Like babies, puppies are not born understanding the world and how to behave. It is up to us to help them flourish and develop into friendly and confident companions. Well-socialized puppies are more likely to grow up to be friendly adult dogs who are easy to handle and not overly frightened or stressed.  

The best time to socialize a puppy is from 3 to 14 weeks of age. This is when puppies are most open to new experiences and thirsty to learn.  

When socializing your pup(s), it is important to remember that exposure is not the same as socialization. Having a screaming 4-year-old yanking on your pup’s ears and tail could well cause the dog to be afraid of children for life. However, meeting several young children who are calm and handle the puppy appropriately can lead to a dog who adores kids.

  • Before doing anything, mom needs to be okay with you petting the pups in order to avoid accidentally teaching the puppies to be stressed by petting.
    • If mom does seem to be too anxious for the first few days try petting the puppies while she is out of the room or sleeping
  • Start Small. Gently pet and hold newborn puppies for just a few seconds each day.
  • At 2 weeks of age, pick up and hold the puppies in different positions for brief periods every day.
  • By 4 weeks of age, intensify socialization:
    • Introduce new textures by playing with puppies on carpeting, tile, wood, blankets, rugs, concrete, etc.
    • Expose the pups to household noises such as blenders, doorbells, banging pots, washing machines, alarm clocks, stereos. Muffle very loud or harsh noises at first by covering the appliance with a towel or making the noise while the pups are in an adjacent room.
    • If there are no children living in or visiting the home, buy a CD with the sounds of children and play it frequently.
    • Place items, such as winter boots, skateboards, bags of groceries, and books on the floor for the puppies to investigate.
    • Offer a variety of objects for the pups to play with; include empty plastic bottles, paper towel cores, and cardboard boxes in different sizes, as well as commercial dog toys.
    • Continue to handle the puppies daily, including touching every part of their bodies.
    • Put the pups in a crate and go to a friend’s house for a brief play-and-cuddle session. If no one is available to host, simply go outside and come back in or go for a drive around the block. Play with the pups as soon as you return home.
  • Starting at 5 weeks of age, more people should be interacting with your puppies. Behaviorists recommend they meet at least 100 people during the primary socialization period. Expose the puppy to a variety of people for optimal socialization: young, old; male, female; wearing glasses; wearing a hat; light-skinned, dark-skinned; animated, laid-back; etc.

What if you adopt an older puppy that has not been socialized? Not all is lost. The pup can still benefit from the above but she will not learn as quickly and may not be as comfortable with as many things as a well-socialized puppy. Start by working on the two or three things that you believe are most important for her adult life and then add the others later. To learn more, please see our article on Socializing Your Adolescent Dog.

If you would like information from an Anti-Cruelty Society Behavior Specialist regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email behavior@anticruelty.org.

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