to get an ideal outcome.  Your puppy needs to trust that you will not put him in a situation that is too much for him to handle.  If you damage that trust by forcing him at a young age, you may never fully get it back. 

   IMPORTANT: Something you don't want to do is reward fear or caution by cooing to the dog, trying to reassure it with soothing words or petting. That simply reinforces their fear or uncertainty.  Many dogs, Aussies included, may go through fear periods as they grow, meaning your normally outgoing puppy suddenly acts afraid of a new person or situation, or even things it used to be fine with.  A lot of people try to comfort the dog, but that simply reinforces the emotion and behavior.  Instead just back up to a distance where the dog is relaxed again and then reward for being relaxed.

     What  I tend to do is pretend to ignore their fear, as if I am saying "I don't have a clue why you are acting like that, you silly thing, there's nothing to be afraid of."   It's sort of like being matter of fact rather than feeding the fear. I guess it's like if you have a toddler who is running across the floor and falls.  You can gasp in horror in which case the child will probably start crying, or you can laugh, in which case the child will also laugh.  Just like that child, your dog will feed off your reactions more than you will ever know.  I don't truly ignore the fear, I just don't tense up and panic myself, since that tells the dog there is a reason to be scared, and I don't overly reward while in a scared state of mind.

   If I have a dog going through a fear period, I may back off taking the dog to new places for a while.  When we do see some hesitation, I keep an upbeat vibe and "pretend" I don't notice and we just keep moving, even if it's away from the "scary" thing. It's like again I am telling them I don't expect or anticipate them being afraid and that travels down the leash in a big way.  I just don't feed or reward fear, but will set things up for the dogs to succeed. I may walk them around people and carry on a conversation with the person, almost ignoring the dog, and the dog just picks up that it's no big deal to be near strangers.  If I approach a stranger anticipating the dog being afraid, they will be if they weren't inclined to be in the first place.  Aussies are so keen at sensing our emotions and reacting based on that.   I have used these methods with foster dogs with great success.

    Of course, if you can enroll your puppy in a reward based, quality training class, that is great.  I highly recommend it!    In some places those types of classes are easy to find, in others they are harder.  Find a trainer who is familiar with the breed and comfortable in working with them.  Watch a class before enrolling, if you can. If at any point you feel uncomfortable with the methods used, don't take your pup there.  Even if you have already started a program, the same applies. Never let a trainer do something to your dog, or instruct you to, that makes the dog afraid of you or other people, or damages the trust and confidence you are building. I STRONGLY recommend AGAINST the use of shock collars by any name, and overly forceful, fear based methods designed to suppress the dog. I don't mean we never tell our dogs no, but we don't use fear and suppression as a core of our training and interaction.   It's not nearly as effective as more reward based methods where the dog trusts you. I do verbally correct, often just a quick "no" or "uh uh" and move on to what we want to happen.  

    Another comment I have is if you start to see your puppy bark at people or things, try not to make too much of a fuss over it, in a good way or bad way. Your dog will naturally protect you, you don't need to encourage it in a young pup, nor do you want to correct them for that as it could be motivated by some uncertainty, and you don't punish that.  If your pup starts to huff (that breathy kind of bark, usually indicating fear or uncertainty), try to change the subject by walking it off in a different direction. Next, plan ways to make the next similar encounter set up in a way to encourage your pup to react differently.   If he was barking at a person, set up a friend to come in from a distance, tossing treats to the pup, and maybe saying a mild greeting but not being too loud or excited sounding, then walking away again.  You want the pup to see the approach of a stranger as not a huge deal.   If you tense up and anticipate a bad reaction from your pup, you will get one. If you set up the training to make it possible for your pup to succeed, and picture succeeding, you will.  

    The other thing you must do is understand the concept of management.  Even a "good" Aussie may find situations or people he or she just doesn't like.  Rather than trying to force the dog to behave in such a situation, don't be afraid to simply remove the dog.  An example could be a rousing game of touch football in the yard.  If your Aussie wants to "help" you or "protect" you from your friends, or your children from their friends, it's better to just remove them rather than have the dog take matters into his own paws. You can keep working with the dog in that type of situation, but some may just find it too stimulating given their herding instincts.  It's better to remove the dog than have it bite!  In an Aussie, chasing moving objects is a very self rewarding behavior (meaning it feels good so it doesn't need an outside reward like praise or treats.)  The more they practice it, the more they will do it.  So the best thing to do is to remove the dog until you can train to have more control over the dog, and the dog can learn more self control in that situation.  If it can't learn that control, just don't have the dog loose in those situations.  It may be asking more than the dog can give.

  I also recommend you read this article by Turid Rugaas, on calming signals.  Learning to understand your dog's cues can help you assess how he feels about a given situation. You can then learn when to proceed and when to back off in training or exposing him to new things.  This is VERY good information and I highly recommend you read it.


    One really important concept I want everyone to understand is a dog is not a human nor should he be treated like one.  Also, just like some humans don't like EVERY person or situation he finds himself in, neither do dogs. This is normal and perfectly fine! So bear this in mind and realize your dog is a thinking, feeling creature who may just need some understanding in some situations.  Dogs never do things without a reason or without warning, but if their owners don't understand them they may be blamed for that.  It is the human who lacked the training or skill in observing and understanding.  Most dogs want to please as it gives them the positive feedback from their owners, but not all dogs will be "perfect" in all situations.  Love your dog anyway, and train him, don't blame him! 




    I wanted to add some information for people to use to help them properly meet a new dog.  This will apply to Aussies as well as any dog.  You can use this info to coach people meeting your dog as you have him out to socialize.  It is even more important to teach children how to properly meet and greet dogs.

    So many people see a pretty dog and want to rush up to it, speaking in a high pitched or loud voice, and either pet or hug the dog.  If you think about how the dog perceives this, you may realize this is not the right way to approach. Many dogs are threatened by a strange person rushing up to touch the dog, especially if the person is being loud  and looming over the dog, or is trying to touch it.  Instead, remain calm and let the dog approach you.  Don't even try to make physical contact, and don't talk to the dog.  Instead, let the dog smell you and make the first contact. After the dog has done this, you may put your hand out to be sniffed.  If the dog seems comfortable and accepting, reach under it's jaw line to give a scratch.  So many people reach over the head of a dog, which is another potentially threatening gesture.  Also, dogs don't instinctively enjoy being patted on the head.  (Do it to yourself and see if you find it pleasurable).  The same goes for patting their ribs, something I see some men do at times, giving a hard couple thumps on the dog's side.  Instead, try scratching under the chin, on the chest or on the rump above the tail. These are places most dogs enjoy being petted.  Unless you know the dog well don't try to hug the dog.  Know that hugging is something people like to do, but dogs don't naturally understand it as a sign of affection. In fact, in dogs, it is more likely to be used in a dominance interaction, where a dog may wrap it's paws around the neck and shoulders of another dog in an attempt to dominate it.  It is especially risky for a child to try to hug a strange dog, as the dog may bite.  Though people think it's wrong for a dog to bite in that situation, it is a perfectly natural reaction for the dog.

    By behaving in this manner around new dogs, you will find most react much better to you than they would if you played the obnoxious animal lover.  And, you will be keeping yourself safe from a potential bite for doing something a dog is not comfortable with. 



   Below is a GREAT article on the subject of socializing your dog: 

 Domestic Dogs Getting Along With Each Other



A great article on puppy socialization:


   Another good article on why socializing is important:





      Something else that I consider VERY important in raising balanced dogs is that puppies get plenty of time with adults that have stable temperaments.  At my house, my adult dogs are very appropriate with puppies and my puppies get many hours a day with them every day.  I am careful at first when puppies are young, that they don't get trampled when the big dogs play hard, but after that they are together almost all waking hours.  As you can see in the pictures below, the puppies instinctively submit to the adults and since my dogs have stable temperaments, they put up with the obnoxious puppies quite well.  The adult tri female is showing her teeth in a warning, but that is all the further she takes it. If they persist she may get up and move, but doesn't use a lot of force even with slightly older pups such as these.  The puppies get to practice submission and if they push TOO hard, the adult may give a quick correction. In the last of the three photos, one puppy is putting his muzzle in the mouth of his father.  That is a mix of submission and food begging behavior.  Going back to wolves, puppies lick and nibble the corners of the mouths of adults, to stimulate them to regurgitate food.  My Aussies seldom do this but I have had some of the northern breed dogs I have feed puppies this way, and have seen it happen countless times with wolves.   It's all normal and common canine behavior and it is instinctive in puppies.  

     I have occasionally gotten a puppy that didn't get enough or any time with other adult dogs and the difference in their social skills is quite easy to see.  Puppies raised with other dogs learn so much, but of course these must be dogs with the appropriate social skills themselves, or they may hurt the puppies. I also feel that by only breeding dogs who CAN be good with puppies, we increase the chance of producing puppies who can inherit the ability to develop good social skills.  It takes both to raise stable dogs, good genes and proper upbringing.







      In these photos above, you see normal and natural interactions between stable adult dogs and puppies that are around 3 months in age.  The adults are intact dogs, the black tri is the alpha female of the dog family, and the male is second ranking and sire to a couple of the pups.  I would never breed dogs who are not good with puppies as all parts of temperament are a mix of inherited and learned, and if their genetic temperament is not stable, they are not likely to produce puppies who can have stable temperaments. 

    In the top two photos, puppies submit to the adult female, and in the third photo down one is submitting and food begging from the male, and in the last photo the female shows what almost appears to be an expression of "the things I have to put up with!"  She doesn't harm or over correct the eager puppies, but gets up and moves away if they pester too much at this age. Later, a stable adult may start to correct older pushy puppies.  That doesn't mean causing harm, but mildly correcting and teaching the puppies some boundaries.


   To wrap this up, when you take on an Aussie puppy or adult, you are embarking on what should be a very rewarding partnership with an amazing breed of dog.  It's up to you to set the stage for success for your little canine genuis!  Help him be all he can be!  Train, socialize and succeed! 



 This is a GREAT article about temperament and how it works.  It is about German Shepherd Dogs but the principles apply to all dogs, and since Aussies are also herding dogs, it's even more close for them.  I really encourage anyone wanting to understand temperament and why it is genetic, not "how they are raised" to ready this. 



"And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."
     Deuteronomy 6:5





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