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Socializing your puppy

People and Dogs

Everyone is looking for that perfect well-rounded, social puppy. The problem is all the confusion surrounding the steps needed to safely accomplish this. In this unit we will discuss the realities of socialization and what it really means to socialize your puppy.

What is socialization?

Or should we say, desensitization...

The word socializing instantly puts us in the mind frame of physical interactions. The misconception is that socializing means your puppy needs to physically interact with something in order to become socialized to that thing. When in reality, physical interactions only make up 5% of what socialization is all about. This leaves us 15% for training and the other 80% of socialization, which is the most crucial, is something we call, desensitization. Desensitization is the process by which we take to diminish our puppies emotional response to different things. The goal with socialization should be to have our puppies maintain a positive, neutral response to new situations, people, dogs, things, etc.

Image by Elena Mozhvilo

"Your puppies most impactful canine socialization period happens between 3-7 weeks. This means you don't need to be concerned about your puppy learning appropriate canine social skills. If the breeder did things right, proper behaviour is already built in."

Training Dogs Online

Proper Socialization Plan

In order to be successful we need to ensure our puppies have proper food drive developed.



Meeting new people and dogs should only take up 5% of your socialization plan.This means physically interacting with dogs or people with the support of the owner. Never force interactions and always keep interactions short and sweet.

Focus work around dogs/animals


While keeping your puppy at a distance in which they are comfortable, use positive reinforcement to maintain and reward focus on handler.

Focus work around people


While keeping your puppy at a distance in which they are comfortable, use positive reinforcement to maintain and reward focus on handler.

Exposure to sounds


Using positive reinforcement, reward your puppy in the presence of new sounds.  Utilizing apps such as Youtube, you can play different voices, noises and adjust the volume level based on your puppy's emotional response.

Exposure to objects and surfaces


Using positive reinforcement, reward your puppy in the presence of different objects and surfaces.

Exposure to new environments


Take your puppy out for short visits to new places and locations. While keeping your socialization goals in mind. Use positive reinforcement to reward your puppy for remaining calm, neutral and focus on you.

Basic Training


Active training sessions need to make up part of your socialization plan in order to ensure success in all other areas. Training will ensure your puppy has an understanding of a reward system in order for you to successfully expose them to different things.

Physical Interactions

Keeping them positive!


During physical interactions with people, we need to ensure puppies feel safe and secure. Never force, coax or bribe puppies to interact with a person. Allow the puppy to decide if they would like to investigate the person. If they chose to elicit a social interaction, have the person remain neutral for the first few seconds. If the puppy is maintaining interest, play the hands on hands off game.  Ask the person to crouch down in order for them to appear less threatening (reaching down towards a puppy can cause a fearful response or encourage jumping). If the puppy is still attempting to elicit a social response, tell the person to gently place their hand on the puppy's back. We can then begin playing the hands on hands off game. The person can gently and calmly pet the puppy for a few seconds and then remove their hand. If the puppy continues to elicit a social response, you can keep the game going! This will allow you to see if the puppy wants more, of if they have had enough. It is always recommended to keep interactions short and sweet, as to not over stimulate the puppy. Once the interaction has ended, have the person stand up and drop a few pieces of food on the ground. Voila! You have just created a positive association.


It is extremely important that our puppies do not experience any negative interactions with dogs. It is always recommended that you choose puppies or dogs for physical interactions that you know are friendly. This unfortunately means that your puppy should NOT interact with dogs you do not know, even if the person tells you they are friendly. Unless you're 100% sure, assume they aren't friendly. Which means they are not a candidate for your physical socialization plan.


Introducing puppies to other puppies is a lot easier as the risk is very low for a negative interaction to occur. Allow them to meet in a fenced in area and simply supervise the play. Appropriate play should be give and take. If the play escalates, remove the puppies and give them a break. Play sessions between new puppies should be short, under 5 minutes, in order to prevent them from becoming over-stimulated. An over-stimulated puppy will become more pushy, mouthy and vocal in their play style. These are usually good indicators that puppies have had enough and need a break.


Interactions with adult dogs are done in the same manner. Supervise the interaction and make sure the play is give and take. It is important to keep in mind that puppies, can be a bit much for adult dogs. Therefore, advocating for the adult dog might need to happen a bit more frequently. If the dog begins turning away from the puppy and attempting to maneuver out of certain positions more frequently, you need to step in. It is also okay for an adult dog to appropriately reprimand a puppy, especially if the puppy is being pushy. If the puppy is not listening to the dog's cues to stop playing however, you need to step in. An adult dog should not have to reprimand a puppy more than once. It is our job as the puppy owner to advocate for the adult dog. 


When we begin our socialization plan, we should also have an understanding of what recovery is all about. Recovery is basically the aftermath of either a stressful or over-stimulating situation. When we begin to socialize our puppies we will inevitably have situations that occur that create an over-stimulating or stressful response in our puppies. Keeping in mind the goal is always to work your puppy within their level of comfort, however, things happen. When puppies are accidentally overwhelmed, we need to work on bringing them back down to a calm neutral state. This is not done by physically reassuring them, but by moving them away from the stimulus. The goal is to get them to re focus on the handler and begin rewarding that focus as quickly as you can.  Once your puppy has a better understanding of what food represents and how it makes them feel, this will become easier to accomplish. Recovery is a big part of building your puppy's confidence when "bad" things happen.

"Socializing your puppy should not happen at a dog park. No one ever learned appropriate etiquette at a rave"

Training Dogs Online


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