Puppy Socialization: How, When, & Why

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Did you decide to get a new puppy? Well now it’s time to start socializing him before he develops any bad habits. This guide will help you through the stepping stones to puppy socialization.

Puppy Socialization – the greatest window of learning in a dog’s life.


When – Puppy socialization can start at around 3 weeks of age and close between 16-20 weeks old. The socialization period allows your puppy to be exposed to different sounds, sights, smells and sensations.

Why – A puppy who is not socialized when he is little will/may develop aggression, anxiety, or high stress levels. You will then have a hard time training your dog at an older age to be less aggressive.

How – This is the best part, continue reading!

DISCLOSURE: Make sure this experience is fun for your puppy. If he is not having fun or if he is being fearful then this process can create even bigger problems for him in the future.

How to Properly Socialize Your New Puppy

Many reputable breeders will not let their puppies go to their new homes until they are 8 weeks of age. This ensures the puppies have had their 6 week AND 8 week booster shots before venturing to their new home.

It is very important to also make sure your puppy is current on all their shots. You can keep track of your pup’s shot records with this handy printable.

When you bring home your new puppy you don’t want to overwhelm him. No baths or company for the next few days. Let him sniff around and get comfortable in his home.

After the few days have passed and you think your puppy is ready to start socializing then you can start! You can avoid serious future problems by following the below steps (doesn’t have to be in order). These are the proper ideas for puppy socialization.

1. Food Training

Dogs in some shelters get euthanized cause of food aggression issues. And cannot be adopted out. You don’t want this to happen with your puppy in the future.

Some dogs can be aggressive with their food.

A rescue puppy that was starved and didn’t know when he’d get his next meal, may become aggressive with food.

This can pose problems in the future if your puppy develops food aggression. Start now and you shouldn’t have issues later on.

NOTE: These steps should only be done during meal time.

Step 1 – Find a slow feeder to start out with, this makes sure your puppy will not eat more than he can chew at a time.

Step 2 – Start by setting the bowl down (with food in it) and let him eat half of the amount given. Do not overfeed Fido.

Step 3 – Take the bowl away when he has eaten about half the amount you gave him. If he growled at all (even slightly) see Step A, if he didn’t show aggression then continue to Step 4.

Step A – When Fido growls at you, give him a light tap on his butt or muzzle. Raise your voice so you sound stern and meaningful, and say “Bad”. Repeat Step 3 and if he continues to be aggressive with the food you will then have to repeat Step 3 and Step A until he has learned.

Step 4 – Place the bowl back down, let him finish eating and give him a small treat or praise him. Repeat Steps 2-4 (skip Step A if he does not show aggression), until he has done a job well done multiple times.

TIP – Repeat this process every couple of days or once a week, even during adulthood.

2. Human/Other Interactions

An aggressive dog towards humans can lead to injuries for the dog and human involved. It’s a common result of never being socialized with other people.

If you wish to avoid this please keep reading.

As a puppy, they normally love everyone. Which is sometimes bad, as not everyone loves dogs, (I’m more of a rabbit person) but I still love dogs.

Take Fido out for a walk to the park, on a hiking trail or just down the street. Let him meet new people, sniff their hands and give them kisses.

If you meet someone on your walk, ask them nicely to play with/pet your puppy. Tell them you are trying to socialize Fido. If they say no thanks, move on and find someone else.

This is also a great way for Fido to interact with outside smells and other animals.

Keep Fido on a regular 6″ flat leash. If you use a retractable leash, you can read my post about the pros and cons of retractable leashes.

Making sure he is close to you is important on walks. You don’t need your puppy getting swept up by a hawk or a stray dog.

Taking your puppy to a dog park or asking a friend who has dogs to come over for a play date are the two best options.

A dog park has many other dogs, scents, and sensations for Fido to discover.

He can smell the scent of rabbits, squirrels, and many plants/insects. Just be careful of the bees that are out in the summer. Some dogs can be allergic to their bites.

When you do this, make sure your new puppy has flea and tick preventatives.

Let other people play with and pet Fido, so he can get used to other people around him. You don’t need an aggressive dog in the future.

Fido needs to be introduced to people of all ages, men, women, children and babies. One day you might have a little child of your own and Fido needs to learn to be ok with babies.

If you plan to take your dog to a boarding facility or a grooming salon, you need to make sure you play with his feet, ears, tail and his face. Allow others to do this as well.

Especially if you plan to get him groomed any time in the future. This may help the groomers substantially.

Continue to allow others to pet and play with your puppy on walks or at the dog park. Take your puppy to some play dates with different dogs, even cats.

Keep playing with his feet, body and face, for the groomer’s sake.

Another idea to start interacting your puppy with other animals would be to introduce them to farm animals. Horses, pigs, cows, goats… You name it.

Our rescue dog was never socialized with horses, we now live by an alphalfa field and horses ride by our fence daily. She tries chasing after them and barking/showing aggression towards horses. Even cattle.

This was not a fault of ours but her previous owners.


3. Teething Training

Never allow your puppy to chew on just anything. He will eventually be a trash hound. I have learned this form experience with my Vizslador.

When teaching your puppy to chew on his own toys there are a few things to consider.

Toys like stuffed animals and shoes will create bad habits. Fido will relate anything that looks like items around the house like his own personal chew toys.

I recently found a love for the Nylabone brands, I find the key rings (my favorite) on amazon.

They have everything from edible toys to toys for powerful chewers. Nylabone is beyond the best for puppies/dogs that are teething or who like to chew on things (that are not theirs).

If your puppy gets ahold of something they shouldn’t be chewing on it can also cause harm to their insides and can result in a vet visit and even more hefty bills.

4. Visual/Sound Training

Making sure Fido is not afraid of certain sounds/visuals can be very important. You must be willing to socialize him with a variation of sounds/visuals. From fireworks to thunderstorms.

I rounded up a list of possible/common sounds/visuals to socialize Fido with. Take a look below :

  • Fireworks
  • Thunder
  • Sirens
  • Traffic
  • Car Horns
  • Fairs/Festivals
  • Rodeos
  • Crowded Shopping Malls
  • Busy Traffic
  • Crowds of people
  • Airplanes
  • Helicopters
  • Radios
  • Door Bells
  • Wheelchairs
  • Crutches/Canes
  • Bicycles
  • Skateboards
  • Loud Cars
  • Motorbikes
  • Parking Lots
  • Trucks
  • Trains
  • Laughing
  • Crying
  • Loud Talking
  • Yelling
  • Screaming
  • Children at Play

There are a lot of other sounds and visuals that your puppy can become socialized or interact with. This list is a small portion of the larger amount.

You will also want to familiarize Fido with different/common places such as the Veterinary Office, Boarding/Grooming Facility, Daycare’s and Pet Shops!

When taking your puppy out to a parade or rodeo, get him familiarized with horses before you do this. If he get frightened by the large animals he can spook and take off. He can also spook the horses and injure the rider or surrounding people.

5. Handling

Take your puppy to the groomers/boarding facility as well, but make sure he is handled first. It’s good to handle his whole body.

  • Ears
  • Tail
  • Muzzle
  • Inside of his mouth
  • Pinching skin
  • Paws
  • Trimming Nails
  • Poking the skin with a pen (capped)
  • Craddling your puppy on his back, in your arms
  • Pulling on his collar
  • Putting a harness on
  • Placing a muzzle on (if he’s a nipper)
  • Sqeezing feet
  • Opening eyelids

Even at a vet visit, if Fido is good with all of the above it will make it easier for your vet/groomer to interact with your new puppy.

6. New Surfaces

It’s important to get Fido to walk on different surfaces.

TIP – Do not walk fido on asphalt/concrete when it’s hot outside, it will burn the bottom of his pads.

Here are some surfaces to get him used to walking on :

  • Asphalt
  • Concrete
  • Linoleum
  • Tile
  • Carpet
  • Water
  • Grass
  • Metal Surfaces
  • Slippery Areas
  • Wobbly Surfaces
  • Ice
  • Wet Grass
  • Mud
  • Dirt
  • Sand

Some dogs are afraid of differently textured surfaces. If you want to go to the beach and Fido is afraid of how the sand feels on his feet, you might have to leave him home or just not go.

Did this guide help you?

By | 2017-10-25T14:38:45+00:00 August 11th, 2017|Advice, Archives, Health Care, Tips + Tricks|7 Comments

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  1. Nichole October 25, 2017 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    Puppy socialization is absolutely so very important. Getting them used to as many things as possible is key. Of course, socialization doesn’t stop with puppies…

  2. Lori Hilliard October 25, 2017 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    I would also add that it’s good to socialize your dog to different kinds of people – for instance, interacting with someone older who uses a walker or cane. You don’t want his enthusiasm to to knock someone over who is differently abled. Also, some pets are afraid of wheel chairs, walkers, oxygen converters, etc.

  3. Debbie October 26, 2017 at 12:47 am - Reply

    These first months are so important and so many people don’t start socializing until way too late! This is a great guide! I hope lots of new puppy parents read it!

  4. Robin October 26, 2017 at 1:47 am - Reply

    It can be so easy to forget that both people and animals have to learn all of these things at the beginning of their lives! None of us are born with all of that knowledge. Socializing your pets when they are young is so important. It helps them to be happier and healthier while living in a home among humans.

  5. Talent Hounds October 26, 2017 at 3:36 am - Reply

    Socializing puppies and dogs is so important. Not sure about that food part but interesting if has worked for you. Certainly the right socializing in the right environments with humans, puppies, dogs, cats, sounds, things, textures, smells, sounds etc by 16 weeks all vital for a happy confident dog later. So hard if fears or aggression develop.

  6. Kamira Gayle October 26, 2017 at 11:50 am - Reply

    I don’t have a dog however this looks like a great guide. I remember when I was volunteering at an adoption organization and how much the the supervisors stressed the importance of socializing the animals. It really helps mold more friendly animals and makes it easier for them to be adoptable in their forever homes.

  7. Heather Wallace October 26, 2017 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Awesome tips and I agree with you. All new experiences, sensations, and touches are amazing with positive association. Make it fun and positive. Beau came to us the runt, from a shelter, and is food aggressive and reactive. So I’ve worked really hard on socialization when he came to us and positive reinforcement. We manage the food by feeding him and Gonzo in their crates, and he goes to the day care and plays with 30 other dogs at a time with no problems. He’s not perfect, but he’s doing well. My dogs are not afraid of the big triggers, and can be touched anywhere on their bodies. It helps I’m a canine massage therapist and have been working on them since the day they came home.

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