Puppies playing for good socialization


Ninja Socialization, or Strategic Familiarization?

The term socialization has a very specific meaning to those who study canine behavior and developmental stages. “Socialization period” refers to a sensitive developmental period that occurs between 3 and 12 weeks of age. The door does not slam shut at 12 weeks, but those first few weeks are primed to take in the world, good and bad. So be thoughtful and strategic about how you do it.

In the past, many of us interpreted “socialization” to mean taking our puppies hither and thither into many over-stimulating situations in a well-intentioned effort to “socialize” them. We invited everyone to come up and interact with these impressionable beings, including rambunctious dogs and kids. Even in what we considered well-designed puppy classes, we played “pass the puppy,” which could simply overwhelm pups with all the strangers in the room. Yikes! How things have changed. We know better now.

A good way to think about it, now, is familiarization. For example, from a distance, from the security of your car, let your puppy watch activities at the park from a distance rather than thrusting them into over-stimulating settings with too many dogs rushing at them and people insisting on petting your puppy. There are some very good resources for you below.

Note: These early weeks are also the same time when puppies are most susceptible to infectious diseases. In fact, some veterinarians caution their clients not to take their puppies anywhere until after all their vaccinations are complete. Other veterinarians understand the significant behavioral risk that is posed by not familiarizing pups with the outside world until after four or five months of age. Instead, they recommend outings that are safe and relatively risk-free. You can do it!

Here are some resources about early socialization and how to do it right.

Puppy Vaccination and Socialization Should Go Together” by Dr. R. K. Anderson
Free e-book, Life Lessons for My Puppy by Marge Rogers and Eileen Anderson
Puppy Socialization: What It Is and How to Do It by by Marge Rogers and Eileen Anderson

Choosing a Trainer

The Back Story | Certification | Who is a Behaviorist

The Back Story

Dog training has changed immensely over the last 20 to 30 years. It pays to know a bit about the history of dog training so that you can make the most informed decision about the training philosophies and techniques that will be used to train you and your dog.

In the “old days” most trainers followed the military style of training, which resulted in a misguided belief in physically and emotionally intimidating dogs in the quest to teach them “obedience.” Equipment such as prong/pinch collars and choke chains were routinely used by trainers who subscribed to the use of, at some time in their training, intimidation, compulsion, or force. Some trainers still use these techniques today, but call them “balanced” training, and some even call them positive reinforcement (yikes!).

Additionally, research with captive wolves erroneously led us to believe that domestic dogs’ behaviors were motivated by the desire to “be dominant.” These beliefs have been debunked. Whole Dog Journal – Alpha Dogs

There is also a confounding belief system that supports the notion that dogs act from some kind of inner “desire to please” us. If you think about it, it’s a pretty strange idea that a dog would to try to dominate someone and please them at the same time. Even on its own, a belief in dogs’ desire to please results in frustration from people who think their dog should be more compliant or “obedient” simply because dogs should have a desire to please us. 

At long last, in the 1970s lure-reward training was introduced, and we found that you did not need to physically push, prod, and “correct” your dog to train him. Training could now be fun and effective. Dog Star Daily – Lure Reward Training

Then, in the 1990s clicker training, in use by animal trainers of other species since the 1940s, finally became understood and leveraged by trainers who saw its potential. Clicker training is one of the most effective and fun ways to train a variety of behaviors and has been embraced by positive reinforcement trainers while being misunderstood and maligned by some trainers who don’t understand how it works. The history of clicker training is a fascinating story that has enriched many animals’ lives for over seven decades! Bob and Marian Bailey Article

Now, some of the most exciting changes in dog training come from the area of human behavior analysis. If you are interested in exploring how applied behavioral analysis is used across a broad spectrum of species, check out Susan Friedman’s Behavior Works.  On that site, Dr. Susan Friedman’s Written Works pages are a great place to immerse yourself if you are a behavior junkie.

Make an Educated Decision

Be an informed consumer. Educate yourself about effective, positive reinforcement training and do your due diligence before choosing a trainer. Ask trainers to be specific about how they would address a particular problem you are encountering with your dog. For example, if your dog is barking at people walking past your home, what would the trainer recommend?

If the trainer asks questions first, and then talks about training “alternative behaviors” such as coming to you (come when called), or settling on a mat, or another behavior that is incompatible with barking, you are on the right track. If, however, the trainer doesn’t care about why your dog is barking (fear? boredom? separation anxiety?), and starts talking about all the ways you can punish your dog, thank them for their time, and keep looking.

Ethics and The Humane Hierarchy

About the Humane Hierarchy by Eileen Anderson

IAABC The Humane Hierarchy

CCPDT Code of Ethics

CCPDT Application of the Humane Hierarchy Position Statement


Educate yourself about trainer certification.

Not all “certifications” are created equally. Although there are some exceptions, certification that includes objective credentialing process is the professional standard. Certification assigned by a for-profit enterprise might have a conflict of interest. That is, is their interest to produce high-quality, experienced professionals, or to produce an additional revenue source for their enterprise? Due diligence is needed to answer that question for each kind of certification. For example, one for-profit training school (an online course for those aspiring to become professional trainers) is sponsored by a company that sells shock collars.

Buyer beware when choosing a trainer. Please educate yourself about certification.

Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers

APDT – Choosing Trainer Certifications

International Association of Animal Behaviorists

Who is a Behaviorist

In brief, it is really buyer beware when one purchases dog training or behavior modification services. There is no regulatory body in most states that licenses trainers or helps the public become educated about who has the appropriate experience to work with their dog, whether that be Pansy the Puppy or Fang, the resource-guarding, child biting Man’s Best Friend. And if someone calls himself a behaviorist, and yet has no advanced education or training in behavior, someone could end up being very disappointed when that “behaviorist” can’t solve their dog’s problem—or worse, makes it worse—because they weren’t qualified. And that makes all trainers and real behaviorists look bad.

I feel that the title “behaviorist” belongs to two groups of people: 1) a Board-certified veterinarian who has advanced education and experience in behavior in addition to their medical degree, and they have sat for and passed their Board exams in behavior dacvb.org; and 2) a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) who is a PhD in psychology or animal behavior and recognized by the Animal Behavior Society.

Does this mean that anyone who isn’t one of these rare folks is incapable of helping people with their dogs? Of course not. But that “behaviorist” title that should be reserved for the folks who have advanced degrees and who should be respected for their contribution and commitment to the field. If someone refers to themselves as a behaviorist, ask them what kind of behaviorist they are. That should be a good starting point for you to find out more about their experience and training philosophies.

There’s room for everyone when it comes to helping our dogs live happy, stress-free lives with their wacky humans—as long as we do no physical or emotional harm—and we respect and acknowledge the contributions each other has made.

Terry Long, 2023

Modern Horse Training (2023) by Alexandra Kurland. This a great book for dog training!
Puppy Vaccination and Socialization Should Go Together, Robert K. Anderson, DVM Diplomate, ACVB and ACVPM
Reinforcing Fear, Why the Debate by Pia Silvani (PDF)
Ring Stress by Terry Long (PDF)
The Science of Animal Training by Marian Breland Bailey, PhD, and Robert E. Bailey (PDF)
Operant Conditioning: Dispelling the Myths by Marian Breland Bailey, PhD, and Robert E. Bailey (PDF)
Getting Behaviors … With a Click and a Chick by Bob Bailey and Terry Long (PDF)
For Those Who Can’t Wait … Generalizing Short Latencies: The Bailey and Bailey Way” by Terry Long (PDF)