Socializing a Reserved Puppy

Chris Bersbach Photography

Chris Bersbach Photography

There isn’t a lot out there about how to recognize a reserved puppy and then how to rear them so they grow up to be tractable adults, so I thought I would put this out there.

The thought occurred to me as I was perusing my Aussie Times this month and reading an article about a survey I’d completed maybe a year ago. One of the statistics was that 29% of survey respondents indicated that their dog had bitten someone, 13% having a multiple bite issue or what the survey dubbed, “serious biting issue.” The comment made about this was, “Given the public’s understandably negative view of dogs that bite and the very real financial liability risk they pose, this figure is a reason for concern not only for breeders but anyone training or owning Aussies.”

But not much more was said. I responded to that survey. My dog is also a part of that 13% reported. And there’s a real teachable lesson in that but the survey didn’t take it upon itself to take the opportunity, so I will.

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One – Recognize that you have a reserved puppy

Common mindset about puppies these days is that they are joyful and excited to meet new people and animals. The dominant training idea here is that you should hand your puppy to everyone who’s willing to hold him or her. Go ahead, Google it. I’ll wait.

Back? Okay. Here’s the problem – if you have an eight-week old puppy, fresh from the breeder, who is not falling all over itself to meet strangers, this is not likely a socialization problem, but something more to do with the puppy’s personality itself. Think about it, whether you are paying top dollar for a purebred dog raised by a professional who did all the right things or whether you got a dog at the pound or a puppy from a friend’s oops litter, all of those dogs are going to be happy to meet people. It’s not all nurture. Certainly if they are raised in problem situations, that can cause issues, but even puppies coming from the nastiest conditions in puppy mills find repeat buyers for a reason.

At eight weeks of age, you can see a LOT about what your dog is. If your dog is not quick to bond to people, it won’t be quick to bond to people as it gets older.

You very likely have a reserved puppy.

What is reserve? Think about it like this – most people love dogs because they love them unconditionally. And by unconditionally, I mean literally no conditions. They don’t need to know you or read your body language, you’re a people and it loves people! Reserved dogs are not like that. They form relationships, but only after reservations. Most people are reserved. If you run up to me and ruffle my hair and we have no history, I will want to sock you. Got it? That’s reserve.
Some dogs will be slightly reserved where only a sniff of you is all it takes to ascertain love, and some need a real, consistent relationship to accept you. This is how Aussies are. They run a range of this.

Two – Raising Your Reserved Puppy Right

Reserved puppies who are not happy about things being forced on them will show it. They will hide, they will wiggle to get away, they may bare their teeth, they may growl. Given enough pressure, a couple-month old puppy will bite when it feels no other course of action. Most dogs use biting as a last resort. Your job, as owner of a reserved puppy, is to never allow it to be a last resort.

So here’s where common puppy raising philosophy gets subverted. Your puppy certainly needs to be socialized to become acquainted with the world, but it must never be forced into accepting a situation. Reserved puppies need to be taught that they have another option when they are uncomfortable: they can leave.
Allow your reserved puppy to come into new situations, and if they do not accept the situation, let them get space. Encourage it. Do not remove the situation that triggers this reserve, simply teach them that instead of removing it, they can remove themselves. Provide safe havens at home – a crate, for example. In public, you need to become the safe haven, never forcing a pet or pulling a lead toward the thing that’s scary. Give them space.

And in time, the puppy will grow to accept the stimulus that worries it.

Three – Understand the consequences of this

If you do not give your puppy space, the pressure it feels will give it only one option. You’ve heard of fight or flight response? If your puppy cannot fly, it will fight. This is where we get bite statistics like the ones above.

If you teach your puppy that backing away or growling/barking isn’t okay – they’ll simply become fear biters. That’s what happened to me. That’s why I am a statistic.