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How To Socialize Your Puppy

Taking time to socialize your puppy is an important part of your puppy care responsibilities, but it's one many owners are unaware of, or simply forget about.

'Socializing your puppy' basically just means helping little Fido to become more confident in social settings and it should be a fun activity, not a chore. 

Of course, most puppies are naturally happy, friendly little furballs who want to be best friends with everyone they meet. But this often doesn't last.

They're creatures of habit and as a puppy matures, if he only gets to see the same half-dozen people, in the same environment, day after day - then he's going to feel anxious, stressed or even scared when he finds himself in a new situation or faced with new people or animals.

This is upsetting for both of you, and can lead a pup to become snappy or defensive whenever he's out of his comfort zone, even a trip to the vet's office can become an ordeal.

BUT if you get your pup familiar with different people, animals, places, noises, sounds and so on from a young age, then he will grow up to be a happy, confident and friendly adult who can accompany you anywhere.

That's why it's so important to socialize your puppy!

Little boy hugging English Bulldog puppy

When To Socialize Your Puppy

Puppies grow and develop at a very rapid rate during the first year of their lives. If you want the very best results when socializing a puppy, you need to get the timing right!

Puppy socialization isn't limited to learning about the human world, it also includes learning proper 'dog' behavior within a 'pack' or family of canines. This is why it's generally recommended that you don't remove a puppy from it's mom and litter mates before a minimum of 8 weeks of age.

Golden Retriever puppies playing together

The most critical socialization period for puppies is between 3 and 17 weeks of age.

It's important to make sure you begin to introduce your pup to new people, pets and places as soon as you can. Definitely by the time he's 12 to 16 weeks old.

But, be aware that until all puppy vaccinations are complete your pup is at risk of catching a number of contagious, and dangerous, diseases. These include the often deadly Parvovirus. To keep him safe:

  • Don't take him anywhere stray or un-vaccinated dogs may have been
  • Keep him up off the ground in public areas (in your arms or a carrier)
  • Visit homes with fully vaccinated dogs only

Puppy Socialization 101

You can begin the puppy socialization process by inviting people of different ages, sexes, sizes etc., over for a meet-and-greet, but always make sure it's always a pleasant experience for him. 

  • Give him a week or so to settle into his new home before beginning
  • Don't overwhelm him with a lot of people at once
  • Keep visits short
  • Have your visitors feed him treats and pet him quietly and calmly
  • Praise your puppy when he reacts with confidence and is friendly and outgoing
  •  Take it slow and try to go at the pace your pup is comfortable with
Young woman face to face with Malamute puppy on the floor

Always supervise your puppy's socialization interactions carefully so that he doesn't get scared or overwhelmed.

You want the experience to be fun for him and have pleasant associations in his little puppy brain because that will build up his self-confidence and help him learn that the world is full of exciting new people, places and fun.

Even your little one's first visit to the veterinarian's office can be a terrific early socialization experience. Most staff will greet your puppy warmly and be only to happy to give him treats and cuddles.

As soon as your puppy has had at least two sets of shots you can usually enroll him in a puppy socialization/puppy obedience training class. (Check with individual schools for their vaccination policy).  

Puppy attending group training class with owner

These classes are a great way to introduce your puppy to other puppies of different ages, sizes and breeds. They provide a safe environment for puppies to learn how to play and interact with other members of their own species. They also give you the opportunity to socialize with other puppy parents and learn from tips from professional dog trainers!

After your puppy is approximately 12 - 16 weeks old, and has had all his puppy shots, you can safely begin to take him out and about in the big, wide world!

In order to fully socialize your puppy, you need to introduce him to as many different people, places, things and experiences as possible. 

best places for puppy socialization

This page explains why, and how, to socialize your puppy but I'd also suggest checking out my Puppy Socialization page as it has loads of ideas and suggestions on where to go, and what to do to make your outings both fun and effective.

Vizsla puppy training and socialization session in urban area

Don't try to cram all your puppy's socialization into a week or two. That would overstimulate, or even overwhelm, him and end up being counter-productive.

Allow each new experience time to be absorbed and processed before moving onto the next one. When you're trying to socialize your puppy, one new person, place or thing per day is usually enough.

And leave a couple of days, free once a week so that to relax and re-charge his batteries at home.

puppy socialization is an ongoing commitment

It's important to continue to socialize your puppy throughout his adolescence, and into adulthood. 

Dogs are creatures of habit and even if you have him social and confident at 6 months and then just stop and leave him at home 24/7 within another 6 months he's going to have lost most of that confidence.

Somewhere between 4 & 12 months of age, breed-specific differences in behavior start to appear. For example, a pup from one of the guardian breeds will begin to show signs of increased territorial and protective behavior.

It's especially important to continue to socialize your puppy in this case so that appropriate social behavior is reinforced and rewarded.

Socialization is one of the most often overlooked aspects of puppy training, but it is extremely important and should be a lifelong pursuit.

A confident, friendly, well-behaved dog is a joy to own, and if you take the time to socialize your puppy properly, you'll reap the rewards for years to come.

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