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Puppy Socialization: Why, When, and How to Do It Right

Written by Liz Donavan for AKC

Key Points

  • Puppy socialization begins with the breeder and continues with you.

  • Expose your puppy to different people, places, sights, and sounds.

  • Well-run puppy classes are a good way to socialize your pup with other dogs.

Socializing your puppy is the key to ensuring you have a happy, confident, and well-adjusted dog. Below, learn the best time for puppy socialization, how to do it right, and why it is important.




When to Socialize Your Puppy

During your puppy’s first three months of life, they will experience a socialization period that will permanently shape their future personality and how they will react to their environment as an adult dog. Gently exposing them to a wide variety of people, places, and situations now makes a huge, permanent difference in their temperament.

When you buy a puppy from a responsible breeder, the socialization process should start before you even bring your pet home. Gentle handling by the breeder in the first several weeks of your puppy’s life is helpful in the development of a friendly, confident dog. As early as three weeks of age, puppies may begin to approach a person who is passively observing them, so having a knowledgeable breeder who encourages a positive experience with people – adults and children — will help shape the puppy’s adult behavior. As their puppies develop, good breeders allow them to experience safe inside and outside environments, car rides, crates, sounds, and smells.


Socializing your puppy is the key to ensuring you have a happy, confident, and well-adjusted dog. Below, learn the best time for puppy socialization, how to do it right, and why it is important.


When to Socialize Your Puppy

During your puppy’s first three months of life, they will experience a socialization period that will permanently shape their future personality and how they will react to their environment as an adult dog. Gently exposing them to a wide variety of people, places, and situations now makes a huge, permanent difference in their temperament.

When you buy a puppy from a responsible breeder, the socialization process should start before you even bring your pet home. Gentle handling by the breeder in the first several weeks of your puppy’s life is helpful in the development of a friendly, confident dog. As early as three weeks of age, puppies may begin to approach a person who is passively observing them, so having a knowledgeable breeder who encourages a positive experience with people – adults and children — will help shape the puppy’s adult behavior. As their puppies develop, good breeders allow them to experience safe inside and outside environments, car rides, crates, sounds, and smells.


  • Make it positive: Most importantly, when introducing all of these new experiences to your puppy, make sure they are getting an appropriate amount of treats and praise. As a result, the pet will associate what they are being exposed to with the feeling of seeing something new being a fun experience. Break treats into small pieces that will be easy for your puppy to digest. Also, try to remain calm — dogs can read our emotions. So if you are nervous when introducing your puppy to an older dog, for example, your pet will be nervous, too, and may become fearful of other dogs in the future.


  • Involve the family: By having different people take part in the socialization process, you continuously move the puppy out of their comfort zone. That lets the dog know that they might experience something new, no matter who they are with. Make it a fun game for kids by having them write down a list of everything new the puppy experienced that day while with them, such as “someone in a baseball cap” or “a police siren.”


  • Take baby steps: Try to avoid doing too much, too fast. For instance, if you want your puppy to get accustomed to being handled by multiple people they do not know, start with a few family members and slowly integrate one stranger, then two, and so on. Starting this process by taking your puppy to a huge party or a very busy public place can be overwhelming and result in a fearful response to groups of strangers in the future.


  • Take it public: Once your puppy is used to a small amount of stimuli, move outside of their comfort zone and expand the amount of new experiences he’ll have. Take them to the pet store (after they have started their vaccination series), over to a friend’s house for a canine playdate, on different streets in the neighborhood, and so on. At 7 to 10 days after the dog has received their full series of puppy vaccinations, you can safely take them to the dog park (but be sure to follow dog-park safety protocol.)


  • Go to puppy classes: Once your puppy has started vaccinations, they can also attend puppy classes. These classes not only help your pet begin to understand basic commands, but they also expose them to other canines and people. Skilled trainers will mediate the meetings so that all dogs and people are safe and happy during the process. You can find puppy classes through local AKC training clubs and dog training facilities.