Socializing a Puppy
One of the issues I am most passionate about is puppy socialization. As a dog trainer, I see what can happen when a dog isn’t given proper socialization as a puppy. The results can be significant and can include aggression with dogs and people, extreme shyness, an inability to be handled or a complete disconnection from people.  

Properly socializing a puppy creates a more confident, relaxed and well-adjusted canine. Even dogs with more timid personalities can make significant strides if they are properly socialized. With your veterinarian’s approval, there are ways you can socialize your dog both within your home and in protected environments in the community in order to turn your dog into a well-adjusted adult. 

Start Early

While genetics can play a big part in an adult dog’s personality, socialization also has a role. The period between 3 and 12 weeks is the most critical socialization window for your puppy, but socialization can extend through 6 months of age. During this time, your puppy’s brain is most receptive to learning new things.

Puppy socialization classes are an essential building block for helping puppies grow into well-adjusted adult dogs, but it is also important to socialize beyond puppy class, as one hour a week for four to six weeks isn’t enough exposure for your puppy to make full use of the socialization window.  

Build Confidence in Any Situation

The key to socializing is to teach your puppy to remain relaxed in a variety of situations, including those that may be outside his normal day-to-day experience. Even a country dog that will see little beyond farm life needs to meet people and dogs outside the farm, because at some point in his life, whether for a vet visit or unexpected move, he may find himself in an unfamiliar situation.  

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.  


Introduce new sounds at a quiet level, such as running the vacuum in another room with the door closed or playing the sounds of thunder or fireworks at a very low volume while your puppy eats a meal. Gradually increase the sound level as your puppy’s comfort with the noise increases.

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Dishwasher or washing machine
  • Thunder
  • Gunshots
  • Animal sounds
  • Traffic noises
  • Sirens
  • Music
  • Household tool use (kitchen mixer, blow dryer)
  • Construction noise

  • Baths
  • All body parts touched and examined, including sensitive areas like paws, nails, ears, tail, tummy, eyes and mouth
  • Being comfortable with various items they may wear, such as clothes, harness, head halter and collar
  • Grooming, including being brushed, clipped or having the nails trimmed
  • Being held in a variety of manners, including while standing or sitting
  • Being loomed over, being given eye contact, being petted in ways that may happen later in life, such as being hugged or patted

  • Veterinary office
  • Being crated
  • Being left alone for short amounts of time
  • Car rides
  • Groomer
  • Dog class or dog group
  • Getting a picture taken
  • Playing with a variety of toys
  • Walks both in the neighborhood and on busier streets with a variety of people
  • Joggers and bicyclists passing
  • Being taken to rural areas, such as the mountains or a field
  • Shopping carts, strollers, motorcycles or other objects that move
  • Going outside in different weather conditions, including rain or wind
  • City situations, such as automatic doors, outdoor cafes and airports
  • Visitors at the house
  • Walking on various surfaces, including grass, cement, tile, sand, mud, snow, ice and stairs