A puppy socialization period is a critical time when your dog learns to enjoy new situations. It’s when your puppy will learn how to interact with other dogs and people, and it’s important to provide him or her with plenty of opportunities to have a positive experience spending time with the family and while they are out in public places with you.
In this blog post, we’ll provide you with a puppy socialization checklist that will give you over 100 ideas for things your puppy can do to get the most out of this important phase!
Why is socialization so important?
Puppy socialization is important for puppies because it helps them to learn how to interact with other dogs, and people, and learn about the world they live in. It’s a crucial time in their development, and if they don’t get enough opportunities to socialize as a puppy, they may have difficulty interacting with others later on in your dog’s life.
We’ve all experienced an anxious dog at the park that pulls and barks on a leash, or dogs that have to be locked away during a family gathering because they cannot handle new experiences. This is an example of a dog who didn’t receive proper puppy socialization and grew into a nervous and fearful adult dog.
What does proper puppy socialization look like?
If you want your dog to be allowed anywhere and everywhere you go without them barking and scaring others, then you should start the socialization process as soon as they come home with you. Exposing your new puppy to new experiences without overwhelming them is the key to properly socializing a young pup.
This will usually involve obedience training as soon as your puppy is able to attend puppy classes. Having your dog play with other dogs of all different ages, sizes, and breeds will greatly increase the chances of good behavior on a walk, or in pet shopping areas, as your dog will be used to seeing other dogs regularly.
Puppies begin socializing very young and the socialization period closes very quickly in your puppy’s life, so make sure you have a great plan or checklist like the one provided in this blog article to help you keep track of what you still need to expose your puppy to.
When is the best time to socialize a puppy?
The best time to socialize a puppy is during the first three months of its life. From the age of three weeks old to sixteen weeks old a puppy is very open to new experiences. This is also a very important time when your puppy is building immunity and they will need to be protected from common puppy diseases and viruses while they are socializing.
Your puppy is already partially socialized and vaccinated when you bring them home at eight weeks old, they should already have positive experiences with other dogs, young puppies, play, getting to explore, and maybe even new people, children, veterinarians, and different types of animals.
This is great but once you bring your new puppy home you will want to introduce them to anything you would want them to be acceptable of in their new world. This could be the sound of babies crying, facial hair on people, new dog toys to play with, and even puppy classes to help your puppy’s socialization grow even stronger.
Puppy Socialization Checklist: 100+ Ideas for Your Dog
Learning about people and animals:
- Other animals in the home
- Older dogs or adult dogs
- Introduction to cats
- Friendly door greetings
- Greeting strangers
- Visiting other homes
- Seeing the mailman or delivery person
- Seeing drive-thru workers
- Seeing dogs walk past
- Seeing people walking past
- Meeting the veterinarian
- Playing with children or seeing babies
- Meeting the groomer
- Visiting a social puppy playgroup
- Seeing tall people
- Meeting people of different ethnicities
- People wearing hats
- People wearing sunglasses
- People carrying objects (broom, box, etc.)
- People biking past
- Someone pushing a stroller or cart
- Meeting pet store workers
- Experiencing the sights or sounds of wild animals
- Experiencing a large animal (horse or cow)
- Meeting an elderly person
- Seeing someone mowing a lawn or landscaping
- Experiencing walking toward approaching strangers
- Being in the dog’s new home
- Walking into the dog crate
- Being in the backyard
- Visiting a beach, pool, or lake
- Going to the park or a field
- Smelling grass, trees, flowers
- Pet (or other) stores
- Visiting the veterinarian’s office
- Going to the groomer’s office
- Spending time walking their own street
- Visiting a friend’s home or yard
- Public places or crowded areas
- Busy streets with cars, motorcycles, bikes
- Visiting a dog daycare or playgroup
- Seeing a dog training facility or classes
- Riding in a shopping cart
- Being inside a dog stroller (if needed)
- Going to a playground or park and watching people
- Riding in the car (window’s down optional)
- Being inside the bathtub or shower at home
- Riding on an elevator (if possible)
- Taking the stairs of going up a few steps
- Walking on hardwood floors
- Walking on tile floors
- Walking on noisy floors (Sewer grates)
- Sleeping in a crate (while the house is noisy)
- Hearing the vacuum or broom
- Lawn machines (leaf blower, mower, trimmers)
- Hearing trash cans roll on the concrete (trash day)
- Hearing the blender run
- Hearing and seeing the hair dryer
- Learning to wait (sitting) for food to be placed
- Experiencing eating from your hands
- Hearing bath or shower water run
- Seeing a person mopping or sweeping
- Being left alone at home (in a safe place or crate)
- Hearing beeping (microwave, smoke alarm, stove)
- Playing with different types of toys
- Chewing on the right things (chew toys)
- First training lessons
- Being on a leash inside with you
- Trash trucks picking up cans
- Cars & trucks
- Walking nicely past strangers and dogs
- Walking calmly on leash with you (changing direction)
- Playing off-leash (in a safe environment)
- Walking on and touching mud or feeling rain
- Walking on and touching concrete
- Experiencing being handed to someone while you walk away
- Fetching a toy
- Walking over or under a bridge
- Using public transit (if necessary)
- Hearing a car start
- Hearing people yelling or kids playing at a playground
- Seeing joggers running past
- Hearing construction and loud noises
- Hearing a train horn in distance (if necessary)
- Busy shopping areas
- Touching your dog’s ears (looking inside)
- Examining your dog’s face and eyes
- Touching paws (even between paw pads and nails)
- Touching the stomach and ribs
- Touching and gently holding the tail
- Touching and practicing trimming nails (seeing the trimmers often)
- Brushing coat and tail
- Brushing teeth with a dog toothbrush
- Drying hair with a pet hair dryer or towel
Accessories & Gear:
- Putting on a collar (hearing it clip)
- Clipping the leash to the collar
- Putting on harness (if needed)
- Hearing you grab your keys often
- Putting on dog shoes (if needed)
- Wearing and putting on dog clothes (if needed)
- Wearing and putting on a muzzle (if needed)
Mistakes to avoid during puppy socialization
1) Not giving your new puppy enough space between them and the thing they are being introduced to.
Puppy socialization is commonly thought of as pushing your new puppy into every situation imaginable in hopes that they will love it and never bark or become upset. Unfortunately, dogs react to situations in ways we don’t expect sometimes. It is important to pay attention and ensure you are not overwhelming your puppy. This could cause them to dislike the thing we are trying to encourage them to enjoy.
2) Putting items (including treats) right in your dog’s face or space.
Dogs don’t like things moving toward them, and often beginners will take a piece of yummy chicken or a toy and stick it right in the puppy’s face. This can create an aversion to treats, toys, and even people. So be sure to generate genuine interest from the puppy before offering people to pet or socialize with your dog.
3) Not starting off socializing with more distance from objects, places, and people and slowly getting closer over time to new things.
If you want to expose your puppy to a playground so they can experience children, don’t take your puppy into the middle of running, screaming kids. If they all run over at once and pet your puppy it is likely your puppy will not be comfortable with this and they cannot run away if they are on a leash. What you can do instead is take your puppy to the park and sit outside the activity and just sit and allow them to watch what is going on and even take a nap with all the excitement going on. This is proper socialization, you are simply exposing your dog to a new noise or sight, not forcing interaction or introducing him to anyone.
4) Not understanding dog body language and what a nervous, shy, fearful, or aggressive dog looks like.
A wagging tail doesn’t always equal a happy dog, however many people think this is the case. There are all kinds of subtle signs of anxiety in dogs, this could be a yawn or lip lick that signals you the puppy is experiencing stress. The best thing to do is study dog body language, that way you don’t accidentally break your puppy’s trust in you by keeping them in a situation they are seeing as a positive one.
We recommend the wonderful book “Doggie Language” by Lili Chin on dog body language for beginners!
What is puppy socialization?
Puppy socialization is the process of exposing your puppy to as many different people, animals, places, and experiences as possible in a positive way so that your pup can learn to cope with the world around them.
Can I socialize my unvaccinated puppy?
You can, but you need to take extra precautions. This means only socializing with vaccinated and healthy pups, not taking your puppy to places where there are a lot of other dogs, and avoiding puppy classes or dog parks.
What can I do if my puppy becomes overwhelmed when socializing?
If your puppy becomes overwhelmed, you have a few options. 1. You can remove your puppy from the situation altogether (this could encourage your dog to bark and reward the fear) 2. You can encourage your pup to calm down and rest while not directly interacting with the scary thing (this could make the situation worse in some fearful dogs) 3. You could hire a professional dog trainer to help you with socialization (the best possible option for your pup).
What is the second fear period in a puppy?
The second fear period is between four and eight months of age. This is when puppies start to become more aware of their surroundings and can begin to relapse to the beginning of socialization. Don’t worry if your eight-month-old pup suddenly begins to fear the vacuum or some other item they were fine with a few weeks ago, this is a normal part of their development. Just go back and use positive reinforcement to work through it.
At what age does the primary socialization period end?
The primary socialization period ends around 16 weeks of age. However, socialization should be an ongoing process throughout your puppy’s life. Puppies love to explore and during this time they will be very receptive to training, and will likely see the process as fun overall.
Is it too late to start socializing a puppy that is over four months old?
No, it is never too late to begin socializing your puppy. However, it may take more time and patience to socialize an older pup and you may want to enlist the help of a professional trainer if your pup is a large-breed or very strong.
Where can I find good puppy classes?
You can ask your veterinarian, animal shelter, or local pet store for a reference to a good personal trainer or puppy class. You can also search online for puppy classes in your area. Be sure to read reviews before enrolling in any class.
Puppy socialization is important for your puppy’s development and for its future as a well-adjusted older pup. It is never too late to expose your puppy to new things, but the earlier you start socialization, the better. Be sure to use positive reinforcement and never force your puppy into a situation they are uncomfortable with. If you need help, there are puppy classes available in most areas. With a little patience and effort, you can socialize your puppy into a confident and happy pup.
Did you find this blog post helpful? Be sure to download the Puppy Socialization Checklist we create just for you!