when socializing your puppy:

You know you need to ‘socialize’ him/her, but what EXACTLY does that mean? Scientists say that a puppy’s critical socialization period is between 3-12 weeks – but it doesn’t end there! Your job is to somehow introduce your dog to EVERYTHING he may experience in his life from the word ‘go’. Check out our bingo card for ideas.

But that’s only half of the information – the most important detail is that your dog HAS TO LOVE every new experience he has. So how can you tell if he’s digging it? Watch his body. You’ll notice in the video that happy dogs look loose and wiggly, and if they like the new thing they will MOVE FORWARD to check it out. Puppies who are afraid, tend to MOVE AWAY, look away or sometimes hide.

If your pup’s happy checking out the new thing – awesome. Tell him what a great job he’s doing, reward his bravery with a little treat and then move on.

If your puppy gets scared – be a hero and rush to the rescue!

a) In the moment: You need to immediately create some distance for your dog to be able to cope. This means, either you and your puppy quickly move away from the ‘scary thing’ or the ‘scary thing’ needs to go.

b) For the future: Work on making the ‘scary thing’ not scary at all – your dog is depending on you. Dogs who are fearful are WAY more likely to bite. Don’t let that happen to your puppy. You can make a difference, here’s how: Put ENOUGH distance between your puppy and the ‘scary thing’ that he’s not worried by it (that might mean a whole block away if necessary!) Then feed your puppy a small handful of tiny meat treats and ONLY move forward when he’s comfortable – watch his body closely.

At any sign of tension or if he’s taking the treats harder (this is another sign he may be getting WORRIED) it’s time to take the pressure off. Take a step or two back to where he’s comfortable, give a couple of treats and end the session. Try again tomorrow – it should get easier every time.

when around other dogs:

Just like people, SOME dogs are social butterflies and SOME are NOT! There is NOTHING wrong with either. Love the dog you have and respect the ones you meet.

Your dog’s body will tell you whether or not he wants to meet the dog you’re approaching. Pulling forward and a wagging tail DOES NOT necessarily mean he wants to be friendly. The key to discovering his intentions is to watch that body! If there’s any sign of stiffness or freezing in place, a greeting is NOT a good idea. Time to cross the street.

However a loose and wiggly body and tail says your dog is up for saying ‘hi’. But before you rush in, take a good look at what the other dog is saying. Same rules apply: stiff, tense, lunging, barking or pulling backwards are very clear signals this dog NEEDS space. So be a hero and give it to him. When you cross the street not only are you respecting a dog who needs help, but more importantly you’re protecting your own from a bad experience.

If your dog is playing off-leash you still need to keep a watchful eye! You don’t want to miss the early signs that he is struggling. The signs can be subtle, so act quickly and get him out of there, he’ll thank you for it!

when around kids
(either yours or someone else’s):

Kids can be scary to dogs because they are more unpredictable, more unruly, more uncoordinated and way more likely to get in your dog’s face than most adults (we know – we have them!). But it’s YOUR job to ensure that your dog is ALWAYS comfortable around children. So be a hero and at the first sign that he’s not, give him a break! Move him or the kids to a place far enough away for him to be able to relax again. Watch the video to understand exactly what he’s feeling.

If you have children – make sure they watch this video too! Show them what your dog is saying to help them understand the most important skill: when to play and when to walk away. If you keep pointing it out, over time it will just become second nature to them. Not only will they understand your dog, but it will keep them safer around other dogs too.

There are some times when WALK AWAY is always the answer REGARDLESS of what emotion your dog is showing: When he’s eating, chewing, sleeping, resting, in a crate or tied up.

If you have young kids, here’s a song you can sing together to remind them to do the right thing.

I couldn't recommend The Family Dog enough to anyone considering getting a puppy Pauline (Super cool Scot with fab hair. Mom of one and a gorgeous goldendoodle.)


  1. S says:

    You are doing great things! Wish you were closer

    1. Justine Schuurmans says:

      We’re REALLY close! Right on your desktop 🙂
      Seriously – if you like our free videos you’ll LOVE our online program PEACE LOVE KIDS and DOGS – it’s packed with all the info a family could want.

  2. Sandy says:

    Your video on dog language is great! Have a suggestion from a friend that I forwarded it to. She said “Wish they would show the comparison of a submissive smile vs teeth baring growl. Folks mis-interpret that all the time.”


    1. Thanks for the compliment, Sandy! Yes, there is definitely a difference in a submissive grin and a teeth-baring growl, and the dog is feeling differently with each expression. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to look at the overall posture of the dog and her other signals as well. It’s the WHOLE picture of the dog that will tell you what you need to know. In a submissive grin the dog’s lips will be pulled back to expose the very front teeth but when you look at the dog’s body – you’ll often squinty eyes and a lowered head or ears back and the dog is likely moving around. This dog isn’t telling you she’s aggressive, but she does need SPACE – so give her plenty of room and let her approach on her own when she’s ready. On the other hand, when a dog is baring her teeth more aggressively, you may see the lips puckered or pulled back and up so that front and back teeth are exposed, but either way, this dog’s body will likely be still, tense and tight (or you may see barking and moving forward somewhat too). Either way, if she’s showing teeth and looks like she’s really concentrating – watch out! This dog feels like she’s completely running out of options.

  3. Joyce says:

    great post! I like the pictures.
    will comment back – http://www.oldfashionmom.com

  4. hi i love your body language video; would it be at all possible to include it in a powerpoint presentation i do regularly on this subject, giving you full credit? if it is, how do i save it on to my computer so i can get it into a slide?
    keep up the good work; your website is great!
    many thanks,
    wendy, UK

    1. Hi Wendy,
      Thank you so much for contacting us. We’re so happy that you like our videos and would like to use them in your talks. As long as you give us credit we’re more than happy to share, share share! The message is just so important that the more people who are talking about it, the better. You’re more than welcome to play the video from YouTube and I think there must be a downloading option somewhere since other non-profits have done the same for their talks. Google it and see what you find. Good luck! 🙂

  5. Investigator L. Gilmore says:

    I’m a Police Officer from Texas and just wanted to let you know I’ll be using your video on body language in my K9 Encounters class. As a Texas Peace Officer, to obtain higher certificates, you are now required to take a K9 Encounters class. All though your video might be aimed at dog owners learning about what their pet is telling them, it will be great information for our officers. We often encounter dogs on the street and obviously have no knowledge about them. This video will certainly help officers learn what these dog’s are trying to tell them . I’ll definitely let everyone know where the video came from. Great stuff!

    1. FANTASTIC! Thanks for getting the word out. It’s just so crucial to be able to read dog body language when you’re around dogs – especially in the position officers are in. Kudos to you for putting together a class for them that addresses this!

  6. You’re an extremely helpful website; couldn’t
    make it without ya! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIJzPyBZiQA

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