Ask The Dog Trainer: How Can I Socialize My Puppy?

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By Bill Mayeroff of FetchFind

Question: “I have a nine-month-old chocolate lab who is a wonderful dog. She is fairly well trained; however, due to her lack of exposure to children, she gets very excited and wants to jump and play when she sees children on our walk. Are there any techniques that you can recommend to help settle her down around children? Sadly, I don’t have any friends with children who I can recruit to help with exposing her to more children in a safe way.”

Answer: This is a pretty common problem behavior, especially when you’ve got a young dog. And it’s one that people have very different feelings about. Some people don’t mind when any dog jumps on them. Others don’t care if it’s a small dog, but don’t want a big dog to jump on them. Still others don’t want any dogs jumping on them at all.

But dogs don’t understand that some people don’t want them to jump while others don’t care. In their mind, if it’s ok to jump on one person, it’s ok to jump on everyone – kids included. Why’s that important in this case? Because in order to keep her from jumping on kids, she needs to understand that it’s not ok to jump on anyone.

Dogs often jump to get attention. And too often, people respond by pushing your dog off and going “No! No!” But that actually reinforces the behavior by making it into a game. Your dog thinks “Oh boy! I’m jumping and she’s waving her hands and making fun noises! We’re playing! I’m going to keep jumping because I like this game!”

So what do we do instead? Ignore, ignore, ignore. If your dog jumps, you ignore her completely until all four of her paws are on the ground. You can turn your back if you want, but you don’t have to. Just make sure that when she jumps, you act like a tree. When she’s keeping all four paws on the ground, give her a treat and some attention. If she starts jumping again, you again ignore her until she has four on the floor. She will soon begin to learn that jumping does not get her the attention she wants and that not jumping gets her treats.

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Ask The Dog Trainer: How Can I Socialize My Puppy?

Now, this is going to be harder when you’re out on walks and you encounter people. People want to approach and pet dogs. The problem is that they get excited and make a lot of happy, high-pitched noises that get your dog excited.

This is when you have to be an advocate for your dog. When you see people approaching, tell them before they get within petting distance of your dog that she’s in training and that they are to ignore her unless all of her feet are on the ground. Some people might respond with “Oh, it’s ok, I don’t mind.” In this case, you have to stay strong and reiterate that you are training your dog not to jump. If people continue to ignore you, get your dog out of there because you don’t want to give anyone the chance to reinforce bad behavior.

Another thing you can do when people approach your dog on the street is to step on your dog’s leash. I know that sounds weird, but what it does is actually make it so your dog CAN’T jump and thus is unable to get reinforced for practicing a problem behavior. Just put your foot on the leash at a point where your dog can comfortably stand and sit, but not jump. And when people approach, reward your dog for keeping her feet on the ground, even if she can’t jump. She’ll still learn to associate keeping four on the floor with good things.

But above all, you need to be consistent. As I said before, dogs can’t differentiate between kids and adults. So if she’s allowed to jump on some people, she’s going to learn that it’s ok to jump on everyone. You don’t say in your question whether there’s anyone else living with you and the dog. But if so, they need to also be on board with this.

I know I’ve talked a lot here, but there’s more you can do to keep your dog from getting too excited when she encounters kids. Does your dog know “touch” or “watch me”? If not, those are great focus exercises. When a person approaches and you see your dog starting to get excited, ask her to “watch me” or “touch.” What that will do is give her something else to concentrate on until the exciting person approaching has passed.

And if all else fails, if your dog is getting too excited when people approach, just walk away. Don’t give her the chance to practice the bad behavior.

Finally, I’d recommend taking your pup to a leash-walking class (yes, there are whole classes devoted to walking your dog on a leash) or getting a few private sessions with a trainer. I’ve suggested a lot of things here and it can be hard to visualize how to do them. A trainer can really demonstrate things for you. If you need help finding a reputable dog trainer in your area, contact us at hello@fetchfind.com.

This may seem like a lot to absorb, but it’ll be worth it.

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Larry Kay is the award-winning coauthor of Training the Best Dog Ever, which became a #1 best seller in dog training on Amazon Kindle. He is Leader of the Pack at Positively Woof, which helps shelter dogs get adopted by making videos and raises awareness and funds. Larry is an award-winning dog filmmaker and has been a frequent contributor to the American Animal Hospital Association and Dog Fancy magazine.