Puppy Socialization

By: Dr. Crystal Craig

If there’s one thing that concerns me as a veterinarian, it’s seeing fearful puppies. Occasionally I see a new pup for the first vaccine who is a little ball of fear- afraid of strangers, resists touch and even attempts to bite or growl.

If this is your puppy, now is the time to act! The prime age of socialization for puppies is between 3-12 weeks of age. This is the time they form their opinion of the world around them- and this is the opinion they will carry with them their whole life! It is almost impossible to socialize a fearful pup after 18 weeks of age.

Trust me, you do not want a fearful adult dog… this could lead to accidental bites to people and other animals. Not to mention it is terrible for your dog to be in a constant state of fear and anxiety.

What should you do to train your puppy, you ask? Proper handling and socialization!

As soon as you get your pup, make sure you socialize her to as many things as you can during the puppy “Golden Period”. Handling feet, looking in the mouth and cleaning ears are key to making sure your mutt doesn’t mind having these things done as an adult. You do not want to be riding around on the back of your 90 lb adult dog when he refuses to let you clean his ears later on in life!

Be persistent. You are the boss. Repeat with me.

I know your puppy probably won’t like it when you trim his nails for the first time. This is tough love! No matter how hard he squirms, do not let him think that wiggling will get him out of the situation. Do a few nails at a time, and only when he is calm, finish the session. A few delicious treats during the process will work wonders too.

Have a puppy party!

Have other people over to play with your pup. If they have (vaccinated) dogs or pups, even better!

Go to puppy classes.

One of the best places for puppy socialization is through puppy classes. Here, pups can blow off steam yet they are learning many valuable lessons when it seems like they are only playing. You see, this is how pups learn what’s called Bite Inhibition. When pups play, they usually are rolling around biting one another. When one puppy yelps, the other will immediately stop biting. This teaches the biter to “lay off” and bring that nipping down a notch. This way puppies figure out how hard is too hard. Why is bite inhibition important in adult dogs? Imagine your pooch is asleep on the floor and you accidentally step on her tail in the middle of the night on your way to the kitchen for those chips/sandwich/bacon. Dogs with good bite inhibition will yelp and move to bite but will stop. Dogs with poor bite inhibition will follow through and the damage is done.

Sit outside of Walmart.

Yes, sit outside of Walmart. Or anywhere else there are lots of different people, sights and sounds. Let everyone fawn over him and give him the treats you brought. And remember, little dogs must be socialized too. Because they are very small, they are more likely to be fearful of large people and dogs and therefore bite under stressful situations.

Bring him to your vet. Lots.

Obviously if you are reading this, you are already a great pet parent and you bring your pup in for regular vaccinations. Go a step further! In between scheduled appointments, drop in to your vet and pop your pup onto the scale. Have the staff smother him with attention and treats. Make it positive! That way he doesn’t think he needs to get a needle every time he comes in.

And finally, a good dog is a tired dog.

If you exercise your pup the appropriate amount, he won’t have all that pent up energy and eat your couch/table/first born. It goes without saying that you have already done your research and selected the breed that matches your activity level best.

Remember, a socialized pup will grow up to be a good canine citizen and happy dog! Happy training!

Use this checklist to help keep track of what your puppy has been exposed to. Place a check mark in the box corresponding to the item your puppy was exposed to and at what age. (From the ASPCA Website)

Age In Weeks: 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Exposure To:
Babies, Toddlers, Children
Teenagers, Adults, Elderlypeople
People With Wheelchairs, Crutches
In-Line Skaters, Cyclists, Skateboarders
Drunk People, People With Odd Gaits
People In Uniform, Veterinarians
Repair People, Delivery People
People With Umbrellas, Helmets, Masks
People With Hats, Beards, Glasses
People With Parcels, Capes, Sacks
People With Strollers, Wagons
People Of Various Ethnicities
Kids At School Grounds
Crowds, Clapping, Cheering
People Yelling, Loudspeakers
People Dancing, Singing
Livestock, Waterfowl
Other Puppies, Friendly Adult Dogs
Other Pets
Traffic, Busses, Trains, Motorcycles
Boats, Jetskis, Snowmobiles
Manhole Covers, Grates
Shiny Floors, Tiles, Icy Streets
Gravel, Cement, Mud
Revolving Signs, Swinging Bridges
Walks After Dark, In Bad Weather
Hot Air Balloons &Amp; Airplanes
Elevators, Automatic Doors
Balconies, Stairs
Drive-Thru’s, Carwashes, Tunnels
Electrical Appliances, Washers
Vacuum Cleaners, Hairdryers
Construction And Machinery Noises
Wind, Rain, Thunder, Snow
Fireworks, Sporting Events, Fairs
Veterinary Hospitals And Clinics