Many dog owners have heard of socialization but most don’t understand the importance of it and many don’t know how to socialize their puppy the right way.
A well-socialized dog has experienced different people, places, and situations in a positive manner when he was a young puppy.
This will also help your dog to react calmly and relaxed in new situations he hasn’t experienced in the past.
Can You Over Socialize a Dog?
The socialization period is a very vital phase in the development of a young puppy.
The goal here is to let the young puppy positively experience as many situations as possible to boost his confidence and prepare him for the environment, including other dogs, people, places, and sounds.
Many adolescent behavior problems can be traced back to poor socialization training. Your young puppy has to be prepared for the world in order to react appropriately to it.
Problems like excessive barking, reactivity, aggression, anxiety, and hyperactivity can all be caused by
Behavior issues are in fact the number one cause of death in dogs under the age of three years, so socialization is actually a lifesaver for your puppy.
There is a really comprehensive book on socialization that I can recommend and is still highly accurate today: Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog.
Is it possible to over socialise a puppy?
No, it’s impossible to socialise your puppy too much, unless your dog is too exhausted and or you establish negative habits like pulling and overexcitement.
When Should I Start Socializing My Puppy?
The socialization period happens early between the age of 3 – 16 weeks and nothing should be more prioritized than socialization in these few weeks.
You probably pick up your puppy around the age of 8-10 weeks.
So it is very important and critical to choose a responsible breeder that will do some socialization work with the litter beforehand.
In this post, you can learn more about how you can find a professional breeder.
You will only have a few weeks before this period ends which means that you will have to completely commit to prioritizing this training in the first few weeks.
Your puppy will not only learn from you but you will also learn a lot about your puppy’s personality and it will make your bond much stronger.
Can I Take My Puppy Outside Before Vaccinations?
Studies have shown that the risk of your dog getting infected by a transmitted disease is way lower than the risk of a dog dying because of a behavior problem.
Early and adequate socialization and programs of positive training can go a long way to preventing behavior problems and improving bonding between humans and dogs.
While the first three months is the most important socialization period in a puppy’s life, owners of puppies that have passed this milestone are strongly encouraged to continue to socialize their puppies to as many people, pets, and locations as is practical.
However, owners of puppies displaying fear should seek veterinary guidance.
Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first deworming and should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class.
In general, puppies can start (off-leash positive method socialization classes) as early as 7-8 weeks of age.AVSAB Position Statement on Puppy Socialization
How Do I Socialize My Puppy?
There has been a myth around for very long that puppies should not be socialized until they are fully vaccinated by the age of 4- 5 months.
This information is not only outdated but is also very dangerous as you miss the most important part of puppy behavior development.
If your dog has a healthy and normal functioning immune system, you can easily take him to puppy classes by the age of 10 weeks.
Playing with other Puppies
When a puppy plays with dogs at his own age, he will learn important skills like bite inhibition, confidence, and social skills and he will learn to interact with you while distracted.
Great puppy classes should be off-leash and well structured. They should be always supervised and you should be able to integrate training into your socialization.
Visiting New Places
New places will teach your puppy different sights, smells and sounds. This is incredibly exciting for a new puppy and ignites his curiosity.
To successfully socialize your puppy it should be protected and experience its environment in a safe way. Do not just throw your puppy in new situations and hope for the best.
You will have to get him used to the environment in a very gentle manner.
Approach everything slowly and be sure to praise your dog for the right reaction and comfort him if he is scared.
Take a step back if he seems anxious as we only want positive experiences.
Avoid dog parks as you cannot control this environment and playing is oftentimes too rough for small and young puppies and things could escalate quickly.
Start in a quiet area and slowly build up to public places.
When I started exposing my puppy, I began taking her to the backyard where she could experience different smells and insects but wouldn’t get scared by anything.
Then I would go down the streets with her in the neighborhood where a door might upon and a few cars slowly drive by.
After a few days, I had built up her confidence and we were ready to go to a more busy street. I got out of the car with her and we were far away from the streets.
When I got her used to the environment, we went closer and closer to the street.
After about an hour we could safely take the crosswalk across the streets a couple of times and this is how she learned to safely cope with traffic noise.
Making the Experience Positive
Always keep in mind that your puppy has to be happy around these places. This will connect new environments with something great.
I always took plenty of high
Pay attention to your puppy’s body language. When his body begins to stiffen then take him away from the area as he seems to be uncomfortable.
Always reassure him that you got his back and that you can accomplish everything together.
This will give his confidence a great boost and you will immediately see his mood change.
Meeting New People
Many dogs are scared of certain people for their whole live just
You will want to desensitize your dog to as many people as possible for the best
Start with friends and family and let them meet your new puppy in a calm and safe environment.
It is important that your puppy meets both genders, people of different ethnicities, age and sizes.
They should also wear different clothes, white dresses, black hoodies and so on.
Once your puppy became familiar with the outside world, he can start meeting more people in different situations.
People in wheelchairs, people with walking sticks or bicycles. This is obvious but your puppy should meet your vet early especially for health reasons.
Getting Used to Being Touched
Your puppy just came from his own dog family to your house. Now he is surrounded by so many people and not used to being touched by these weird fingers that we have.
A puppy should be comfortable being gentlly pet on his sensitive ears and paws but you will also have to prepare him for unexpected handling like a kid suddenly pulling on his tail.
The vet will need to examine your puppy and you want him to be prepared for that. Things,
Getting your puppy used to car rides is important even though you can’t think of a situation where you would need that.
Your puppy should be prepared for every possible situation that could occur.
Dogs usually don’t like car rides, it’s loud and bumpy and just not enjoyable. This is why you will have to do your best to make the experience a positive one.
Start by choosing the right gear. For your
This harness is specifically designed for car rides and connects to every car seatbelt system.
But if you do have a harness or your puppy is too small, you can also just buy a seatbelt like this one.
I really wanted to ensure my dog’s safety and to make it comfortable for her in the backseat, I bought this seat cover.
You also won’t need to worry about your car if your dog got wet from the rain or swimming or simply being dirty from a walk.
I started by giving her some company for the first few weeks in the backseat while my boyfriend was driving, so she could settle and always lay on my lap.
I took many treats with me and would
Get your puppy used to being in the car and let him sniff around at least 10 minutes before departure.
Take baby steps and just start the engine and reward your dog; then you can turn it off again.
Drive slowly and see how your puppy is reacting to turns and sounds. Slowly build up the progress and ensure that your puppy is happy with you in the car.
Once she got a bit older and more confident, I got back to the front seat and we never had any problems with it.
Of course, you don’t have to start that way if you do not have a friend or person that could drive you.
Your dog might be comfortable in the car from day one especially if the breeder took him on car rides.
Recommended Reading: Why does my dog pant in the car?
Meeting Other Animals
Not only other dogs are interesting for your dog but also animals like cats, birds, ducks and so on. You can let your puppy experience them from far away or get a little closer if it’s save.
Keep in mind that not all animals are keen to meet your pup. They could be scared or intimidated and you do not want your dog to get hurt.
If you already have other pets in your home, start with them.
You will want to teach your puppy the appropriate way to react to other animals to avoid behavior issues like barking, lunging or chasing.
Reward your puppy if he is calm and unafraid.
If you already have a cat in your home, you will want to plan their first meeting thoroughly to avoid any chasing.
You can read my guide on how to introduce a new puppy to your cat.
I have attached a comprehensive checklist that will help you remember everything:
What Not to Do When Socializing Your Puppy
There are a few things that should be avoided when socializing a young puppy:
Visiting the dog park – A dog park is a huge no for a puppy. Not only is it overwhelming but it is also quite dangerous. Oftentimes, the dogs will be far away from the owners and unsupervised.
A little puppy could be easily run over by some large dogs and get scared for his life.
You simply do not have control over your dog in the park unless he is old enough and has mastered the recall training.
Leaving your puppy somewhere – Do not leave a young puppy in front of a store or inside a car. The fear of getting abandoned in new places is just too big for puppies. Never leave him anywhere unsupervised.
Starting off with crowded places – Taking your puppy to festivals or crowded public places will overwhelm and scare him. Instead, look for quieter places and start with smaller crowds like a park.
Putting him into a situation without an exit – Only choose places and situations where you could easily escape from. If you sense that your dog gets nervous, you don’t want to be standing in the middle of a shopping mile. Always stay around the corners of a place where you could easily switch into a
Meeting aggressive and rowdy dogs – Puppies at his own age are the best playmates. Do not visit places or classes where your puppy would be playing with or meeting aggressive or rowdy dogs. It will be too much for your puppy and he will become frightened.
How to Socialize An Adult Dog
Older dogs can be socialized in the same way as puppies can despite having missed the critical period.
Slowly desensitize your dog to the same things as listed above and you will see him getting comfortable with it.
If you experience some unsolvable problems along the way, you can always consult a professional dog trainer especially concerning aggression towards people or other animals or severe fearfulness.
If you take everything into consideration, you will provide your puppy with a great foundation for his future.
Let me know your experiences with socialization and what has worked for you, in the comments down below.
Saturday 20th of August 2022
Hi there. I am planning on bringing a new puppy into our family in the near future. My concern is, our next door neighbor owns two dogs who were not socialized as puppies and are now out of control. The bark incessantly and charge at our fence whenever we’re outside. FYI…the neighbors call this behavior “just being friendly” with no intention to correct the behavior. Shy of moving, how do I introduce my new puppy into this environment without her picking up their behavior?
Saturday 20th of August 2022
Hi Marion, so there are two main concerns, training and safety. Your pup might pick up negative behavior if they're outside a lot and fence-fighting. Some dogs are more prone to adopting this behavior while others aren't. It's not the best socialization for sure but you'll meet plenty of other dogs with a chance of introducing them and with time and training, your dog will hopefully not get riled up by other dogs at all.
However, there's also a safety aspect if the dogs are actually in danger of getting out or if you're planning to leave your dog outside unsupervised (which I'd never advise to do). Is the fence stable and high enough to make sure the dogs don't get to your pup? Even if it's good now, having a dog on the other side can really rile some dogs up.
I don't know how severe the behavior is but if you're uncomfortable, see them outside unleashed a lot, etc. inform you're neighbor when you're about to get a pup and tell him that you'd prefer for them not to charge your fence. It can be a difficult discussion, but it'd really depend on their behavior.
Hope that helps, Danielle
Monday 28th of June 2021
Hi Danielle, I recently rescued a Siberian Husky/ German Shepherd mix. He’s one and a half. He doesn’t like other dogs. He barks, pulls and snaps towards them. He’s great on walks when it comes to bikers and walkers. Just other dogs. Any suggestions on how to socialize him safely? Thank you!
Saturday 3rd of July 2021
it's great that you're trying to socialize him regardless of the issues (and that's exactly why he needs it even more)!
I'd suggest you only walk him on-leash for the time being and avoid interactions with other dogs as long as you can't tell who he likes and why. You can start with a selected few of dogs who you know are good with others (wearing a muzzle for your rescue is probably the safest way).
Apart from that, for the socialization part that excludes actual interactions, just stay further away from other dogs and reward every good behavior and ignore the bad behavior. Soon, he'll understand if you repeat that exposure process often enough.
Tuesday 6th of October 2020
Hi! My 11 month old Shih-Tzu puppy barks incessantly at people when on walks. His tail is wagging like when he is happy but he also growls a little and moves forwards and backs up if people come close. Any ideas? Would love him to like people.
Tuesday 6th of October 2020
like always, it's important to know whether or not your puppy is a rescue or if you had him since 8 weeks of age.
You can read more about tail wagging here, as it's not always meant to be a friendly gesture. It really depends on the position/range of motion and how fast/stiff the tail is wagging.
This would fit together with the growling which means you should work on exposning your pup to these kinds of situations more and apply counter-conditioning. Reward the positive behavior but correct/ignore the negative behavior, depending on the situation. Never reward the barking, growling, lunging through a pet, treat or whatnot.
Similar to tail wagging that can be threatening, growling can occur due to excitement and it's not always negative. My Rottweiler growls since she's a puppy when she's excited. It's a different type of growl and you should be able to recognise it as such. More of a play-growl.
It's very important to take into account the whole body language. Backing up and moving forward can point towards insecurity. Often it's just some kinds of people like those with strange black coats/hats, bikes, etc. as these can cause insecurity, especially for smaller dogs. Find out what exactly the trigger is because he's surely not barking at everything for no reason and slowly determining what exactly you should work on will help a lot.
Friday 25th of September 2020
Hi Danielle, I love the socialization checklist you included with your article. Do you have a link for it? I tried Googling WalkiesOnSunshine and couldn't find a website. Thanks so much!
Friday 25th of September 2020
I've actually created a whole template package which now includes a socialization checklist. Message me under [email protected] and I'll get back to you asap with a link!
Wednesday 25th of March 2020
Hey Danielle, we have an older dog who is very calm, and are planning to get a puppy soon. Is it a good idea to bring our older dog on the socialization trips to show the puppy that there is nothing to be afraid of, or could our older dog be an additional source of stress for the puppy?
Thursday 26th of March 2020
Hi Hailey, thanks for your comment! In general, it is a great idea to take your adult dog with you on socialization trips for the puppy for two reasons:
1. puppies learn a lot from older dogs that are confident and well-tempered 2. dogs never stop learning so socializing will also benefit your older dog.
If your dog is very calm and shows the behavior that you would like to see from your puppy in the future then please take him with you. But if he reacts fearfully to certain situations then it would be better to leave him at home. Older dogs can be amazing role models if they approach their environment confident and calm.