Puppy socialization is one of the most important (and underestimated) parts of raising a dog.
Getting your puppy’s socialization right (or wrong) can make or break so many important behaviors for the rest of their life.
Some of the most common questions for first-time puppy parents are when you should begin socializing your pup, who to introduce them to, and how to socialize them properly.
Here’s what I’ll cover in this article (click to jump to a specific section) 👇
- When to socialize a puppy
- Introducing your puppy to new people, places, and experiences
- Puppy socialization checklist (you can even print it ou!)
- Socializing with classes
- Introducing your puppy to other dogs
Before we talk about when to socialize a puppy, let’s take a fun little quiz.
No real grades, just for fun 😉
It’s important for your pup to be exposed to new people, animals, and environments within the first 3 months of life.
I’ll repeat that…
THE most important time for socialization is when your puppy is less than 3 months old.
During this time of their life, sociability outweighs fear so it’s a great opportunity to help them adapt to the world without causing them too much stress or overwhelming them.
For a really in-depth article with some quality research and citations, check out this article from the AVSAB.
During the first few months of your pup’s life, encourage them to explore and investigate.
This time is key to helping them grow up to be an outgoing and social dog.
You can help them at home by putting interactive toys in their play area and allowing them to experience steps, tunnels, and other stimuli. Playing games with your pup is a great way to help them become sociable.
When you are out for walks and playdates, expose them to a variety of surfaces including grass, cement, turf..etc. (We will cover more of this later.)
It’s important to reinforce positive behavior while introducing your puppy to all of these new things. Developing positive associations with these new environments and people is key to helping them adapt and understand what to do and what not to do in the future.
Training treats are a great way to reward your pup for good behavior in these new situations.
Stash a handful of treats in your pocket wherever you go with your new puppy and be sure to verbally recognize good behavior as well as provide them with a treat.
You never want to force your pup to socialize or interact with a new environment. If they seem nervous and uneasy, that’s a sign that you need to give them a little distance from whatever they are frightened of.
Pushing them too hard to interact with someone or be in a place where they are visually uncomfortable could end up in them negatively responding to that person or place in the future. If they seem too excited (barking, aggressively pulling, cowering) give them space and distance yourself from whatever is causing the excitement.
In this video, Zak George, expert dog trainer, teaches pup parents some key tips on socializing your puppy.
He shows how to handle when your pup reacts to its environment and what to do to encourage positive behavior. As an example, he takes a new puppy to a Garden Center and shows how to make them comfortable in this first-time environment and what to do to help them socialize with other people.
During the first 3 months of your pup’s life, make sure you expose them to as many types of situations, people, and sounds.
Your goal with each item/person/sound/etc. on the checklist is to create a positive experience surrounding it within the first 8-12 weeks of your dog’s life. Of course, try to avoid neutral or negative experiences.
One of the best ways to ensure positive moments is with reinforcers, especially treats and food. Specifically for the people section, try to get each type of person to pet, interact with, and give your dog a treat or two!
If your pup reacts with fear, over-arousal, or avoidance, take a step back and slowly reintroduce said person/object/item/etc.
Never rush your dog into situations that could overwhelm them. It’s not a race!
Socializing Your Puppy With People Checklist
Remember to get each of the following people to interact with, pet, and give your dog a treat or two!
People of different ethnicities
Men with deep voices
Men with beards/facial hair
People in wheelchairs
People who use canes/crutches
People wearing hoods/hats
People wearing helmets
People wearing sunglasses
People wearing a variety of colors
People wearing backpacks
Multiple toddlers playing loudly
Socializing Your Puppy to Animals Checklist
- Other puppies
- Adult dogs
- Large breeds (Great Dane, Mastiff)
- Very small breeds
- As many different breeds as possible
- Other livestock like cattle, goats, pigs, etc.
- Pet birds
- Hamsters, pet rats, etc.
Socializing Your Puppy to Surface Types Checklist
Slick floors (linoleum, hardwood)
Stairs (carpet and concrete)
- Different carpets
Mud and dirt
Icy areas and snow
Metal surfaces (vet scale, etc.)
Uneven terrain and rocky areas
Socializing Your Puppy to Handling/Touching Checklist
The earlier you can start on this type of socializing, the better!
Outside of ears
Inside of ears (not into the ear canal)
Outside of mouth area
Inside of mouth area (be gentle)
Eye area (be careful)
Nail areas specifically
Holding in arms
Holding on lap
Wiping body with a towel
Wiping paws with a towel
Wiping face with a towel
Handling by collar
Putting on collar/harness
Hugging/squeezing puppy softly
Socializing Your Puppy to Sounds Checklist
Again, remember to introduce these sounds slowly and carefully. For some sounds, consider using speakers with that sound or something similar so that you can control the volume.
Other animal sounds (goat, pig, etc.)
Smoke alarm/security alarm
Doorbell/knocking on the door
Dishwasher, washing machine/dryer
Socializing Your Puppy to Vehicles Checklist
Large garbage cans
Metal surfaces (vet scale, etc.)
Socializing Your Puppy to Environments Checklist
Park with other dogs
Park with lots of people
Park with lots of children
Shopping areas (pet-friendly)
Inside business buildings
Inside other people’s homes
Street markets and fairs
Sporting events (as allowed)
Skate park/biking area
Lakes and ponds
Streams and rivers
Running races/similar events
Socializing Your Puppy to Objects Checklist
Cooking pots and pans
Blankets/rugs being shaken
Garbage bag being opened
Bags blowing in the wind
TV/Video game noises
Garbage cans with lids
Metal type surfaces
Clicker (for training)
Puppy Socialization Checklist PDF Printable
Want to print out all of those checklists above?
Just enter your email below and we will send you the PDF version!
There are many options for you when training and socializing your pup in their early years.
You can attend puppy classes, which will help them get to know other people and dogs! Plus, you can learn behaviors like sit, stay, come and other basic skills.
You can also meet other pup parents and potentially set up playdates!
Playdates are a great way to socialize your pup in new environments such as parks, other homes, and grass/cement/mud/wood surfaces.
What To Look For in a Puppy Socialization Class
- Is it indoors or outdoors?
- What is the environment like (surfaces, gates…etc)?
- Are there tunnels, bridges, interactive play areas for your dog to experience?
- Is it clean?
- Does it smell?
- What are the required vet records and vaccines?
- What is the typical class size?
- What is the size of the area where the class will be?
- What types of personalities do the class “trainers” have?
- What type of certifications do the class “trainers” have?
- Do the class “trainers” or leaders follow positive reinforcement methods
- Read reviews and recommendations on the class online!
Signed up for puppy classes? Great!
Puppy play dates on the calendar? Excellent!
But that’s not all!
During this time of your dog’s life, you want to have consistent training and reinforcement in the home, as often as possible.
At-home training classes, such as 30 Day Perfect Pup with Zak George, are also a great way to ensure your dog’s perfect behavior.
You should always be practicing your training program and have your pal’s favorite training treats on hand as rewards for good behavior!
Puppies (and even older dogs) can truly benefit from being introduced to other dogs in a controlled setting, rather than a crowded dog park.
A neutral area is recommended for dogs to meet for the first time, such as a park, where all dogs are on leashes.
Start by letting them sniff each other, with a loose leash. Let them explore each other and play.
It’s common for some dogs to play rough but if you feel as though they are playing too rough, go ahead and break it up. The priority is for the dogs to get to know each other, so do not include any toys or distractions.
Remember, just because a puppy is okay with one dog – that doesn’t mean they will be automatically used to all dogs!
For more information on introducing your pup to other dogs, check out this video from Zak George!
Recap of Puppy Socialization
It’s important to remember that the early months of your puppy’s life are the most important for socialization.
Seek to expose them to as many people, experiences, places, sounds, and objects during this time. And of course, keep those interactions positive!
What are some unique experiences you’ve had with your new puppy? How are they adapting to new environments and people?
Tell us all about your experiences in the comments below!