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Help! My Puppy Needs to Be Socialized!

Every puppy needs to be socialized. Right? Your vet or breeder or rescue group said so. But, has anyone told you what socialization looks like or how to successfully socialize your puppy or how long it takes?

So, what is socialization? Did you see that? I switched from saying “be socialized” to “socialization”. Aren’t they the same thing? There is a subtle difference. To be socialized suggests that we are doing something to the puppy. Socialization is a process that begins in puppyhood and sets up your puppy for success as an adult dog. Companion pets need socialization so that they can learn how to behave in a way that their human families find acceptable. In other words, socialization is necessary for puppies to understand the world of humans.

Socialized: having been made to behave in a way that is acceptable to a particular society.

"poorly socialized children who are ill-equipped to handle the responsibilities of adult life" (

Socialization: the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.

"preschool starts the process of socialization" (

Socialization is much more than going places and meeting people or other dogs. Your puppy learns, through experience, how to interact with novelty (new things). Novelties include different textures (like hardwood floors, grass, carpet, blankets, mulch, dirt, sand), smells (at home, in the vet office, or outside), sounds (like fans, dishwasher, vacuum, thunder, music) and movement (like car rides).

During this process a puppy learns what to do when he’s overwhelmed or scared. Preventing your pup from growling, lunging, and barking at strangers when they’re adults begins in puppyhood. When a dog is afraid, she will behave like a dog. A puppy who is refusing to meet a new person or is growling and barking at a new person is saying “please leave me alone”. If he learns as a pup that you will advocate for him, that you will handle anything or anyone who is being rude or scary, your pup learns to trust you. Your pup learns to turn to you for help. It prevents the puppy feeling like she needs to take matters into her own paws.

So where does socialization happen? Dog parks? Home Depot? Pet stores? Puppy class?

Socialization that’s done intentionally, keeps puppies from being overwhelmed and frightened. Remember, we want puppies to have safe, positive experiences to prevent fear.

Home is where puppy should feel the safest, which makes it the best place to introduce novelty. Remember, novelty can be anything new or something out of context. For example, letting puppy sniff and explore a cardboard box is a socialization experience. Meeting one or two new people at a time while at home is much more secure for the pup, since a) he has a safe space to get away from people if he’s tired; and b) you can help people interact safely with your pup.

The vet office is another great place for a positive socialization experience. Scheduling a “happy vet visit” before or between regular exams makes the vet office seem normal and reduces fear. Your vet and vet techs will be happy to have you and your pup drop by for a walk through with lots of yummy treats. The more relaxed your pup is during a vet exam the better medical care she will get.

Dog friendly stores, like Home Depot and Pet stores, are less predictable. Well-meaning people may rush at you and your pup, frightening your pup. If your pup is then mugged (petted, poked and touched) when he doesn’t feel safe, it can create problems and trigger undesirable responses (peeing, try to hide, barking, nipping). If you choose to take your pup into a store, be sure to have delicious treats at the ready to reinforce your pup for all desirable behavior. Rather than letting strangers give your pup treats (this can cause conflict and fear), give your pup a treat for being close to you. Let people know your pup is in training and learning to be calm around people rather than jumping on them.

The dog park really isn’t set up for socialization. Rather, the dog park should be reserved for dogs who are already well-socialized AND have some obedience skills, like recall. Too often puppies are overwhelmed by adolescent and mature dogs at the dog park. There may be dogs who shouldn’t be in the dog park that can be dangerous for puppies.

Puppy class is a part of your puppy’s socialization plan. Socialization and manners (obedience) are different. During puppy class your pup should be able to take breaks as needed, observe, and engage as she chooses. We want puppies to have fun in class. The Learning Dog Academy’s puppy program is designed to give puppies a positive, fear-free experience. Our goal is setting you and your puppy up for a successful life together. Puppy Pals is our puppy play and socialization class. During class puppies explore something new every week while making friends with other puppies. They also get to interact with other people in a safe way.

If you have questions about puppy socialization, training or want to learn more about training at The Learning Dog Academy, contact us. We're here to help you and your pup live the best life ever...together.

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