When, Why and How to Socialize a Puppy

When you bring a new puppy home, begin planning a socialization schedule. Although this sounds complicated, it's not. Spending a few minutes a day introducing your puppy to the world around it pays off big time later on.
Puppies should meet more than 100 people during socialization, including people of different genders, ethnicities, and ages. Everyone should be comfortable and confident around puppies. Walking on different surfaces and hearing loud noises helps puppies feel secure later.

What is Puppy Socialization?

Puppy socialization is the most critical time in your puppy's life, as it starts your pup off on the right paw. This process introduces your dog to new experiences in a positive way. A well-socialized pup should feel comfortable wherever they go. Large crowds or children whizzing past on skateboards shouldn't rattle your pup.
The process helps your puppy feel comfortable in and out of your home and builds confidence. Think about what it feels like to step foot in a different country. Everything, from the food and architecture to the language and streets, seems strange. Unfamiliar sights, smells, and sounds can overwhelm people, let alone dogs.

Why Socialize Your Puppy?

To a puppy, a new environment, people, and experiences can feel scary. At one time, you've no doubt seen a dog shy away from people or shudder at the sight of a garbage truck or loud noises. Socialization lets your pup take in the surroundings at a relaxed pace. Taking it slow helps your puppy realize the world is an OK place. Slow and positive introductions also strengthen your puppy's mental and emotional development.

how to socialize a puppy

Living with a well-adjusted puppy means avoiding behavior problems later on. For example, if a puppy never meets children and later meets a toddler, your pup could feel frightened. Children often move fast, reach out at a dog, and shriek, which can startle a dog that has never been around toddlers. When the dog snarls, growls, or nips, it means the dog is afraid. But if your puppy is around children early and in a positive way, it is less likely to feel afraid later.

When to Start Socializing Your Puppy

Although it's never too late to begin socializing your puppy, the sooner you start, the better. Introducing your pup to the world is an easier process at a young age, but older dogs benefit, too.

What's the best age to socialize? Puppies between 3 and 14 weeks old are most receptive to new experiences. People usually bring their new puppies home between 8 and 9 weeks old. At 12 weeks old, they might act more reserved around new encounters. Sometime around 18 weeks, they enter a shy stage.
It's never too late to take puppies and dogs 18 months and older out into the world.

How to Socialize Your Puppy

Enrolling in a puppy class with a knowledgeable instructor provides a foundation. Your pup will learn some basic obedience lessons and play with other puppies off-leash. The other pups will tell your pup not to bite too hard, and your pup will gain confidence with other people.

Along with a guided class, take your puppy to other places. Take plenty of yummy treats with you and give your pup one or two pieces as a reward for positive encounters. If your pup is too frightened to accept the treat, praise your dog with petting and encouraging words.

Puppy Socialization Checklist

Socializing a puppy is more than playing with the same one or two dogs or going to a dog park. A properly socialized puppy needs all types of encounters.

Some include watching children play, meeting a cat or a horse, and car rides. Others include visiting a garden center, a construction site, or an office building. Going to the market? Take your dog along and spend a few minutes walking past the automatic doors. When you're done, and only if the weather is cool and it's safe, leave your dog in the car and complete your shopping. Or return home.

Controlled Exposure

The socializing process is not a race and doesn't need to last all day. Introduce new encounters at a slow pace. For the best outcome, make frequent but short outings. Five or ten-minute sessions work wonders. This avoids overstimulating your puppy. Notice how your pup reacts. If your puppy seems frightened, resist the urge to pick up the pup. Instead, reassure your pup that it's OK to feel scared and move on.

Social Skills Development

How do you socialize your dog? As your puppy moves toward someone and wants to greet them, reward your puppy with a treat or praise. If your pup wags its tail when seeing another dog, say, "Good Dog!"

But what should you do if you and your pup are at a noisy building and your pup crouches down and shakes with fear? Watch your pup's reaction, keep a distance, say it's "OK," and leave the scene. Never scold or coax your pup if he's afraid. Your pup needs time to adjust and realize that noise won't hurt him.
Some puppies can handle a crowd or noisy children right away. Other pups may feel more comfortable around fewer people, in a quieter setting, or at a slower pace.

Socialization Activities and Exercises

While exposing your pup to every animal, person, place, or thing is impossible, you can schedule a few. An easy way is to take your puppy along on your daily routine. Are you getting the car washed? Take your pup with you to wait for your car. Need gardening supplies? Many garden centers welcome puppies and shoppers. Visiting a friend? Ask if your puppy can come along.

Safe Socialization Practices

During socializing experiences, always consider your puppy's comfort level and safety.

After your puppy receives the last set of vaccines, ask your veterinarian when it's safe to go out. Take extra care before puppies have completed the vaccine series and are 20 pounds or less. Consider carrying your pup in a pouch or in a puppy stroller. Even larger puppies can begin socialization in a stroller. This way, your puppy can see all the activities when you venture out without touching the ground.
Advocate for your puppy. If your puppy shows fear of a friend wearing a hat, ask the individual to remove the hat and offer your pup a treat.
When meeting children, supervise the interaction to ensure they are gentle. They can play with your puppy and give it treats. If your puppy is mouthy and nips at a child's hands, give the child a stuffed dog toy for the pup to play with instead.

The Role of Behavior and Training in Socialization

Following the early socialization period with an obedience class gives your puppy structure and enables you to work as a team.

Planning a Social Schedule

Planning a socialization schedule is a convenient way to keep your puppy on track. Again, getting out doesn't have to take hours--a few minutes a day does the trick. Make sure your puppy has enough time to rest and relax, too.


Putting in the time and effort to socialize your puppy can be challenging, but it pays off as your pup develops. Living with a well-adjusted, happy adult dog is worth everything.

Once your puppy becomes an adult, don't stop venturing out. An adult dog needs stimulation outside your home and backyard. All dogs need to see new sights for their mental and physical health.


Need some help with your puppy's development?

Contact a professional dog trainer: The Association of Professional Dog Trainers.
To find a consultant, visit American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

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