Socializing your puppy involves exposing them to numerous situations and experiences, which helps them become a well-behaved and confident dog. Our team at Staples Mill Animal Hospital wants to help by providing guidelines to ensure you socialize your puppy the right way.

When is the appropriate time to socialize your puppy?

Puppies experience several developmental stages, and start to see and hear sights and sounds when they are about 21 to 28 days old. From this point until they are about 16 weeks of age is the best time to introduce them to new situations and experiences. After 16 weeks, they are more likely to respond with fear and apprehension when confronted with unfamiliar circumstances. 

Should you wait until your puppy is fully vaccinated to start socializing them?

Puppies should be vaccinated every three to four weeks from the age of about 6 weeks until 16 weeks. These vaccines protect them from dangerous diseases such as parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, and rabies. However, if you wait until your puppy is fully vaccinated at 16 weeks of age, you will miss the crucial time to properly socialize them. Follow these tips to safely socialize your puppy while they are being vaccinated.

  • Avoid strange dogs and fecal matter — Keep your puppy away from strange dogs by avoiding dog parks and public parks. When walking on streets and sidewalks, ensure your puppy doesn’t interact with strange dogs or come in contact with any fecal matter.
  • Keep them in the cart — Pet stores are a great place to socialize your puppy, but keep them in the cart until they are fully vaccinated.
  • Coordinate playdates — Schedule play dates with vaccinated dogs so your puppy can safely meet new dogs. 

How should you socialize your puppy?

To socialize your puppy, you should expose them to a variety of sights, sounds, scents, and stimulating experiences. Let them explore the world, while you provide support and encouragement when they seem unsure of the situation. Examples include:

  • Sights — Introduce your puppy to men and women, young and old, people wearing coats, hats, and sunglasses, children and babies, other dogs, cats, other types of animals, riding in a car, and pet-friendly stores.
  • Sounds — Expose your puppy to the vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, people laughing and talking, traffic noise, construction noise, thunderstorms, and fireworks.
  • Smells — Take your puppy for a meet-and-greet at the veterinary clinic (no needles or exams allowed), and introduce them to rural areas frequented by wildlife, different types of food, and other people’s homes.
  • Sensations — Bathe your puppy in warm and cool water, and expose them to walking on tile, carpet, concrete, gravel, grass, and sand. Groom them with a comb, brush, and nail clippers. Frequently handle their feet, ears, mouth, and abdomen, and teach them to climb up and down stairs.
  • Taste — Introduce them to dry and wet food, pill pocket treats, and dental chews.

What if your puppy acts fearful?

Socialization is not only about exposure to new situations. The experience must be positive to be effective. You should never force your puppy to experience a situation they find stressful or frightening. If they seem fearful, you should remove them from the situation and try again another day. For instance, if your puppy becomes anxious meeting a new person, the next time you encounter the person, have them stand at a distance that doesn’t cause your puppy stress and let them toss a high value treat to your pet. Once your puppy appears calm, you can have the person move a little closer and repeat the process until your puppy seems comfortable with the person petting them. You also will need to run interference for your puppy. When people see a cute puppy, their instinct is to get close and pick them up or pet them. Be willing to respectfully tell people that approaching your puppy isn’t appropriate, and allow your puppy to approach people at their own pace. Learn how to read your puppy’s signals so you know when they are stressed or fearful. Signs include:

  • Tucking their tail between their legs
  • Putting their ears back
  • Yawning
  • Licking their lips
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Hiding behind your legs
  • Whining
  • Panting
  • Urinating or defecating
  • Showing the whites of their eyes
  • Cowering
  • Raising their hackles
  • Attempting to run away

Another issue to consider is your response. Your puppy can tell when you are anxious or upset, so stay as calm as possible when they are encountering a new experience so they don’t develop a negative association with the situation. In addition, never punish your puppy for being fearful. This will only exacerbate the situation and reinforce the negative association.

Are puppy classes a good option?

Puppy classes are a great way to safely introduce your puppy to new people, other puppies, and new experiences. In addition, they can learn some useful basic commands, and you can learn techniques to better communicate with them. Wait until your puppy has had one round of puppy vaccinations before starting a puppy class, and ensure the class you choose requires the participants to be vaccinated.

Puppy socialization is a crucial part of your puppy’s development, and ensuring you proceed properly will help your puppy become a confident and well-adjusted dog. If you would like to schedule a meet-and-greet so we can get acquainted with your puppy, contact our team at Staples Mill Animal Hospital so we can give treats and cuddles to your new addition.