Puppy Socialization: Why, When, How to Socialize Your Dog

puppy socialization

Puppy Socialization: Setting Your Dog Up For Success

Puppies come with boundless energy. Oftentimes, the hyperness and excitement a puppy has inside them just cannot be contained. They want to play, and play, and play some more. It can be so cute when they let out a little “yip” and run across the room, bouncing into things and showing off their cuteness. But when is puppy playtime appropriate and when are puppies getting a little too rough and crazy? What is puppy socialization exactly? And how does it involve you? Let’s dive in.

two small dogs running together

Learning to Play:

In addition to planning for and providing your new pup with all the training and management they need to learn some basic good manners and how to live in your home, responsible dog owners also manage their puppy’s socialization, known as puppy playtime,  in order to help them mature into a dog who is unafraid of and friendly with other dogs. Your dog needs as much puppy playtime as it takes to get them to be unafraid and friendly with people, other dogs and places they go.

Group of dogs enjoying in a park

The good news is that most pups come with some prior play experience. More commonly, they’ve had littermates to play with for the first several weeks of their lives. Your baby dog may need to learn how to play with humans, but unless they were a singleton pup (an only child), or a unique rescue scenario, they have probably already learned some useful canine play skills.

Black and White Dog Breed Enjoying- Dalmatian
Of course, appropriate puppy play is a lot of fun, but it’s also very important for a puppy to properly develop and socialize. As soon as puppies become ambulatory, which is around three weeks old, the critical socialization period begins. They usually start to play at this time, depending on the breed and situation. They'll start by playing and investigating with their brothers and sisters and will be less reliant on their mother, no longer needing to seek her out to keep warm.

cute puppy playing with the tennis ball

Basic forms of play help to teach puppies what behavior is acceptable and what’s not. This also helps a puppy’s cognitive skills develop. The mental stimulation involved in play helps a puppy learn how to solve problems. It also helps a puppy’s memory. So, play actually increases their “brainpower.” Even though puppies can be a bit clumsy, play helps them to discover how their bodies work. It teaches motor skills and other useful tools they will need in life.

two dogs running near beach side


There are many other reasons to make sure a puppy plays with other puppies, with other humans, and even by themselves. You know the saying that “a tired dog’s a good dog”? It’s true! A puppy that has a sufficient amount of physical and mental stimulation will generally be better-behaved than one that hasn’t. Mental play and physical play should become part of a puppy (and even a dog’s) daily routine. It will help diminish stress, anxiety, and feelings of destruction or mischief.

Playing with other canines teaches a puppy to have proper socialization skills for their entire life. More than likely, there are puppy socialization classes and group gatherings where you live that you can sign up for with your puppy. In these classes, puppies are given the chance to play with each other, while a trainer and/or other professional supervises the class.

small cute golden retriever

A puppy’s critical socialization period runs from about 8 weeks to 14 weeks of age, so you don’t want to put off this vital piece of their development during this important time. Failure to socialize your puppy during this period can result in significant future behavioral challenges that are easily preventable. While your veterinarian may caution you against letting your puppy interact with other dogs until they are fully vaccinated, it is acceptable for you to allow puppy playtime only with other pups (or friendly, playful adult dogs) that you know are healthy and current on their vaccination schedules. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes that puppies can begin puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age after receiving a minimum of one set of vaccines at least seven days prior to the first class, as well as a first deworming.

dog with veterinary doctor

Benefits of Puppy Socialization: 

Proper socialization helps make puppies more tolerant of changes in their environment and helps prevent common behavior problems related to fear, anxiety, and/or aggression. Lack of early proper socialization experiences can be just as detrimental as negative experiences for your puppy.  Try to include people from all aspects of your social life, including senior citizens, children who know how to interact with dogs, people who wear hats or have facial hair or people who are differently abled.

Introducing all of these different scenarios to your puppy will allow them to get used to many different people and situations they may come across throughout their life. Instruct visitors to let your puppy approach at his own pace and give them tons of dog treats to hand out to help your pup understand that new friends are fantastic.

Here are a few key elements and useful tips to keeping puppy socialization positive so that your puppy can build on each experience and gain confidence:

  • Work at your puppy’s comfort level. Every dog is different. Some will quickly become over-excited, others will be more cautious, and some will take everything in stride from the get-go. Pay attention to your pup’s body language and level of excitement, and be ready to change your plans if your dog shows any sign of stress.
  • Offer your puppy rewards and praise for desired behaviors. As you expose your puppy to new experiences, make sure that you reward them for the behaviors you want to see. Are they calmly observing people, dogs, or other animals? Reward! Did they just walk past a man using a lawnmower? Lots of praise!
small pup with dog food bowls
  • End every socialization on a positive note.  Don’t wait for your dog to run out of steam or push them too far too soon so they fail.
  • Take a deep breath. Not every exposure will be perfect. Relax and enjoy your puppy. If you are tense, your puppy will be too.

Once you begin the puppy socialization journey, you will be amazed at how many opportunities there are for your puppy to connect with the world in a positive way. As you help your puppy navigate new environments, you will also develop a new appreciation for this crazy, amazing, enthralling, and beautiful world we share with our favorite four-legged friends.



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