How to socialize your puppy

A doodle mix dog being introduced to a young girl

Socializing your puppy involves teaching them to accept unfamiliar objects and living creatures, and remain comfortable in multiple environments. While the phrase “puppy socialization” brings to mind romps in the park and greetings, it actually consists of careful introductions to humans, animals, and objects. Popular examples include: bearded men in hats, other dogs, and vacuum cleaners.

A well-socialized puppy grows into a confident adult that can handle going on car trips, vet or grooming visits, or park playdates, and carries that confidence into other situations. By socializing your dog to as many situations as possible, you reduce their stress levels throughout their lives.

Tips for socializing your puppy

  • Sign up for puppy kindergartens. Available for vaccinated and unvaccinated puppies, these classes are run by instructors and help your dog learn social skills and appropriate play.
  • Pack treats when going out. Always have something tasty on hand to pair with loud noises, strange sights, or anything that might spook your pup. You can also encourage strangers to offer your treats to your dog to boost their confidence around unfamiliar humans.
  • Keep experiences positive. Your puppy can be very sensitive at this age. If you know a situation is not going to be positive for your dog, walk away.
  • Use a sling or other equipment. While unvaccinated, your puppy can remain safe in a sling or pen while still being exposed to the world. You can also drive your dog to show them things through the window and allow them to sniff the air, while also acclimating them to the car.
  • Don’t force your puppy to confront a fear. If they seem afraid, pair the event with food, remove yourselves, and try again later. Anxiety often worsens when dogs are denied the ability to escape a frightening situation.

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The importance of socialization

Socialization for dogs involves positive exposure to as many sights, sounds, smells and surfaces as possible. The puppy socialization window opens at around 3 weeks and can close anywhere between 16 to 20 weeks, with peak sensitivity around 6 to 8 weeks. At around 12 weeks, they enter a fear period and become sensitive to both familiar and unfamiliar objects.

Your dog can and should still be exposed to new sights and experiences throughout adolescence and adulthood. The more they are socialized as puppies, the easier it becomes for them to accept novel stimuli and the more relaxed they become.

Gentle Beast offers online training courses led by pet behavior expert Alex Sessa, CPDT-KA. Our Socialization course breaks down how to socialize your puppy week-by-week, making it less overwhelming and more fun–which is how dog ownership should be!

About the Author

A picture of Melody smiling towards the camera
Melody Lee
Contributing Writer

Melody Lee is a contributing writer for Gentle Beast, and is a CPDT-KA dog trainer. She lives in Manhattan with two feral cats, Littlepip and Alphonse, that tolerate her clicker training attempts. One day, her cats might let her adopt a dog of her own.

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