How to Socialize Your Puppy

Small dog laying over the back of a bigger dog in the woods

She moved through the crowd smiling and laughing with people and it seemed so easy for her.

Humans with good social skills often have an easier time in life. They make friends more easily, nail job interviews, and move through social situations in a way that seems like it’s fun.

Dogs with good social skills also do better in life. They interact more easily with both people and other animals.

It’s important to socialize your dog to make day to day life much easier and more comfortable for your dog.

A dog that is well socialized is going to react to the doorbell with more excitement than fear.  They’re more confident in their territory and in general.

Another reason that it’s important to socialize your dog is that it can be a problem to walk your dog if they’re afraid of the people and other dogs.

A dog who is not well-socialized when they’re younger tends to be more distrusting and nervous in day-to-day life.

You can tell how well socialized a dog is by how they react to people in the home and away.

A dog who is very sensitive to children of a certain age may never have been socialized with them.  If they react to a person with facial hair or glasses, they may never have seen these things before.

Puppy Socialization Schedule

Black and white shaggy dog with a white alarm clock on a white background

The good news is that socializing a dog is a pretty simple process.  It takes some time and dedication, but it can be fun.  And it’s easy to do while you do the other normal things you need to do such as walk the dog or stop at the pet store.

Like people, dogs learn most of their people skills when they’re young.

You can begin to socialize a dog as early as eight weeks.  Ideally, you want to start well before the dog is four months old – that’s the age where “stranger danger” starts to set in.

We’re focusing on puppies in this article.  It’s still possible to socialize an older dog.  But it can be more challenging and presents some of its own problems.  We’ll focus on how to socialize a rescue in another post soon.

For your puppy, success starts before you begin to work.

Like any training, you want to set yourself and your dog up for success.

Two tired dogs laying on each other on the dirt outdoors

Most experts recommend that you tire the dog a little before you begin training any new skill or task.  Like children, it can be hard to focus and learn if you’re too excited and hyper.

Some active play with your dog before a training session is ideal.

This is easy to do with a simple game of fetch, or a little roughhousing.  Just take the edge of nervous energy off of your pup before you go out into the world.

Next, you should grab a stock of treats to take along.  You want something high-value.  Usually, training treats are small, single bites.  Every pet store sells treats geared specifically for training.  They’re the ideal size and usually have a strong smell to make your dog happy.  Small chunks of cooked chicken are also great.

One more note before you go outside.

Do not try to combine leash training with socialization. It’s best to train your dog one thing at a time. That doesn’t mean you can’t train your dog more than one thing at a time.  But you don’t want to try to do it in the same session.

Excited puppy on a leash at park with owner

So, head for your nearest park, walking path, or anywhere dogs are welcome. This may be a simple trip around your neighborhood. It may be a trip to your community park. You may even have access to the dog park.

Regardless of where you decide to go, you want other people and hopefully other dogs to be around.

The advantage of going to the dog park or community park is that you’ll probably run into dogs and people of all ages.

The wider the exposure, the more comfortable your pup will become with new situations and people.

When you first start social training, you may want to consider going in off times when you are first starting out.  There will be fewer people and other animals around.  It’s a chance to “warm up” to running into more people and animals.

Once you’re in the park, walk around and talk to your dog soothingly.

When you meet a new person, stop with your dog and stand close to them. Continue to talk to your dog soothingly and gradually slacken the leash. At this stage, you’re not worried about jumping behavior or leash pulling.

You’re purely trying to let your dog become used to other people.

Give your dog treats for showing curiosity in the other person. In fact, you can let the other person give the dog treats as well. This creates a positive association between meeting someone new and getting good snacks.

If you come across another dog, do the same thing — only keep a firmer hold on the leash.

If both dogs are just learning to socialize, their people need to move quickly to avoid disagreements between the dogs.

small nervous puppy standing in between the feet of a person on the grass

Sometimes your dog might start to get more nervous during the session.  If that happens, cut the session short. In fact, you may want to keep sessions to 15 minutes the first couple times out. After that, you can extend it to half an hour or even an hour.

Your dog will learn to be happy to see other people and other dogs without being upset or scared.

You can also take your dog to pet stores. Many pet stores allow guardians to bring in their dogs, cats, and even rodents to meet others. This is a great chance to make sure that your dog isn’t going to be upset seeing a smaller animal, or afraid of a larger dog.

It’s neutral territory that smells like lots of animals.

Your dog will get used to sharing the territory and will start to equate it with a fun time outside.

small brown and white dog standing on hind legs looking out of a window

It’s also important to socialize your dog at home. Let your dog learn to greet the UPS driver. Be sure to invite over guests while your dog is young. Don’t think that you need to isolate the dog at any time. A dog who is used to be isolated when there are people in the house will always be nervous when visitors come.

Let your friends and relatives bring their dogs over, too. Bring children.

You want your dog to be exposed to as many different types of people and animals as possible, so they always feel comfortable.

A comfortable dog is a confident dog.  And that’s a happy dog.

For more posts on training and manners, check out How to get your Dog to Quit Jumping!! and Finally get your dog to stop pulling!!

 

Sandy
 

An avid dog lover and Puppy Momma to two adorable Miniature Schnauzers, Sandy is also a prolific writer. When she's not spending time with us here at PatchPyppy, she's with her husband, daughter, or step-sons. Writing under the name Sandy Dugan for most publications, she's also an author, artist, and entrepreneur.