Chaiary, day 16: kids, a new park for Chai and positions!

To continue in the spirit of yesterday’s kid encounter, I decided to go hang out at a playground with Chai today: maybe we’d find a few more kids to watch yell, run and play, and one or two to have positive interactions with!

We walked to the playground at Jardín Santiago Xicoténcatl in Álamos for this: a change of scenery from Parque Las Américas.

Mexico City has LOTS of great parks.
The dogs and I have yet to find one we don’t like!

We hung out at the quietish playground for a bit and mastered a scary playground staircase. Chai voluntarily approached and got fed by two kids at the playground, and by 6 adults around the park. We then also watched people playing soccer and field hockey, dribbling basketballs and working out (boxing; outdoors gym). So much to see! I’m really happy with how well Chai did today.

We ended the day with luring positions (sit, down, stand) with Chai’s dinner and a round of brushing. More power to the puppy!

Chaiary, day 15: more old and new friends, mats at cafés and a little husbandry

Today, we went back to Emi’s café to hang out for a while. Chai got to spend time with Emi, who has already become an friend, and his wife Rosie who I shared I co-working day with today. Rosie will hopefully also be one of Chai’s permanent friends.

I see socialization (of puppies to people) as a two-tierd approach:

  1. I want the dog to have neutral/positive feelings towards strangers. If a puppy starts out hyper-social, I will work on lowering those feelings to neutrality. If a puppy starts out a little hesitant or shy – like Chai did – I’ll make sure to create as many positive interactions as possible. The protocol for this – for Chai; it might look entirely different for a different dog! – is letting her approach a flat hand voluntarily (no food, no food smells). If she does – give the stranger food to feed from the flat hand; then move on – ideally without them touching her.

    This works with Chai because if a stranger doesn’t follow my instructions it won’t be a huge deal. If I had a puppy who panicked if things didn’t go perfectly or a dog who didn’t recover for the rest of the day when an encounter went sideways, I would NOT use random strangers and there might be no food at all.
  2. I want the dog to have a circle of friends that does not only include me. The reason I consider this important is that I want to be able to leave my dog with other people when I travel, or to have a friend come in and walk or feed the dog if I’m gone for the day. And I want the dog to feel good about this rather than deprived of me.

    This is something best built in puppyhood. If you give your dog a circle of friends in puppyhood, they tend to – in my experience anyways – be able to open up to new people as adults as well. Again, there are huge individual differences at play here as well. With some dogs, you get the circle-of-friends behavior for free. With others, you’ll have to work really hard. With others yet, you will never reach this goal despite your best efforts. As always: train the dog you have today, not the one you wish you had.

    Border Collies are sensitive and occasionally suspicious dogs, so I definitely want to invest a lot of socialization time in the ability to make friends – human and canine. So far, on Chai’s list of regular friends (who are not me), I plan to have 8 people – friends who are either dog trainers or dog lovers and who Chai and I have regular access to. I want to build out these relationships to the degree that I could leave Chai with any of them and she’d be happy.

    This is particularly important to me with Chai because I still plan on placing her – so I don’t want her to depend on me, the person Chrissi, but remain open to letting other folks into her inner circle.

Going to Emi’s café means working on both of the above: Emi and Rosie will hopefully be permanent friends of hers (tier 2), and hanging out at the sidewalk café for a few hours comes with lots of opportunities for (tier 1)!

In addition, we always practice mat work out here: once Chai is tired of the world, I’ll get out her mat, and she’ll naturally gravitate towards it and doze off: that’s how you set the stage for success:

If you want to work on a calm behavior (e.g. relaxing on a mat), wait until your dog’s curiosity and need to move are saturated. If you want to work on a high-energy behavior (such as toy play, recalls etc.), work with a dog who is well rested and chomping at the bit to get moving!

A circle of friends. Left: “Emi always has treats for me!” Middle and right: “I like you, Rosie! Let me climb all over you!”

Apart from Rosie and Emi (tier 2 – permanent friends!), we also worked on our approach-voluntarily-and-if-you-do-so-get-fed protocol with 7 strangers (tier 1 – neutral/positive feelings about strangers). Well – in fact, it was only 4 total strangers: people #1 and #2 were Mitsu and the person who owns the store next door, both of whom we see every time we go to Emi’s café. Person #3 was Hugo who was working in the street and stopped by for some Chai love – and who may end up in tier #2 rather than #1.

Of the remaining 4, one was a kid. I’m always particularly happy about this because kids tend to be more difficult than adults: they move erratically, they can be noisy and they are at a dog’s eye level. It’s easier for a dog to perceive a kid as a threat than an adult, and I want to make sure this does not happen for Chai. Who knows – maybe her future family will have kids, and their kids will have friends!

Here’s our co-working superstar, ready to rest on her mat after some excitement! Rosie is having té chai in her honor.

And the highlight of our coffee and co-working day, caught on camera: Chai was able to keep chilling on her mat in the presence of a strange dog who stopped for a drink and walked past! Go puppy!!!

Later today, we worked on brushing again – a behavior we currently get for free, but need to keep practicing in order to ensure it stays that way! I announce “Brush!” and then Chai gets brushed all over.

It is fascinating to me how different different dogs experience husbandry behaviors: some will really struggle with them. Others couldn’t care less. Chai tends to the latter side of the scale, and I want to keep her there.

Chaiary, day 13: stay home, grooming and charging Chai’s formal recall

After another exciting day, we stayed home again to practice chilling rather than being an athlete or adrenaline junkie! Chai got brushed all over and the nails on all four nails clipped (she’s such a good girl about this – I simply announce it and do it and Chai lets me). We also started charging her formal recall cue: “Schnee.”

Play and chill at home with Game.

Charging “Schnee” (this video may be from one of the subsequent days rather than from day 13 – we first started in the house):

Staying home also always means, of course, that we practice quite a lot of home-alone time: after all, Game gets her long walks even when Chai doesn’t.

Chaiary, day 14: Parque las Américas with Game, long line pressure practice, lots of play with Game and meeting and getting fed by 11 strangers!

Day 14 was on the more exciting side again: lots of confident dog encounters!

One thing I love about Mexico City is that it is so easy to encounter dogs of all sizes, shapes, ages and morphologies. From pugs to Great Danes to everything in between – you name it, we’ll meet it!

I beat my own record and roped charmed 11 strangers into allowing Chai to voluntarily approach and then feed her. AND she got to assist me for my first online class videos: giving in to leash pressure and long line handling!

As I mentioned in a previous post – I would not usually feed the behavior of hitting the end of a leash and then reorienting because smart dogs will learn to hit the end on purpose in order to earn a treat. I’m only doing this with Chai when out with Game every once in a while these days because I want this leash pressure response for her formal recall distraction set-ups (which we will get to in a bit). So here is the piece I do not recommend you replicate with your own dog:

On the other hand, what you see below is something I do recommend: these are my two favorite long-line handling ways that avoid rope burn or squished fingers/broken hands with strong dogs who might crash into the end of a long line. There are more methods out there and if you’ve already found what works for you and your dog – no need to change what you’re doing! On the other hand, if your hands keep getting injured by your dog – try the leash handling techniques from the video below! One of them may be the winner for you!

If you need more support to figure out your long line challenges, join us in Out and About! Gold spots are full, but you’ll get to work with a fantastic TA in the FB study group at Bronze!

Chaiary, Day 12: 2nd time at the market and replicating basketball sounds

It’s market day again! Chai and I went for her second visit:

All treats in the video above are for giving in to leash pressure or responding to an informal puppy recall away from tempting market distractions that would either disturb other people or require me to buy something (you eat it you buy it – and I do not want chicharrones or chicken intestines, thank you very much!). My one criterion for the treat delivery is 4 feet on the floor. Sometimes, I only get to the point after she has jumped up – sometimes, I am fast enough to meet her before the front paws have left the ground.

I love what a difference I see in her confidence in this (2nd!) market visit compared to Chai’s first visit a week ago! Her tail is up the entire time, and she is VERY curious about the environment this time! She even gets fed by a market visitor. The golden strategy: keep putting treats into their hands so they don’t get a chance to touch the dog and then move on as soon as they have fed the last treat.

The reason I’m not feeding any voluntary check-ins yet is that she freely offers them and she’s a Border Collie. I’ll get those check-ins for free and want to keep her focus on the environment a little longer before I start feeding check-ins and focus.

The second project of the day: basketball sounds. The sound that makes Chai uncomfortable is the ball hitting the metal plate. I brought a hard rubber ball to replicate the sound today. Since I didn’t bring a tripod and can’t handle a long line, ball and camera at the same time, I briefly tied Chai to a post. While her tail is down (my interpretation: she’s hot and bored after our exciting market loop), she doesn’t flinch let alone retreat from the sound, which she is free to do. I say we are over our basketball feelings!

By the way – the person in the market video isn’t the only one who fed Chai a couple treats today. I’ve been working our strategy (make contact without food and then feed if Chai seems interested) aggressively convincingly and charmingly with strangers and am happy to report that she got fed by 5 different people today – one of whom, our friend below, we’ve already chatted with the other day:

The rest of the day was spent working hard at home (Chai has discovered chairs and she likes them):

Chaiary, day 10: taking it slow; just chilling and a little shaping at home

After yesterday’s excitement, we made sure to have a quiet day at home: I don’t want to turn Chai into a super athlete unless I know she’s going to be a sports dog – which I don’t know yet! So rather than having exciting social experiences or lots of exercise, we stayed home, just chilling out and working that little Border Collie brain with a shaping project!

Chaiary, day 11: Parque las Américas and Emi’s Café

Since socialization is THE most important thing for a young dog, after yesterday’s quiet day, we’re back to it today! Because it was another busy one for me, I started by taking both dogs to Parque las Américas – our favorite stomping grounds – again.

We watched boxers doing their thing and a kid playing basketball:

Boxers and basketball with Game at Parque Las Américas.

Then, I dropped Game off at home and Chai and I headed to our friend’s café around the corner – a 3-for-1 trip for Chai: she got to see a regular dog friend, watch the world go by (it’s a decently busy street) and interact with some of it (dogs, people) and practice resting on a mat. And I, of course, get the best of all: great company and the amazing food Emi makes!

Left: seeing one of 3 dogs at the café (no greeting), middle: interacting with Mizu, one of the café regulars, right: time with our friend Emi.

Below is a video showing some more of Chai’s time at the café! There’s a lot going on on this sidewalk!

Stimulation makes for calm and quiet puppies – the best kind of antecedent arrangement for matwork!

Below: from sitting on her mat at the café to lying down to dozing off!

From sitting on her mat at the café to lying down to dozing off. All voluntary behaviors: setting the stage for success!

Btw – today is sign-up day at FDSA. Chai and I will be playing in Shade Whitesel’s Toy class. For me, there is no better training motivation. I know, I know – taking sportsy classes with your foster dog is dangerous territory. I like to live on the wild side.

I’ll also be teaching this term: Out and About, a class about being out in the world and having adventures with your dog! Whether that means teaching settling on a mat, leash skills or advanced recalls – I’ve got you covered. We’re full at Gold, but if you grab a Bronze spot, you’ll get to work with a TA this term!

Chaiary, day 6: coffee shop adventures

Today, we visited a friend at the café he works at! Emi will be one of Chai’s friends-friends – not just a person she meets once and then never again, but someone she’ll keep seeing. This is what I meant when I said I’d expand her circle of friends: I want her to both have friends-friends (not just me) as well as not mind strangers.

Visiting Emi’s café, we got two things: first, Chai made a new friend who kept interacting with her on and off throughout the hour or two we spent there. Second, she got to watch the world go by!

I asked Emi to greet Chai the way that has been working really well for her: offer her an open flat and. If she investigates and touches the hand, feed a few treats, also offering them from an open flat hand. This way, it is always Chai’s choice whether or not she wants to engage to the degree of coming up close to a new person: initially, they don’t have treats on them and there will be no food smells on their hand. After feeding a few treats in this way, it is again up to Chai whether she wants to further interact or take a break. We always want to avoid luring a dog up to something or someone they might find potentially scary.

Since this was Emi and Chai’s first encounter, this is how we started. They hit it off right away – and not only that: in the course of our time there, Chai had the same brief interactions with Mizu, a daily regular at the café, and the person who runs the store right next door. Here are a few snapshots:

Walking to the café (just a 5-minute walk from where we are staying).

Left to right: offered empty hand (no food, no food smells); Chai choosing to engage; Chai receives treats from Emi.

Left: watching the world go by at the café. Middle and right: it is entirely Chai’s choice if she wants to engage with Emi again/more.

Chai did great watching the world go by from the café. In the video below, she sees her first wheelchair, watches with interest … and then goes back to relaxing!

PS: Here’s this week’s podcast episode I recorded further into Chai’s socialization adventures!

Chai week 1: training

I wrote this post on Chai’s third day with me – April 9, 2023. I will keep updating it as I go. It is currently day 20 (April 26)and a lot has changed already! However, I’m publishing this post now because I only just got around to cleaning it up. More to come soon!

My approach to training with food with a dog who likes to eat

I try to train the puppy in front of me. That means I’ve done things a bit differently for every puppy I’ve raised for myself or for someone else. In Chai’s case, most food is for training (because training is fun and I want videos) or big scatters (the ritual I use to end sessions). Chai doesn’t get food outside unless necessary because I want her to really engage with the world and not be distracted from it.

I will use most food for training. Except from her single outing every day – usually the same park because we can walk there – we stay at our AirBnB. I’ve so far trained up all of her daily rations in marker cue discrimination and shaping stuff. She devours kibble, so that’s all she has seen so far in terms of treats (except for the hot dog I used to get her to eat her Bravecto).

Two food training projects for the puppy in front of me: Chai

For Chai, there are currently food training projects (there will be more as we get to know each other better and shift to different behaviors):

+ Stuff I want for my marker cue (and other skills) game that I’m planning to turn into some sort of class or workshop.

+ Shaping because I love teaching puppies about shaping and could do it all day long.

So far, I’ve used up all her food in that way every day. And here’s food for thought: in my experience, just not going above kibble value (if the puppy takes kibble to begin with) has a high chance of maintaining kibble as a treat the dog will take everywhere (that is everywhere they are able to eat – it’s an excellent gauge). In my case, this means … not exactly a closed economy (plenty in life is free), but it means everything is kibble, and everything is at least marker-cued. There are no table scraps, for example (they would make an open economy and devalue the kibble I want to use for training).

I will take a different approach with puppies who flat out refuse kibble. But Chai does not, so this is the route we are going.

My approach to making Chai permanent-home-able

All in all, these are the training projects I am focusing on to make Chai a dog who will be pleasant to live with for her future folks:

+ Being comfortable out and about in Mexico City.

+ Being comfortable with people coming into her space and visiting people in new spaces – I’m aiming for at least 2 visits a week (as soon as I test negative for Covid again) and at least one good out-and-about interaction a day on non-visit days. I’ll get strangers to play for the out and about interactions. Visits will be friends and strangers who follow my instructions about letting Chai take the lead and take the first step rather than reaching for her.

+ Maintaining her ability to stay home alone without whining (she stays home alone at least twice every day when I head out with Game. If I have a puppy, whenever possible, the puppy will get a separate walk. An exception would be if the puppy was extremely shy and needed an emotional support dog – this is not the case for Chai. Game gets her own walks too because she deserves them. I don’t want Chai to become dependent on Game – neither for staying home nor for going out.)

+ Maintaining her crate skills (the crate is in the car right now; I’ll be popping her in there for a bit every day.)

+ Car sickness: we’ll strart driving super short distances on an empty stomach and gradually extend the length of the drive, aiming for once a day.

Behaviors I am likely to get “for free” with this particular dog along the way

Things that will just happen along the way will be recall, leash walking and grooming. She’s not body sensitive, so I’ll likely get brushing and clipping toe nails for free by “just doing them.” Same with her harness/collar: put it on; no problem for her and no need for a slow introduction. While slow introductions and cooperative care are always worthwhile, I want to focus on other stuff with Chai and will safe her daily calories for these other training projects. Harness, leash, brush and toe nails will be announced rather than shaped. For example before I put on her harness, I will let her know what is about to happen by saying, “Harness!” Puppies pick up on this fast, which gives me an excellent way of gauging if she stays comfortable: if I say, “Harness” and she moves away, I know she’s having feelings. So far, this has not happened.

Outside of what I outlined above, we will just chill at home (if I can help it – training is fun!) I don’t want to turn her into an athlete (if someone wants to in the future, that option will always exist – she’s a Border Collie). I want to help her become a dog who is able to live in Mexico City, and with an “average” active family. This includes staying home alone and being ignored when I work or write rather than constant attention. A very easy solution to keep her from trying to get on the table is to reach for her head anytime she does: like most dogs, she finds this aversive. It’s what I consider a benign aversive. For example if I’m eating and she does this, I reach for her head about three times and she’ll lie down at my feet and stop trying to get food from the table, and it’s only day 3 as I’m writing this. She gets praise for this, but no food. Rather than consciously building a desired behavior here, I am making the undesired behavior disappear (yes, this is a euphemism for: I am punishing it with the consequence of reaching for her head and preventing intermittent reinforcement i.e. counter surfing). Intermittent reinforcement is relatively easy for me to avoid in this case because the kitchen in this AirBnB is a separate room and I shut the door when I go there, and I am the only person living here – so I control all the food on counters or tables and don’t leave it out. This is much, much harder to do if you have an open floor plan, cook more than I do or live with other people. But in Chai’s case, it should work out well. After two months of zero success at getting at food, she’ll be set off on the right trajectory and whoever adopts her can keep this approach or teach her a desired alternative behavior like hanging out on her bed when people eat.

That’s it for today! You”ll soon get real video and photo updates of what has happened between days 4 and 20 with Chai – I just have to find time to video edit. “Just.” I know, I know!

Chai day 3: adventuring

We went back to the same park today. This is going to be my main focus: I’ll come here (or a similar park) every day for exposure.

It will likely mostly be this particular park becaus not only is it close – this is also Mexico City. Which means something different will be happening every single time I go. I can keep one criterion consistent (familiar environment) while all the others vary: new and different sounds, smells and stimuli every time.

Today versus yesterday

The biggest difference that stood out to me after yesterday’s outing: Chai walked by herself all the way (about 5 minutes) to the park. Yesterday, I carried her and only put her down anytime something interesting was happening – she wasn’t able to walk coordinatedly on a leash on a sidewalk yet.

Compare the video above to yesterday’s video! Do you see differences? What are they? My thoughts are below – but think of your own answers before you keep reading!
Ready? My thoughts are below.
I am impressed by Chai’s remarkable improvement between these two days: being able to walk on a leash to the park and back? Reorienting when feeling leash pressure? WOW! And that person (okay, they were doing things well by not reaching for the top of her head, but still! So much more confident!) The initial confidence around dogs has improved too.

We’re still eating kibble in public (I may have used about 5-10 pieces for the same reasons as yesterday) and understand the meaning of the tongue click in a new and exciting environment. I only introduced the tongue click in the house, yesterday. She’s doing SO well!

Sleepy pups getting closer!

Chai day 2: testing out the puppy’s response to All The City Things

The Coping Dog has been named Chai (thank you, Chris!). Apart from leaving her home alone on Game’s morning and evening walk, I also took Chai out to the park on day #2. I wanted to see where she was at. After all, this was a 3.5 months old Border Collie puppy who hasn’t left their house and yard in 1.5 months. I knew she knew how to stay home alone and how to be crated – but that was it. She had also never worn a leash/collar/harness (unless the breeder put one of the above on her as a baby puppy – I wouldn’t know). So I bought the first harness I could find in her size, put it on, carried her through the corridor of the apartment building (we don’t want any accidents on public floors!), and put her down in the street. The first clip in the video below starts right after the first time I put her down right outside the apartment building in Mexico City. The car washing/vacuuming place is right next door.

I would then pick her up, carry her towards the park (a couple minutes walking from my AirBnB, but Chai didn’t know how to walk in the street yet). Almost every time I put her down, I took a photo or a video. The video below is a chronological compilation of the stimuli we met and her response to them.

Apart from physically (!) stopping an incoming child from throwing themselves at her, I did not intervene. I just observed (and recorded for you all). I wanted to gather information before approaching our remedial socialization in a more structured manner. So if people wanted to touch her – touch her they could. (Not something I’d usually permit.)

After watching the video above and before you keep reading, think about what this video, in combination with what I have told you about Chai’s past and breed, tells you about her. What kind of dog is she? I’ll share my thoughts below – but think about it yourself before reading them! Do you agree with my assessment? Disagree? See additional things I don’t see? Don’t see some of the things I see? Let me know in the comments!









Ready? My thoughts are below.











Chai is remarkably curious and resilient. Even though she missed a large chunk of her puppy socialization period (and was NOT born in Mexico City – she is not a BIG CITY puppy!), over and over again, curiosity wins over insecurity. I see lots of exploratory behavior. She crouches down quite a bit as well, and we see tucked tails, yes. But she just keeps bouncing back to being curious again – as curious as one can be when suddenly finding oneself in one of the world’s largest cities! The noises don’t bother her. She is curious about dogs and a little shy around people, which, as long as no one tries to touch her, shows up as ignoring rather than approaching them (live and let live). She also isn’t bothered at all by the harness I just slapped on her right before carrying her out the door and by the 5-meter line she is dragging and that keeps touching her body.

My conclusion is that Chai is going to grow up to be a fine city dog. I see no Border Collie weirdness despite the fact that this would be perfectly understandable even in a Border Collie puppy who DID get all the socialization opportunities in all the right moments. As far as I can tell, Chai is a remarkably stable animal who, if unsure of something, sits and watches rather than running away. And when she is not scared? Then she’ll approach and explore! She may have taken a break from the world for a month and a half at her previous owner’s house – but she’s back at it now and I’ve got a feeling she’ll be quick to catch up and no worse for it. I am impressed, and suspect that this little boucy one is going to make someone very happy!

Thoughts on puppies (especially this one), outings and food

I was not planning on using food in this outing unless I needed her to come back to me (because she’d otherwise try and cross a street in front of a car, for example). In this situation, I’d squat down, tongue click and offer a piece of kibble for returning (which she’d take and devour). We probably ate around 10 during a 25 minute outing. (Those “about to go into the street” or “about to trip someone with the long line” or “reached the end of my line – what do I do?” moments). This is important to me because I do not want her to learn and check in with me nonstop – I really want her to see all that is out there and process it without being distracted by food. She’s a Border Collie – engagement will not be an issue for her. Environmental sensitivity might – so I am keeping the food distractions to a minimum and plan on doing so again tomorrow.

I’ll leave you with a couple pictures I took along the way as well. Same outing:

Left: watching park life. Middle: watching kids playing soccer. Right: tired after the outing!

PS: Chai is a foster. If you’re looking for a young Border Collie, keep an eye on her posts!

The Puzzle Week – Part 19: Socialization Science, and a practical Approach

I’ve written about socialization before, but it’s been a while: I haven’t raised a puppy since Game was little. And she’s turning 5 this year! It’s hard to believe how time flies.

I’m not going back to see what I wrote when I raised Phoebe, Hadley, Grit, and Game. I’m sure my opinion about socialization has changed since then – it’s constantly evolving as I/we dog trainers learn new things.

The sensitive socialization period

I’ll define socialization as introducing a puppy to the stimuli they will encounter in their adult life. Ideally, this introduction will happen during their sensitive socialization period. It is currently believed that the sensitive period lasts from 4 weeks (the age when puppies first leave their nests; Scott & Fuller1) to approximately 3 months. The most important part of the socialization period, says Jessica Hekman2, happens before the age of 8 weeks. During the socialization period, the puppy’s brain learns what stimuli are stressors, how much stress hormones should be released in response to these stimuli, and how long the stress response should last.

While dogs can still learn to tolerate or even like new things later in life, one of the reasons the socialization period is so important is that puppies are much better at generalizing at this age: meet one or two friendly small dogs? Deduct that all small dogs are friendly! Meet one dark-faced, pointy-eared dog – assume that all pointy-eared, dark-faced dogs are friendly. If they met the same kinds of dogs for the first time later in life, they might, in contrast, learn that this particular dark-faced, pointy-eared dog is friendly, but all other dark-faced, pointy-eared dogs are potentially still evil spawns.

I love Jessica Hekman’s image for the socialization period being the time when the on-switch (what turns the stress response on?), volume setting (how intense is the stress response going to be – i.e. what amount of stress hormones will be released?) and off-switch (when should the stress response end/how quickly should the dog recover from the experience) are being set.1

Interestingly, at a very early age – the so-called stress hyper-responsive period – , animals don’t show a stress response at all. Their brains do not yet make stress hormones in response to scary stimuli! That’s another reason early socialization is crucial: puppies show no fear response to scary stimuli before 5-7 weeks of age. Therefore, a puppy that just left the nest around 4 weeks of age is MUCH more likely to form positive rather than negative associations to the people, dogs, and objects they encounter.1 Once the puppy is 7 weeks old, making positive associations to new stimuli becomes significantly harder: suddenly, cortisol is part of the picture!


When the fear response first appears varies between breeds. For example, German Shepherds start experiencing fear around 5 weeks of age. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels only start experiencing fear around 7 weeks of age.3 Cavaliers, then, have 2 weeks more time to learn that the things, people, and animals in their environment are perfectly safe – which may be part of the reason Cavaliers tend to grow up to be open and curious towards new people, dogs, and objects, whereas German Shepherds are, generally speaking, more reserved. A lot can be learned in 2 additional weeks of fearlessness! This shows us that genetics are part of the equation, too. The puppy you get at 8 weeks is not a blank slate – it never was a blank slate to begin with, not even in utero.

My approach

Let’s veer away from the science for now, and look at socialization in practice. The trainer I am today approaches socialization pretty relaxedly. In contrast, the trainer I used to be recommended clients with new puppies go through a list based on Ian Dunbar’s recommendations:4 X number of new people feeding their puppy treats every week, X number of weekly new dog encounters, etc. I even had a handout my clients could check boxes off on, based on Ian Dunbar’ socialization list5. Dunbar recommends puppies meet 100 new people in 4 weeks. I lowered the number because I didn’t want to overwhelm my clients before they even got started, but it must still have been stressful for them to see all the experiences they were supposed to provide for their puppies.

High-confidence puppies

Now, I just play it by ear. An open, outgoing puppy (like Game was) – I’ll just hang out around stimulating situations with them, at a distance they are able to contain their excitement. I’ll let them watch. I’ll play a little if they are ready. I’ll let them watch some more. With a socially confident puppy, I’ll focus on relaxation and engagement with me in the presence of distractions rather than actively having them meet stimuli they are already eager to approach.

Fearful puppies

With a fearful puppy, on the other hand, I want to do more than just generate neutral experiences. I want them to have distinctly positive experiences with the people, dogs or objects they are unsure of. To the best of my abilities, I’ll curate these encounters to build a library of positive experiences in the puppy’s brain.

Shy and “dominant” puppies (don’t lynch me for using the D-word, folks)

With an overly (for lack of a better word) dog-dominant puppy, like Grit was, I’ll try and arrange playdates with dogs who will – gently, but firmly – put them in their place if they cross certain boundaries. Lukas Pratschker’s Malinois was a great help with this when Grit was a puppy. My Greyhound Fanta knew just when to intervene, too.

With a dog-shy puppy, I’ll do the exact opposite, and introduce them to the calmest, friendliest dogs available to me. Again, Fanta was the perfect fit. For play dates, I might stick to puppies who are smaller and younger than my own puppy in order to give them a bit of an advantage and up their relative confidence.

With a people-shy puppy, I’ll work on growing their circle of human friends, and at the same time never force an interaction (this is something I learned over the last few years: by the time Grit was a small puppy, I still used to force things). Today, I firmly believe that whether to interact or not should be the shy puppy’s choice. My role as their handler is to make it as likely as possible that they will choose to approach voluntarily. At the same time, whether working with people or dogs, I’ll make sure the puppy has a safe place to retreat to (such as a crate, my body to hide behind, or my arms – they can always ask to be picked up).

So far, so good – that’s my art and science of puppy socialization in a nutshell. In the next post, we’ll look at what I did with one individual – puppy Puzzle – in practice!


(1) Jessica Hekman – The Biology of Socalization (Webinar at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, January 27, 2022)

(2) Scott, John Paul and John L. Fuller. Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

(3) Morrow et. al. “Breed-Dependent Differences in the Onset of Fear-Related Avoidance Behavior in Puppies.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior Clinical Applications and Research 10(4), March 2015. DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2015.03.002. (Thank you for poointing out this study, Jessica!)

(4) Dunbar, Ian. AFTER You Get Your Puppy. Berkeley: James & Kenneth Publishers, 2001.

(5) Dunbar, Ian. Socialization Log. (PDF)