Socializing A Puppy & Why It’s Important
August 02, 2022 | 3 min read
Updated August 02, 2022
By Sarah Milton
Published: August 3, 2022
Updated: May 12, 2023
Summary: Learning how to socialize puppies doesn’t have to be stressful. Check out our puppy socialization checklist below and learn how to properly socialize a puppy in this blog…
Socialization For Puppies & Why It’s Important
Socializing a puppy properly is essential for helping ensure a confident dog that’s happy and well-adjusted around humans and other dogs alike. Socializing means they’ll learn how to play and interact with other dogs and people and learn not to be scared by new situations or environments.
Puppy socialization should begin with the breeder and then be continued by you, their owner. A proper socialization schedule can prevent a pup from becoming fearful of things like cars, children, the vet’s office and encourage a well-mannered, acclimatized furry friend for life.
The number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age is behavioral issues, not infections or illness according to the American Veterinary Society Of Animal Behavior. Therefore, this means that properly socializing a pup can actually help preserve their wellbeing too, as socializing a puppy can directly lead to better behavior throughout their life!
When To Socialize A Puppy
The first 12-17 weeks of a puppy's life are vital for shaping their future behavior, reactions and personality. Exposing them to as many people, places, and situations as possible can contribute enormously to their adult temperament.
A responsible breeder should understand the importance of this period, and should begin socializing the puppy before they become yours. From the age of 3 weeks, puppies might begin to approach people of their own will so fostering those experiences as a positive one is integral for ensuring their adult behavior.
A good breeder, despite the puppies not being fully vaccinated, will ensure safe exploration in both indoor and outdoor environments. They should be exposed to car rides, crates, different scents, a variety of everyday sounds, and be handled with kindness and care.
Puppy Socialization Checklist
If you’re working with a reputable, ethical breeder then the socialization of your puppy should start from their first few days of life. When your puppy arrives home, it’s over to you to finish the process…
You can find comprehensive lists of socialization checklists on the internet with ease. These list out lots of ideas that your dog needs to be exposed to in order for them not to be surprised by them and learn to be fearful of them as they progress through life - and some things might not be as obvious as you think! There are apparent things like the vet, children, having their teeth cleaned, and car rides but also things like; shopping carts, people who use mobility aids, people wearing sunglasses, people exercising, public transport, umbrellas, skateboards, firework noises, the doorbell, shadows and even things like the sound of carbonated drinks being opened!
How To Properly Socialize A Puppy
As well as exposing them to potentially scary things, there are some other things to consider to give your pup the best start in their personality development journey:
Positive reinforcement is key; Every time your puppy is exposed to something new and remains calm, reinforce this with ample praise and treats so that they learn that reacting in this way is a good thing!
Don’t be nervous yourself; Dogs feed off of our emotions. If you’re not nervous about your dog being exposed to something new, this will help them not feel your anxiety or fear of a situation too!
Only interact with other dogs that are vaccinated at first; your dog needs to have started their vaccination process before they begin interacting at places like dog parks. You can have vaccinated dogs over to your house, or take your pup to other households where you’re sure all pets are vaccinated in the interim. Their immune systems are too vulnerable otherwise.
Involve your household; Make sure everyone who is living with your dog takes part in their socialization program. This will teach them that they might experience something new, no matter who they’re with. Make sure everyone knows to praise them, treat them a lot and keep a checklist between you all of what they’ve been exposed to (ie. “they went on tile flooring today!”), to keep the process fun for the whole of your home!
Take it slow; Don’t expose them to too much too quickly! It can be overwhelming experiencing the entire world for the first time... For example, don’t launch them into a busy crowd if they’ve only met and interacted with your immediate household so far. Build them up to it or they may learn to be scared of things - which is the opposite outcome we’re after!
Puppy classes are great; Once your puppy has started their vaccinations (usually from around 8 weeks of age), puppy classes can be a great way of not only supporting their learning of basic commands, but helps them get used to other pups and people. Skilled, ethical trainers and puppy class hosts will also help ensure the safety and happiness of everyone involved as uncontrolled environments like the beach or a dog park can lead to a dog becoming fearful of other dogs.
A good vet will let you visit for practice; Ask your vet if you can pop in before any real controls take place with your new pup and ask the staff to help make a fuss of them by giving them treats and interacting positively with them, as this will help alleviate any fear of attending the vets in the future.
Keep up the good work; Positively reinforcing what they’ve learned in the first 12-17 weeks of their life over months 4 through 12 is super important as if anything negative happens over this period, your puppy can still learn to be scared of certain things. Keep up the praise and rewards when experiencing new things, dogs, and people and be aware that social maturity usually happens anywhere between 1 and 3 years of age.
Puppy Socialization: What Happens If This Isn’t Prioritized?
If a puppy begins to growl, stiffen, raise their hair, bark excessively at a trigger, cower or snap when responding to other dogs or people this is a fear reaction. Mild hesitation when approaching something new is normal, but profound fear responses like these are not. If your pup tries to escape a situation and won’t be woo’d with a treat, then this is also a display of fear.
If these behaviors are not ethically redirected before social maturity, they can significantly worsen so working them out in puppyhood is highly recommended. Careful socialization and positive reinforcement via praise and treats (not punishment though – dogs don’t understand punishment and scolding in the same way we do, so your dog will just learn to be scared of you!) will help enormously to ensure these behaviors don’t transition with your pup into adulthood.
Author Donovan, Liz “Puppy Socialization: Why, When, and How to Do It Right” American Kennel Club, Oct 31. 2019 https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/puppy-socialization/
“The Importance Of Socializing A Puppy” Viera East Veterinary Center https://www.vieravet.com/services/dogs/blog/importance-socializing-puppy
Comes from a family of animal lovers and got to grow up with a menagerie of pets! I believe owning a pet is a privilege and I love researching and creating informative, fun content for fellow pet owners to help their furry friends have the happiest and healthiest lives. When I’m not writing blogs, you can find me sharing a walk with my pet dachshund or at a yoga class!