The most important part of your puppy's first weeks
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
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.
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.
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.
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
licking lips, or nose
lifting from paw
ears pulled back/flat
is a good resource to learn to recognize these signs
Read our flipbook to learn more about calming signals. Remember, these signals tell you to reduce the intensity or increase the distance from the thing that may be worrying your puppy.
Click boxes below for downloadable resources.
Some of this content was adapted from the Toronto Centre for Canine Education.