Our Gentle Giants

The story of two Floridians and their foster Great Danes

July 30th, 2014

Checklist: raising a puppy to be a confident dog

By Tara

great-dane-cairn-terrier-merle-brindleI often hear about what dogs are afraid of/strongly dislike: “He’s terrified of thunderstorms/fireworks so we have to medicate him” or “She hates car rides” or “She won’t let you touch her paws”.

I understand that a lot of these dogs that have these sorts of quirks are rescue dogs who may have had a traumatizing past. And even if they didn’t and they were raised in a loving home, they may have not been socialized properly. I’m not judging or putting anyone at fault; things happen.

Thankfully, Roxie is a pretty confident little doggie. She just has two negative quirks: she is wary of when dogs or cats sniff her face and she pulls away when her paw is touched. The dogs sniffing her in the face is because I neglected to socialize her with other dogs as a puppy. The paw being touched thing is because once when she was a puppy, my well-meaning mom went to go clip Roxie’s nails for the first time. She didn’t know about the quick so she accidentally clipped Roxie’s quick. Since then, even 9 years later, she’s uncomfortable with her paws being touched, but she doesn’t put up much of a fight when we do clip her nails.

Also, I continue to think I really got lucky with Roxie. I didn’t make a point to socialize her to life’s sounds, touches, living beings, and other elements, but she turned out to be a confident dog. I think part of this has to do with her breed characteristics.

Nonetheless, I don’t want to take chances with our next pup, so I plan on exposing him to absolutely everything possible. They say that the first four months are the imprinting stage, or in other words, their critical learning period. And as far as I’ve read and heard, Mastiffs and Great Danes aren’t as dumb as people make them out to be, but some of them can be slow learners.

As a reference for myself, I have made a list of things to expose our puppy to during his first year of life. I hope this list can help other puppy owners.


  • Vacuum
  • Weed wacker
  • Motorcycle
  • Car
  • Thunder
  • Fireworks
  • Water running
  • Buzzing sound (nail grinder, etc)
  • Traffic
  • Things with wheels – skateboards, strollers, scooters, etc (thanks Lisa!)


  • Grooming
  • Touching paws
  • Lifting ears
  • Lifting jowls to see teeth
  • Lifting/touching tail

Living beings

  • Small dogs
  • Big dogs
  • Cats/birds
  • Small children (Visit playgrounds to meet all sorts of children (different sizes, vocal levels, etc))
  • Crowds
  • People of all colors, genders, sizes
  • Handicapped people (thanks Lisa!)
  • Homeless people (thanks Lisa!)


  • Hardwood/tile floors
  • Baths
  • Nail clippers
  • Car rides
  • Crates/kennels
  • Being alone
  • Beach
  • Collar
  • Harness
  • Stairs

I first learned about dog socialization through the Big Honey Dog blog, my favorite Great Dane blog. Honey has passed, but her blog still has a lot of useful information. Honey was a very well-trained and well-behaved dog, despite having a very naughty teenage period where her owner, Hsin-Yi was seriously concerned. To read about Honey’s training, click here.

Do you have any experiences with socializing your puppy? Any questions or things to add? Please comment below! I would love to hear your thoughts.

  • Lisacp75 August 19, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Hi Tara –

    I would add handicapped people (wheelchairs, canes, crutches etc) as well as homeless people to your list. As far as handicapped individuals, if you hang out at a park near a retirement home, you should hopefully meet some seniors who will be willing to give treats. Not sure what area you are in, but sadly there are a lot of homeless people in the beach communities in Los Angeles. I keep forgetting but am meaning to have them give our Dane some treats as well.

    Also add “things with wheels” lol. Strollers, kids on scooters, skateboards, bicycles, rollerblades etc etc. I need to find a skateboard park to start conditioning Zoomer – he freaks out around skateboards!


    • Tara August 19, 2014 at 9:07 pm

      Very good points! It’s important for them to know how to be gentle with handicapped people and to be kind to the homeless. “Things with wheels” is HUUUGE. Now that I think about it, skateboards make an awful sound on the ground and can be overwhelming, especially to a puppy so low to the ground (though with gentle giants, they aren’t that low to the ground for long!)

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