We Are Not Running A Zoo: So Make Your Dog A Good Citizen

Posted March 4th, 2011 in Socialization of Dogs, Socializing Dogs by Glenn Plaskin

Last night, my new puppy, Lucy, and I were heading out for an evening walk along the Hudson River, when danger lurked, just around the bend.

As we were moving into the lobby and toward the exit doors, Lucy mischievously broke away from me, her leash whipping out of my hand as she raced toward our dog-loving doorman Dave, her tail merrily wagging.

Lucy with our doorman Dave

Lucy at Borders, great at press events and book signings

Lucy is the happiest, friendliest puppy imaginable–and one of the reasons she turned out that way is because she was socialized extensively from the time she was 8 weeks old. I exposed her to babies and kids of all ages, dogs of all sizes and breeds, city noises, escalaters, elevators, any and everything.

Lucy at 8 weeks old, when she first began socializing

Anyway, as Lucy trotted over to Dave, one of the neighbors in my 35-story-highrise was entering the lobby from outside with his two Akitas, a majestic breed, known to be loyal and intelligent. They do, however, need to be socialized as puppies so they are friendly dogs and should have experienced owners.

In this case, the owner keeps these 100-pound plus dogs on a very tight leash because they look aggressive, not playful or friendly in the least. Having observed them many times, they frankly look as if they’re going to lunge toward another dog and eat them! Hostile is the word.

I’ve seen this many times–as dogs seem to divide themselves between the well-socialized ones–and those sadly filled with fear. (Not the dog’s fault!)

As my congenial puppy trotted over to these two dogs, one of them growled, and looked ready to pounce. I immediately pulled Lucy away and got a lecture from the owner about keeping my dog on a leash–“there’s a reason they have dogs on a leash laws!”–indeed, as the implication was that if his dogs were free, they’d be a significant threat to other dogs.

So well socialized that she visits book stores to sign autographs with her paws

First of all, my dog accidentally got away from me, and she was on a leash. But the real problem is this: If you have dogs in a large residential complex that houses many others dogs–and kids–and these dogs are hostile, poorly socialized, or a potential threat to others–THEY SHOULD NOT BE LIVING IN THE BUILDING AT ALL. After all, what happens if one of these aggressive dogs accidentally breaks away on the leash just as mine did– what then?

Is a child or another dog going to be in danger?

As I told the owner, much to his displeasure–“If you have dogs who are aggressive and are poorly socialized, they should not be living in a residential building with hundreds of other dogs and people around them.”  We are not running a zoo.

Lucy likes to read!

The sad part is that this is not the dog’s fault. It’s the owners–who did not properly socialize their dog.

In order to successfully do this, it MUST happen within the first 16 weeks. So while vets differ on whether or not you should keep your puppy away from adult dogs until they have all their shots, I can tell you that a puppy must play with other dogs from 8 weeks on. Lucy did it and she was absolutely fine–never catching anything–as most well-cared for dogs have had their shots, and are not contagious.

Lucy socializing with twin girls on the lawn outside our building

Remember, socialization is the window of time in our puppy’s lives that determines who they will become as adult dogs.

Lucy's Best Friend, Stanley

Socializing includes curious babies

Lucy loves pit bull Donny

As I recently read in the excellent ‘complete guide to responsible dog ownership’ site:“The temperament, character and behavior habits of your puppy are developed during this socialization period – and will last a lifetime. It affects how your puppy will relate to his family, strangers, animals and the environment in which he lives.

“Puppy socialization stimulates the five senses of your young dog. It is the introduction, exposure and desensitization to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch of everyday life. The socialization period conditions your puppy to the many different situations he needs to be familiar with and comfortable around. It also prepares him to deal with the new experiences and challenges which inevitably arise throughout life in an appropriate manner.

“Puppy socialization is the crucial stage where you begin to build the close bond you share with your dog, one that will last forever. It’s up to you – any puppy can become a well adjusted and trusted member of society through proper socialization.

Lucy with her majestic friend Cesare

We owe it to our puppies to provide them with thorough socialization.”

And when we do–the result is a good canine citizen for life, a source of joy to kids, adults, and other dogs–the best possible companion imaginable, like my Lucy.

9 Responses so far.

  1. Ann McIndoo says:

    Thanks Glenn for the great information. Just like people, many dogs are the friendly type and interested in each other. My little Scruffy dog loves other dogs and always wants to say hello, so I let her approach slowly on the leash. If the other dog, and owner, are okay with it, I let Scruffy get closer. If not, we smile and go on our way! Walks and socializing from a young age is a good thing!

    Big hugs,


  2. Hi Glenn –

    Great article – you are so right – on every point! I especially loved: “If you have dogs in a large residential complex that houses many others dogs–and kids–and these dogs are hostile, poorly socialized, or a potential threat to others–THEY SHOULD NOT BE LIVING IN THE BUILDING AT ALL.” The exact same thing happened to Poochie and a nasty dog’s owner. Unfortunately this dog lives on our floor. She tried to kill Poochie the first time that it happened. She literally had her mouth around his neck and the owner did nothing. I finally had to kick the dog and I felt terrible but her not killing Poochie was my first priority. When it happened again in the lobby the owner, after yelling at me – like it was Poochie’s fault, she then tried to claim that Poochie bit her. Didn’t happen! Can you imagine someone trying to claim that Poochie bit them. I asked her to show me the bite marks and she refused. Wonder why…. Anyway, thanks for the honest article. Love Lucy! Can’t wait for the play date. xoxoxox

  3. Carol McArthur says:

    Hi Glenn:
    Dogs that are aggressive have no business living in areas where there are people, children and other dogs. The owners of the Akitas
    are irresponsible – they should not have dogs of any breed. True, there are leash laws – but it is possible for a big dog to break loose and lunge toward another dog and could harm or kill another dog before the aggressive one is pulled off. Socializing is key – I have a neighbor who has 2 huge dogs – fenced – but they occasionally get out – if they ever come after mine and do harm – I will pull out all the stops to see it doesn’t happen again.

  4. Glen, you are right on the money! Socialization of puppies is extremely important. MUCH more important than keeping them at home so they don’t get exposed to diseases. The key is responsible socialization – introduce your puppy to dogs that you know. You know they’re healthy and you know they won’t injure or bully your puppy.

    One well-known author (it might be Ian Dunbar, but I’m not sure) has said that more dogs are euthanized due to improper socialization as puppies than die from diseases contracted during the puppy socialization period. It’s definitely wise to be cautious (for example, don’t head to the dog park with your baby puppy in tow!), but there’s plenty you can do.

    You’re also right that it’s not just socialization to other dogs that’s needed – puppies need to be introduced to as many people as possible – male, female, young, old, various ethnicities, wheelchairs, crutches, people in hats, etc.

    The more you socialize your puppy in a positive manner, the more adaptable they will be as an adult dog. They will learn how to behave appropriately around people and animals, and then they truly are canine good citizens.

  5. Katty Hoelck says:

    Love this article, Glen. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve passed dogs in the neighborhood and little kurzo wants nothing more than to sniff them, and their owners yell at me “MY DOG IS NOT FRIENDLY!!” Or the certain ball-agressive dogs at the dog park…

    BUT, I do have to say, we should try to be understanding, as some of those dogs are rescues and the owner is not at blame for the dog’s disposition. I am always quick to assume that the person is a bad dog parent, but I am sure that more than one of the times that I have thought that, the person is actually a good citizen who is loving a dysfunctional adult dog.

    BUT! This is not the case usually I would say.

    Train your puppy!
    Love your puppy!
    PLAY WITH your puppy!!
    socialize your puppy!

    Lucy is a great pup, a good friend to dogs and to people! And she loves you very very much!!

  6. Barbara Thomas says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for “Katie Up and Down the Hall”. I enjoyed it so much and cried so hard when she died. It was not just wonderfully insightful for those of us who do not own dogs, it was also entertaining. I feel like I’ve met the people you described through your writing and I didn’t want the story to end. You will be reunited again – I’m sure Katie will be waiting to greet you when your time to cross over comes!

  7. Nancy says:

    I enjoyed Katie up and down the hall. I cried about Katie dying and losing your friends, Pearl and Arthur. I’m glad you got Lucy. I have a Sheltie and mini Australian mix. TJ is my treasure. Thank you for writing the book.

  8. Donna Kellar says:

    Great article Glenn, and so true. Puppies need socialization.

  9. Jose says:

    then your dog will be fine. At this time of year just check to be sure they don’t get too cold, and a good thing to do in a run if they do get cold is to get a tunnel mhueotd igloo house or make a long narrow wooden dog house and put in a thick layer of cedar shavings around the edges of the bed. This will keep them cozy even in some of the really cold weather. An adult dog will be content as long as you make sure that everyday they get plenty of exercise, mental stimulation/training, and quality time with you. Just be careful if your dog is not spayed or neutered as dogs will climb 8 foot fences and in rare cases mate through chain-link. So if your dog is not altered you would need a top and some sort of barrier around the bottom couple of feet.

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