Socializing a Puppy: Dog Behavior Training Tips

Playing outdoors with pet

People are sometimes warned not to take their puppies out in public until they are fully vaccinated for fear that it might catch disease. But times have changed and most vets, trainers, breeders and behaviorists recommend that you get him out and socialize him early. An under-socialized puppy is more likely to have long-term dog behavior issues than get sick from interacting with other dogs.

You do want to balance medical risk with behavioral risk, which is why uncontrolled areas such as dog parks and beaches should be avoided until the puppy is fully vaccinated. The risk is very minimal if socializing it in a controlled environment (such as the University Village if you’re in Seattle) where dogs do not run loose. Here are some dog training tips on how to socialize them.

  • Age. The best age at which to socialize a puppy is between two and four months of age. After four months of age the socialization window starts to close and it’s much more difficult to influence their opinion and attitude.

    For example, if a puppy is not exposed to traffic prior to four months of age he may be so paralyzed with fear of the sights and sounds that walking on a city street it may be impossible or at best uncomfortable. If it is exposed to traffic prior to four months of age and introduced in a positive way, he will look forward to walking along a city street because it was a positive encounter. Dog behavior training needs to start early on.

  • Human Contact. Research on dog behavior has found that puppies that are isolated from human contact between five and twelve weeks of age are never able to react normally to people later in life. This age is the “sensitive” period for it and the weeks of this period may vary. Make sure he experiences lots of positive human contact during this time.

So where and when do you begin your socialization?

  1. Start at home. Well-known New York City dog trainer Toni-Kay Wolff of suggests: When you first bring your pup home, visit the vet for a wellness check. If all is well, begin acclimating him to the sounds, sights and smells of its new environment – your home. After a few days get out into the city and begin your socializing program.
  2. On the town. Carry him around, bring loads of treats, and ask anyone who wants to meet him to offer a treat. Don’t put him on the ground quite yet, but carrying is perfectly safe. You want him to think that loud noises, funny smells and silly people roaming the streets are perfectly normal!
  3. Traffic. Fire engine goes by? TREAT and sound happy! Truck or bus backfires? TREAT and act silly! This will get your puppy used to all the noises and potentially scary things that he or she will inevitably encounter. If you expose him to street sounds and traffic in a positive way (with treats and excitement), he’ll be comfortable walking down the street with you.
  4. Where to socialize. If you’re living in Seattle, the University Village or Redmond Town Center are two very pet friendly shopping centers and most stores are open to you and your furry companion coming in for a visit. These are open-air shopping areas where he can discover other people, dogs and places while on his leash.

    Look for a similar shopping center in your neighborhood where many shops have dog cookies and water bowls. If unsure if you should come into a store with him simply ask at the door, a little etiquette never hurts.

    Banks can also be great training ground for socializing a puppy. Many will let him in and may even offer him a biscuit. Your bank doesn’t welcome dogs? You may want to re-think where you bank and pick a dog friendly banking institution!

  5. Kids. If you do not have children it’s important that you seek out children so you can socialize your puppy. Children are more unpredictable and have fast moving hands. If they are not exposed to children they may fear them.
  6. Scary situations. Be careful not to give too much attention if your puppy acts fearful in a situation that is normal. If a bicycle races by and he cowers you will be tempted to pet him and reassure him that “it’s ok, you’re alright, its ok”. What he may very well hear is, “Good boy, mommy loves it when you act afraid, please continue!” It’s best to just reward him with a treat and move on. When the next bicycle comes near, offer a food reward to him so he redirects his thoughts from fear to treat. Dogs value food so don’t be afraid to offer it as a reward.

    Sarah Wilson, nationally known dog trainer and best selling author (Good Owners, Great Dogs and My Smart Puppy) recommends:

    • “If your puppy is frightened of someone, tell that person to ignore the puppy. Go stand near that person and act relaxed. Shy puppies are always more comfortable approaching rather than being approached. Chat for a few minutes and allow the puppy to investigate if he wants. If he is hanging way back, try tossing a treat his way. Remember to stay upbeat! When he takes the treat, drop one closer to you, then closer and closer. Ignore the dog. Let him get it if he feels like it. Instruct the person to squat down, sideways to the puppy. Direct eye contact will frighten the pup, so have them look at the floor. Be verbally supportive, “What a dog! Say hello!” and walk over to the person. Don’t allow the person to reach for the pup. When the pup finally does approach, have the person reach under his chin and scratch his chest. Reaching over his head will spook him. If he is too frightened to come all the way over, don’t press it. Be happy with the success you got and move on.”
  7. Puppy kindergarten. Dr. Allen Matson of Hollywood Hill Animal Hospital, Woodinville strongly recommends that new puppy owners take advantage of Puppy Kindergarten. It allows your puppy to meet and interact with others that are also learning to socialize, as well as older dogs that act as “coaches”. The playtime is supervised and teaches them how to behave appropriately around other dogs.

    Dr. Matson also states that “most dogs bite out of fear and a socialized dog has fewer behavioral issues, I recommend socializing them to as many things possible and after the second vaccination a socialization class can positively imprint the puppy for a life time.”

  8. Unexpected places. My puppy’s first shopping experience was at a car dealership. I actually think I got a better deal because of my little chunky Labrador, Moose. He got loads of attention, praise and cookies from all the sales people at Michael’s Toyota in Bellevue. The sales person worked very hard to get him into a dog savvy car.

    It was a great social experience for my puppy and more fun for me. Having Moose at my side kept the stress level to a minimum. Dogs and puppies are a calming influence. We often leave our them at home when we should really take advantage of more opportunities, such as looking for a new car, and turn them into a great socialization session. You may not go home with a new car but he will reap the benefits for the rest of his life.

Additional Tips: Whether you have cats or dogs, finding pet friendly hotels will help with all your travel plans.

Now you know how to train a puppy to get used to sounds, people, children and other dogs in the area. If you have any questions about socializing please email [email protected]


Keep Reading