Why Do I Need To Socialize My Puppy?

Social Skills - How To Do It Right

Welcome to our Puppy Socialization 101 course. During the current Covid-19 pandemic many people are adopting puppies and, while a puppy can bring much joy, the shelter at home restrictions mean proper socialization is difficult.

When speaking about young animals socialization is defined as "exposure of a young domestic animal (such as a kitten or puppy) to a variety of people, animals, and situations to minimize fear and aggression and promote friendliness "

Exposure alone is NOT proper socialization. Without a variety of positive experiences at the right developmental period puppies may exhibit signs of fear, reactivity, and aggression as an adolescent or adult. While we often think of puppies as "blank slates" behaviorally, genetics also play a role in behavioral development:

Some adult dogs, because of a lack of socialization combined with genetic tendencies, can never transfer certain individuals from the "unfamiliar" to the "familiar" category.

— Dog Watch

So what IS proper socialization? To socialize a puppy properly we must create POSITIVE ASSOCIATIONS AND EXPERIENCES to the following:

  • People
  • Places
  • Other Puppies
  • Adult Dogs
  • Sounds
  • Surfaces
  • Things That Move
  • Things That Make Noise
  • Being Alone


Developmental Periods In Puppies

There are several critical periods during a puppy's early life that shape behavior into adulthood. The following are approximate ages that the different behavioral periods occur in puppies, and the behavioral development that occurs within each period. It is important to know that some periods overlap, making proper socialization critical!

Early Socialization Period (4-6 weeks of age)

Puppies learn critical social skills by interacting primarily with littermate, and secondarily with their dam (mom). Skills such as bite inhibition, differential species interactions (human vs. canine), and startle/recovery are developed in this stage.

Primary Socialization Period (6-12 weeks of age)

Social confidence, human bonding, and problem solving skills all occur in this stage of development.

Fear Impact Period (8-12 weeks of age)

Overlapping the primary socialization period is the first fear period. Scary or frightening experiences that occur during this time can leave a lasting impression for the puppy.

Second Primary Socialization Period (12-16 weeks of age)

Also known as the "age of exploration" this behavioral stage is the pre-adolescent phase. Puppies begin to slowly explore their environment and avoid situations that they believe are scary.

Juvenile Period (4 -8 months of age)

The true exploration phase, the juvenile period is when sexual maturity begins to occur, social confidence is building for many puppies, and they begin to take on their adult shape, both physically and behaviorally.

Second Fear Impact Period (5 months -12 months)

This social period lasts approximately 3-4 weeks and occurs at variable times during the juvenile and/or adolescent period. This behavioral phase can be tough for both owner and puppy, as previously benign stimuli can suddenly become frightening. Previously scary situations become worse, with outward signs of barking, lunging, and growling often present.

Adolescent Period (6-18 months of age)

This is the final phase before adulthood and is determined by your puppy's breed and size. Larger puppies remain in the adolescent period much longer than smaller puppies. Social confidence, exploration, and changing reinforcement are all a part of this phase.

What Do You Do?

Experts in the field of modern dog training all have recommendations on how to properly socialize puppies. Dr. Ian Dunbar, DVM PhD recommends having puppies meet 100 new people by 12 weeks of age. The late Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM MS created a wonderful socialization checklist complete with a system to grade your puppy's response. We highly recommend you download it and begin using it to score your puppy's response.

This course contains some common things we recommend you spend some time actively socializing your puppy to, and how to do it properly.