Socialization

The most important part of your puppy's first weeks

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About Socialization

Puppies have a window of time during which they are very open to learning about new things. This special socialization window closes sometime within 12 to 16 weeks. During this time you can create positive associations with new experiences, people, places, sounds, surfaces, other animals and more.

Socialization is so important that the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists (AVSAB) has a position statement  Here's a key point: "Incomplete or improper socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioral problems later in life including fear, avoidance, and/or aggression."

Think of socialization done well as a vaccine for behavior problems. 

Socializing Your Puppy

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Introduction to People, Places, Animals, Sounds, Sights and More

Download our socialization checklist to help keep track of what your puppy has experienced. It is important that exposure is positive, so keep tasty treats handy. 

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Exposure vs. Socialization

Simple exposure doesn't make the experience positive. Socialization is the process of creating a positive association with something not yet encountered through gradual exposure and positive experiences. Without the positive association, we leave too much to chance including the possibility that the exposure remains neutral or is negative.

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Tolerance vs. Enjoyment

Think about something you tolerate but may not necessarily love - like, the dentist. We want our dogs to go beyond tolerating things - we want them to think they are fabulous. We can do this by creating a predictable relationship between the things you want the dog to enjoy and what the dog already really loves (like tasty chicken).

Distance is your Friend

An introduction doesn't have to be up close. It's perfectly fine to go at your puppy's pace. When introducing something new, do it a distance that the dog can notice it but not react to it. Then give treats. Eventually your puppy will investigate.

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A Warning about Fear

During this time (really anytime), pay attention to your puppy and look for signs of discomfort or fear. If you see one of these signs, be calm, increase distance from or decrease intensity of the person, noise, scary thing, etc. After the distance increase, if the puppy seems normal, try again at the reduced intensity, pairing it with your yummy treats.

Your Puppy's Signs to
Increase Distance or Reduce Intensity
  • yawning

  • licking lips, or nose

  • turning away

  • averting gaze

  • shaking off

  • lifting from paw

  • whale eyes

  • frozen body

  • crouching

  • ears pulled back/flat

  • tail tucked

  • hiding

  • shaking

  • pacing

  • panting

  • growling

  • snarling

  • scratching self

  • sniffing ground

  • running away

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is a good resource to learn to recognize these signs

Resources

References

Click boxes below for downloadable resources.

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Some of this content was adapted from the Toronto Centre for Canine Education.