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


  1. The other side of that coin is the “attractive nuisance” dog who although endowed with incredible beauty and universal appeal, is shell shocked by inappropriate advances and questionable human interaction to the point that every advance is met with suspicion.

    Dog owners have a great responsibility to their dogs. Appropriate interactions are made difficult by insensitive “space invader” people who INSIST on putting their faces and hands where they don’t belong.

    • Oh, Linda, absolutely! That is another side of the socialization coin: How to get people to back off. Since people who are in full-cute-alert mode rarely can hear you never mind stop themselves, I generally say a word that cuts through their oxytocin-induced fog: CONTAGIOUS!

      Never had a person that word doesn’t stop in their tracks.

      I know, it’s a lie and I don’t like lies but it’s the only way I’ve found to keep some people at a safe-for-that-dog distance. Not proud of it though. Would love a better idea.

    • I have a large cream chow and a smaller mix..husky ish cream with white socks under 30 lbs. The mix has one of those faces..big eyes, foxy face. Kids FLOCK to her. Too bad, she hates it! To run interference, I say , “Pet the big one first!”. Luckily, my chow Kobi loves attention, hugs and kids. ( totally against breed type, I know, he thinks he is a golden retriever) As soon as they divert to him, the mix checks them out from behind, then moves in for pets. If not, I tell folks to leave her be and stand in front of her.

  2. I had a lovely German Shepherd Dog as my last Service Dog, and dealt with people’s breed bias about her. She’ll bite! She’s mean! You can’t trust THOSE dogs! Sigh…she was none of those things. She was the best a GSD could ever hope to be; sane, stable, loved kids, honest and kind. We called her the BDE (Best Dog Ever!)

    Having Button (Princess of Adorable!) will be a new chapter in my life. She is very appealing and I’m thinking I’ll have to come up with a way to back up her fans so she can work.

    I’ve never had a dog with her own Pupper-azzi before 😉

  3. yes Button is THAT cute

    Flag is the best socialized ibizan I had ever had (he is 7th) crowds would line up when I walked him. Now at 19 months he is more polite than social but still very tolerant of surprise hugs.

    Banner due to injury and illness and my not understanding some things needed lots of remedial work (Thank to ALL involved) . He is an example of a dog overcoming his initial reserve

  4. And I will add that there seems to be something about Doodles that draws people in like flies to honey!

    I had a PJ like experience with a wheaten terrier puppy I was training lately- it’s a shame really. I had to ask people to pet her. The doodle puppy I have in now by contrast, is being followed by people begging to pet him!

    Great blog!

  5. I have a Queensland Heeler mixed with lab/pit bull. He has really unusual markings and that wide eyed, smiley face that begs to be petted. He loves attention and has learned to roll over for kids to pet him. People frequently say things like, “I want a dog JUST like this.” I always want to tell them that while his general disposition is great, his manners and behavior are the result of spending hours of time and hard work. Like most things, people want instant gratification. A well socialized dog isn’t a magic trick. But I’m glad that he’s a social butterfly. My last dog, an Australian shepherd hated all other dogs, children, and most adults.

  6. Such an interesting point. People do assume that some breeds of dogs aren’t going to want attention and cuddles. That’s sad because maybe all that dog needs/wants is a bit of TLC.

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