Why Puppy Socialization is Important

Families getting puppies have EXPLODED since COVID began; with people working from home now, why not use this new normal as an opportunity to add a dog to the family? Unfortunately, we are also seeing a rise in puppies that have not been properly socialized (exposed to lots of different stimuli and taught that they are positive things to not be afraid of) which can lead to a variety of different undesirable behaviors including fear aggression. In this article we’ll go over what socialization is, why it is important and how to go about it with your new family member to ensure we set them up for confidence and success.

Critical Learning Window
From about 3 weeks to 3 months of age, puppies are primed for bonding to other animals and individuals, for learning that objects, people, and environments are safe, and for learning what the body cues and signals of others mean. It is their sensitive period for socialization and it is the most important socialization period in a dog’s life. Puppies that do not get adequate socialization during this period tend to be fearful of unfamiliar things: people, animals, sounds, objects and/or environments. This means that during that first month you have a puppy at home is the time when you should be doing the MOST with them. Often time’s new dog owners are hesitant to bring their puppies out and about before they have been fully vaccinated for fear of acquiring diseases, but full vaccination doesn’t happen until they are at least 4 months old and by this time that critical window has closed. As long as your puppy receives adequate vaccination boosters during the 2-4 month period, the risk for acquiring diseases is lower than the risk you take for developing behavioral issues by not utilizing this window of time for socialization.

Consequences of poor socialization
Adult dogs that have not been appropriately socialized can develop any combination of the following behaviors:

  • Over-stimulated to new things (barking, jumping, mouthing)
  • Inability to handle changes in routine
  • Anxiety
  • Reactivity (barking, lunging/pulling on leash)
  • Aggression stemming from fear

How do I socialize my puppy?
Make all new people/places/things associated with something puppy finds rewarding – this is usually food but can also be praise and/or play as long as the puppy does not become too stimulated. Calm behavior should always be rewarded. We recommend using your puppy’s usually food for this to avoid over feeding. Using higher value treats, cheerios or tiny pieces or bland chicken, are great options.

What do I socialize my puppy to?
Anything and everything you can! Dr. Sophia Yin’s checklist is a fantastic tool and guideline but it is fairly extensive; don’t get overwhelmed and feel like you have to hit everything, but it’s a great starting point: