Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Does Breed Affect Socialization?


button closeWalking little Button is like touring with a rock star. People flock to her. Children ask, “Can I pet her?” with breathless anticipation. The human race is, collectively, smitten.

Button eats it up. All wags and eagerness, she believes the world is her oyster because…. it is.

I think back to PJ, my pitbull x Jack Russell. PJ, short for Plain Jane, had a scruffy, brindle face I found priceless; others barely looked at her. I was told, more than once, that she was the ugliest dog someone had ever seen (which is not, PS, a way to endear yourself to me).

Socializing PJ was a process of attempting to cajole people into touching her. A few did. Most didn’t. No one in the general public looked at her, smiled spontaneously, approached in a friendly way or engaged her with utter delight for extended periods.

No one.

PJ LeapingPeople glanced at her then looked away. They avoided my gaze. We were shunned.

Watching Button scramble toward anyone she sees wagging and happy, I recognize this behavior. Many toy breed dogs and retriever pups exhibit this gleeful optimism and now I understand that this is, at least in part, due to how cute we humans find them. They reflect the experience they have had – as we all do.

And remembering puppy PJ who did none of those things and believed none of those things, I find myself pondering how much all this impacts a dog’s socialization process.

If I’d understood all this better back in 2001, I’d have tied a funny dog bandana around her neck, put a cute doggy shirt on her, taught her tricks – like wave, roll over, bow. I’d have done something to make her more appealing to others.

I also realize now that seeing my pup passed by over and over again made me grumpy. We were a closed-faced person walking a werewolf/dust bunny cross – not exactly the most approachable duo.

And if I’d understood that better, I would have taken my own advice to “act the way you want the other person to act” instead of taking on their distance and disconnection. I would have smiled; tried not to let it get to me.

Luckily for us, my wonderful dog training students adored PJ because I did and, over time, my wallflower bloomed beautifully nurtured by their gentle hands and loving grins.  After a rough, isolated start before I got her, she grew into a tail-wagging, big-grinning dog.

So, can looks affect socialization? It sure can but it doesn’t have to define outcome. Outcome is a combo of your dog’s genetic potential + the effort you’re willing to put in. Extra effort goes a long way toward getting you the best possible result.

Today, when I have Button out for another social swarming, I’ll think of PJ with a smile. She has, yet again, been my teacher.

Audio of Sarah Reading This Blog: Can Breed Affect Socialization


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