Socialization Never Ends – Honey Goes to the Mall

Pet Expo at the Shops at Ithaca MallLast week I took Honey to the mall, for the second time. The first time was when she was ten weeks old.

I’m not sure why the local mall decided to have a pet-friendly day but I’m glad they did. It’s a great chance for socialization.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of socialization, it’s the idea that puppies must be exposed to as many new things as possible in their first few months so they remain comfortable and secure throughout their lives. It’s the idea behind taking assistance dogs everywhere as puppies, so nothing–not escalators, not grates, not buses–are shocking or scary to them when they’re working with their human partner.

At ten weeks, by taking her to the mall, Honey got to meet a woman in a wheelchair, experience large crowds, and walk on slippery floors. Dog behaviorists recommend introducing your puppy to 100 new people in the first month she’s with you. I think Honey met 100 people just in one day at the mall.

So when I saw Pet Expo day was returning to the mall, we had to do a follow-up to see if Honey was still comfortable in that environment. Plus, I wanted to see how she’d do in a place crowded with other dogs if she was not allowed to play with everyone she saw. Can Honey walk past a small child or lively dog without pulling and can she keep her attention on me when needed?

Sure there are people walking by and all kinds of interesting smells. But I can do this. I really can!

Here’s our first attempt at a long sit-stay. We’re off the beaten track a little bit where there are a number of people walking by but no dogs. I dropped her leash but stayed pretty close just in case something proved too tempting. I’m pleased to say she stayed the entire time with few signs of stress (but her wrinkled eyebrows show this isn’t easy).

Honey greeted dogs and people very nicely and did a good job of listening when I told her to “leave it.” I’m very proud of her. The training we’ve been doing is paying off and I think she’ll be ready for BlogPaws at the end of the summer.

I have a pet theory that if dogs were allowed more places, we’d have better behaved dogs.

  1. Some people, after being embarrassed enough by their dogs out in public, would undertake training that they don’t need to do if they only keep their dogs at home.
  2. Out in public, dogs would get the mental stimulation they need to make them tired.
  3. Constant exposure to new places and activities would teach dogs to feel comfortable in a variety of settings.

I even saw how this Pet Expo at the mall would be a good chance to work with a fearful dog.

When we arrived, I took Honey down a long quiet corridor to get her used to the new setting without having to encounter lots of other dogs and people. We sat on a bench and watched from a distance until Honey appeared calm and focused.

The corridor off the main mall was a great place to sit quietly and to click and treat a fearful dog without being too close to the action. If this chance had come up when Shadow was living with us, we would have never left the quiet corridor and it still would have been worth the time.

Golden Retriever at the mall

This is a long sit-stay. I presume I'll be getting some serious liver for this, right?

I hope the mall decides to continue the Pet Expo each year. It was good exposure for local rescues with dogs and cats available for adoption. And it was wonderful to have such a good training opportunity before the weather gets warm enough for outdoor activities.

Would you like your local mall to create a pet-friendly day? Why not ask them? If you do get such a chance, make sure you set your dog up for success. Here’s what Honey and I did:

  1. Took a long walk before getting to the mall so Honey had already gotten some exercise.
  2. Entered the mall in an area I knew would be quieter and gave Honey a chance to get acclimated before being tossed in among lots of strange dogs and people.
  3. Brought really good treats to reinforce good behavior.
  4. Rewarded Honey with some play time with an amenable pup after she showed good impulse control throughout the visit.
  5. Stayed only a short time.

Do you have any pet-friendly days in your area that provide this kind of socialization and training opportunity? Do you take advantage of it? Do tell.

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  1. I’m stopping by today to visit your blog because of the Life with Dogs Blog Hop. Hello Winnie!

    Visit my blog ( as today I’m memorializing the 100 sled dogs that were slaughtered in British Columbia. It’s the HOWL heard around the world today. Cheers!

  2. This is a great post with a lot of good information. Socialization is VERY important. I didn’t even realize fully until I adopted my little girl Gretel. I had Chester since he was a baby and took him everywhere with me and put him in all kind of different situations with different dogs. I never had any problems with him and I get told all the time that he is the most laid back dachshund they have met. Gretel, on the other hand, wasn’t socialized properly as a puppy. We have had to learn how to deal with her anxiety and fear. We have been working with her for 6 months and she has made great progress but she will always be our timid little girl.

    • You probably have a greater understanding of the importance of socialization just from comparing Chester and Gretel. I hope you keep seeing progress with Gretel. Hopefully, Chester will give her some confidence too.

  3. I love the idea of a pet-friendly day at the mall! Some of the local bookstores allow dogs, even though there are no signs out to indicated. The mall definitely does not. One of the reasons I was so excited to attented Santa Pix around Christmas was for the great socialization opportunity of hanging out in a popular store with many many many different dogs and children around. Given how much Shiva has blossomed in the last year, I really wish we had gotten her as a puppy so we had been able to socialize her properly. There is so much my fearless dog is capable of now – it’s just too bad we had such a slow start!

    Good for you and Honey! That CGC will be yours in no time!

    • Your experience with Shiva shows how even when a dog doesn’t have the perfect start (and let’s face it, most don’t), she can learn and grow with lots of care and attention.

      And even having a good start with Honey doesn’t mean I’ve done everything right. We’re seeing a little fear of moving objects that I think may have been caused by stuff falling near her around the house. So I’m having to do a lot of hard work to get her boat ready for the future.

  4. Oh, I WISH we had something like that here! It would be so amazing, but everything seems to be so backwards in this area, I don’t know if it will ever improve. It’s really frustrating, especially when we’ve been on vacations and trips to places that are really pet-friendly. They won’t even allow dogs in the open air mall that was built just a few years ago. I would definitely take advantage of the opportunity if it arose!

    • I find it’s hit or miss around here regarding pet friendliness. The shopping mall is open to dogs one day a year.

      But we have an open air pedestrian mall downtown on which dogs are banned. And the city park located on the lake is off-limits to dogs too.

      Hopefully someday polite people and their dogs will be allowed most places.

  5. Wish we had that here! We do have festivals and outdoor restaurants which we take Kirby to. He is learning to behave very well – still a problem if someone rides by on a bicycle though. Socializing is so important – great post and adventure!

  6. We don’t really have anything like this around our area. It’s been years since I had a puppy and I’d probably struggle with socialisation. I think walking past schools when the kids are going in or leaving would be good? Also wandering around supermarket carparks. My town isn’t big so there isn’t too much chaos going on in these places! Visiting any type of dog shows, obedience, agility etc and taking classes. You have to know your dog/pup though and not overface them.

    • We had built-in socialization since we live one block from an elementary school. Everyone in the neighborhood walks their children to school (and takes care of dog walking chores at the same time).

      You’re right, though, about keeping an eye on your pup’s stress levels. It can get to be too much after a while.

  7. Richmond, VA actually got an open-air mall a few years ago that’s dog-friendly, all the time.

    Yes, I know, we are blessed beyond measure – especially considering the mall’s tenants are AWESOME! We started taking the corgis there as soon as they’d had all their puppy shots, and we still go at least once a month. Dogs are allowed in ALL the stores (restaurant patios) and on Halloween, dogs come in costume and get biscuits from the merchants (courtesy of Three Dog Bakery). The landscape even has dog watering and “relief” areas built in. (Sheesh, if they ever close this mall, what will we do?!)

    I do realize most towns aren’t this fortunate, and I’m sure NONE of our other malls would be so forward thinking as to go dog-friendly for a day. So I’m REALLY impressed that the mall in your area did. Along with attending basic obedience training, I believe abundant socialization is the BEST thing you can do for your dog’s emotional well-being. So yes, I take mine anywhere and everywhere they’re allowed to go.

    Yay for Honey at the mall!

    • Wow, that mall sounds great! We have a pedestrian mall downtown that is absolutely dog-free. And the pedestrian mall in our favorite vacation town, Cape May, NJ is also off-limits to dogs. The Stony Point mall sounds very forward thinking.

      I am definitely jealous! And I hate shopping. But I’d go anyway if I could do it with dogs.

  8. Good post on a very important topic. I agree with you that socialisation is key to having a well behaved dog. I’m really impressed with Honey being so chilled out around so many people and being a good girl for mum. That ‘best buy’ photo is great!
    Whippets are a very nervous breed, so we’ve been concerned with helping George be a confident dog from day one. Socialisation has always been a big part of this, and it’s ongoing work. I guess large crowds of people will always make him uncomfortable, but he’s learned to operate in this kind of environment when he has to. I love the initiative your Mall had, I’d definitely consider joining in anything like this if it was available around here.

    • Socialization can do a lot but each dog has his own personality, doesn’t he? Honey is quite the social butterfly so it’s no surprise she’d like the shopping mall.

      It’s good that George trusts you enough that he can handle crowds for a short time when he has to.

  9. Socialisation is uber important. I wish we could have done more with Georgia in the last year as she was maturing and changing mentally. Unfortunately, with Rufus’s situation, it was impossible to take her on holidays. She gets to go to different parks and meets lots of dogs. But has missed going to completely new environments like nature reserves and farms. We know she’s reactive in big crowds and when leashed :( so I guess a mall open day wouldn’t have worked out too well for her. But what a great idea! Yes, I wish we had stuff like that here!

    How is Honey doing with boats? She looks very coiffed, btw! And Happy belated Easter. Hope you had a good one :) xox

    • We all have to do the best with what we’re have to work with. It sounds like Georgia’s more of a nature girl than a shopper anyway. :)

      As for the boats, spring is slow coming to upstate NY so most of the boats are still out of the water. We’re hoping with a few warm days, we’ll start seeing sail boats in our local marina so we can get back to our boat socialization work.

      I recently read about a couple who bought and sold two boats until they found one their dogs could tolerate (a catamaran; apparently the dogs didn’t tolerate heeling very well). We’d better do a good job in our training because there’s no way we can afford to buy and sell boats to suit Miss Honey. :)

      Easter was nice but not the long holiday celebrated in the British commonwealth. We didn’t have any extra time off. Hope all went well for you too.

  10. what a nice idea. and i’m not surprised in the least that honey performed so well!

    in our little town, we can bring dogs into the local hardware store and the video store, as well as the boutique pet supplies store. the three spots are very close to one another, so sometimes i take one or both dogs downtown to run errands and hit all three if possible!