Your Guide to Socializing a Puppy

Far too often, dogs are not exposed, in a positive manner, to a wide enough variety of situations while they are puppies; as a result, their natural response to a new situation is to react with fear or aggression or by shutting down. The more new experiences you can introduce your puppy to under calm, controlled conditions, the more likely he will be to accept new situations with a confident attitude.

Go Slowly and Reward Generously

When socializing a puppy, introduce him to a new object, sound, sight, smell or environment in such a way that he is calm and unafraid. Pair each new situation with a reward, such as a highly palatable treat or an enjoyable toy. The puppy should never be thrust into an unfamiliar situation; instead, he should be encouraged to interact with the new stimulus at his own pace, in order to increase his confidence.

For example, if you want your dog to feel comfortable around young children, seek out a trusted child and have her help toss tasty treats on the ground (supervised by a responsible adult) while your puppy does something he has enjoyed in the past, such as sitting for greeting. Distance and intensity are two factors that influence how comfortable a puppy will likely feel in a situation. Have the child stand away from the dog to toss the treats; teach your dog to associate the presence of the child with good things like treats being given without expecting him to get too close to the child. The greater the distance from the situation, the more comfortable a puppy will likely feel. Decrease the distance as your puppy gets comfortable until your dog can take treats directly from the child while remaining calm and confident. If the puppy is afraid of the child (or if the child is afraid of the puppy), don't force the situation.

Help Your Puppy Get Comfortable With the World

Here is a sampling of situations that your puppy should be exposed to during his socialization period.


  • Dogs and puppies (Seek a variety of breeds, sizes, genders and play styles; be certain that the other dog is vaccinated and dog friendly. Avoid high-traffic areas like the dog park until your puppy has had all of his shots unless you are participating in a specific puppy class for vaccinated dogs only.)
  • Horses
  • Birds
  • Livestock
  • Pocket pets

Introduce your puppy to a variety of people, including various genders; ages (babies, toddlers, children, teens, adults and the elderly); weights; sizes; skin colors; hairstyles; voice tones and volumes; facial differences (including beards and sunglasses); walking aids (crutches, wheelchairs, walkers); and clothing (high heels, hats, big jackets, hoods). The more exposure your dog has to people with different appearances, the less likely it is that he will have specific fears of certain people, such as a fear of men with beards or a fear of little boys. Keep in mind that it is an owner’s responsibility to supervise all interactions, keep the dog safe and make the experience as positive as possible.


Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!