Socialization is your puppy learning how to interact appropriately in the variety of situations they will encounter in life with you inside and outside of your home and yard with people, other animals, textures and sounds.
Your dog needs to learn to be a dog with other dogs, to be well behaved and tolerant of many different people and settings, including the veterinary office. Proper socialization and training will teach your puppy to allow you to do all the needed husbandry like trimming nails, brushing teeth and touching your pet all over.
Age and Vaccinations
DO NOT WAIT TO START SOCIALIZATION. Due to the critical windows of time for socialization, plan on intensely working on puppy socialization their first 100 days with you and beyond to develop your puppy’s tools for living in your home and world. The risk of your puppy developing serious behavior problems from being poorly socialized is far greater than that of infectious disease. Be smart about the types of socialization you choose by avoiding dog parks (formal & informal) and other high traffic areas, keep your puppy up in your arms in pet stores, etc. until fully vaccinated.
A very key window of time for socialization is the first few months of life – it sets the brain‘s wiring or the foundation for the rest of the puppy’s first year and life beyond.
Keys to Successful Socialization
Socialization needs to be force free and voluntary. Do not force things – create gradual exposure rather than flooding your puppy that could turn into fear. All their experiences should be safe and positive with lots of treats and praise.
Below is just a starting list to complement the checklists further on.
Our goals by age 24 weeks:
- Has learned to wear a collar and walk with collar/harness and leash.
- Comfortable with a variety of surfaces such as wood, tile, cement, grass, tabletop, on a chair, etc.
- Will play with a variety of different toys from fuzzies, balls of different sizes, etc.
- Experiencing many different places from the front and back yard, other people’s homes, school, area park, basement, walking near water, the veterinary office, etc.
- Meeting and has plans to meet many more dogs and other animals.
- Meeting and playing with many different people outside the family – children, adults of various ages and genders, uniformed professionals, walkers/wheelchairs, hats, sunglasses, facial masks, etc.
- Soundproofed to the noises of our homes and environments such as doorbells, lawn mowers, storm sounds, fireworks, etc.
- Exposure to things with wheels and movement (no chasing allowed) like cars, bicycles, skateboards, runners, squirrels.
- Learning to deal with challenges and obstacles to be able to climb over, through, under, etc.; sliding doors; etc.
- Loves being handled by owner and others to be picked up, held, carried, having teeth
brushed & nails trimmed, standing still while paws/legs are handled, etc.
- Has learned to eat from all kinds of containers in many different locations and will allow food and bowls to be handled.
Know that between 8 and 10 weeks, puppies start to experience real fear and need positive training; do not overwhelm or flood with negative experiences. We also see another normal fear stage develop around four months of age. If your puppy is scared, slow down and add distance to prevent an adverse fear reaction.
There is potentially a significant genetic contribution to socialization training and some dogs are just wired differently – we have no way to predict so the best course to have a well trained canine companion is dedicating time to socialization and obedience training for their first year with you. Always watch your pup’s reactions carefully as they grow and their temperament develops.
The following socialization checklist list is comprehensive and not all things will be appropriate for your puppy’s environment or lifestyle but try to get as many things checked off as possible as it is future-proofing.
You can choose to do any of the following in any order – just remember the goal is to create a positive experience and association, so stock up on high value tiny treats. If your puppy is reacting negatively, fearfully with over-arousal or avoidance, stop and slowly re-introduce at a different time. This is not a race, but a journey of learning and adventure.
Handling for the Future
Vet and people-proofing your puppy
Examine mouth and teeth; running fingers along gumline
Looking at eyes – using fingers to gently open lids
Squeezing and touching paws & feet
Touching & handling toes & toe nails
Introducing nail trimming
Tapping skin with closed pen cap
Grabbing tail & other body parts (gently)
Holding in arms
Holding on lap
Handling by collar
Putting on collar/harness
Walking on leash
Wiping body with towel
Wiping paws with towel & with unscented baby wipe
Wiping face with towel & wash cloth
Holding puppy on back & rubbing belly– in arms and in lap
Teaching to stand while handled.
Teaching to relax or place on mat or towel
Around the House
Allowing handling of food/water bowls
Allowing hands in their food bowl
Learning to sit & wait to eat food
Cooking pots & pans
Blankets/sheets/rugs being moved/shaken
Umbrellas – opening & closing
Exploring (safely) the back and front yards.
Playing fetch, throwing toys
Being present when lawn is being mowed
Exposure to vacuum movement & noise
Garbage bag being opened
Plastic bags – mimic being blown in wind & crinkled
Various floor surfaces – carpet, wood, tile, concrete, etc.
Balls of various sizes including soccer/basketball/football
Stairs (carpet, wood & concrete)
Getting in/out of the car (size dependent)
Learning how to greet guests entering home (relax or place/mat training)
People: All Kinds – goal is to meet 100 humans by 1 year birthday
Men & women of different heights
Men & women of different ethnicities
Men with deep voices
Men with beards/mustaches
People in wheelchairs or scooters
People using cane or crutches
People wearing hoods/hats
People wearing uniforms
People wearing helmets
People wearing sunglasses
People/children wearing different colors
People wearing backpacks or carrying/rolling luggage
People in costumes (Halloween)
Multiple toddlers being loud
People bicycling (group or race)
Other Dogs & Animals: Friends and Frenemies
Other puppies – puppy socialization classes & obedience training
Learning to meet & play with Adult & Senior dogs
Large & Giant Breed dogs
Very small breeds
As many breeds as possible
Other livestock (cattle, goats)
Exotic pets like hamsters, rats, etc.
The Great Outdoors
- Grass – real & artificial; dry & wet
- Slick floors (tile, linoleum, wood)
- Mud & dirt
- Icy areas & snow
- Metal surfaces (vet scale, other)
- Walking on uneven ground and rocky areas
- Walking under/over bridges
- Walking on a busy sidewalk (leashed)
- Walking by a busy street (leashed)
Grooming & boarding facilities
Park with other dogs
Park with lots of people
Park or school yard with lots of children
Walking on public trails
Pet-friendly stores & shopping areas
Inside business buildings
Inside other people’s homes
Street fairs, farmer’s markets & pet friendly festivals
Restaurant patios & sidewalk tables
Sporting events (if allowed)
Skate park & biking areas
Lakes & ponds
Streams & rivers
Tents & camping equipment
Use your cell phone as a controlled way to play different sounds, start low volume and increase slowly
Animal sounds (pig, cow, chicken/rooster, etc)
Music of different types & at different volumes
Cars & Motorcycles – starting, running, backfiring
Sirens (ambulance, police, fire)
Doorbell & knocking on door
Rainstorms & Thunderstorms
Smoke alarm & security system beeps
Dishwasher, washing machine & dryer
Things with Wheels (no chasing)
Baby strollers & wagons
Adapted from Perfect Puppy in 7 Days by Dr. Sophia Yin; socialization resources from pupford.com, ultimatepuppy.com, ASPCA, etc. 2023