Puppy socialization is vital to a dog’s healthy development. A dog that is not used to different situations, people, and animals can become anxious, lonely, and even aggressive. Luckily, preventing this is simple — provide positive socialization experiences early and often.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dog socialization is most important and best done when the puppy is 3 to 14 weeks old, during their “early childhood” when they’re curious about new situations and eager to meet new people.
1. Acclimate to Touch
Taking care of a dog involves a lot of touching. That's why it's important to get the puppy used to being handled by holding and cuddling them in different positions — upside down, over the shoulder, on the lap, and so on.
If the puppy squirms, feed them treats as a distraction and as a reward for staying put. Only let them go when they calm down, or they’ll learn that squirming is a great way to avoid being held.
To prepare them for grooming and basic vet care, touch the puppy all over their body — particularly their ears, teeth, paws, and nose. Practice cleaning their ears, clipping their nails, and brushing their teeth — and don't forget plenty of treats for positive association!
2. Meet New People
Puppies need positive encounters with people from all walks of life — people of all ages, ethnicities, body types, clothing styles, facial hair choices, and so on. Choose people who aren’t nervous around dogs and who will be friendly and relaxed with the puppy.
Encourage good puppy behavior by having them sit as the person approaches. Give them treats if they stay seated and calm throughout the encounter so they don’t develop the habit of jumping on people.
3. Introduce to Other Pets
A well-socialized puppy can be with other pets and not show aggression or fear. As soon as the puppy is old enough to hold their own, start setting up organized encounters. Make sure all canine friends that your pup comes into contact with are fully vaccinated.
Introducing a Puppy to Other Dogs
One popular and fun strategy is to join a puppy socialization class. Puppies can join this kind of class by the time they’re 7 to 8 weeks old, and they don’t need all of their vaccinations before they start. That said, they should have their first deworming and at least one set of shots done at least a week before the first class.
Puppies can also socialize with adult dogs, as long as those dogs are gentle and patient.
Introducing a Puppy to a Cat
If a puppy moves into a home with a cat or vice versa, introduce the pair in a room where the cat feels safe and can move freely. Having them in the same room is enough to start, as they’ll start interacting with each other when they’re ready.
4. Keep It Positive
Socialization is a lifelong process. It starts in puppyhood and continues as a dog grows, encountering new things and getting to know the world around them. At its best, it's a positive experience for everyone involved.
As you learn how to socialize your puppy, focus on providing lots of praise and treats. Puppies need to associate early socialization experiences with comfort and pleasure.
Be gentle, too. Take it slow and let the puppy rest if they seem overwhelmed. Always give them plenty of love and help them feel safe at home. With a good balance of loving care and guided puppy training, even shy puppies can grow into confident, loving dogs.