Dog Socialization

What is socialization?

When people hear the world “socialization,” dog to dog interaction specially comes to mind. That’s what socialization means, right? According to the Merriam-Webster definition, socialization means “social interaction with others.” This is another great example of anthropomorphism, or how people will give human-like characteristics to dogs, because dog socialization is much more than just a doggy happy hour.

Dog socialization is the process of acclimating your dog to textures, temperatures, noises, environments, dogs, people, children, and other animals to respond in a positive or neutral way. Spending time immersed in situations, coupled with positive experiences, will help dogs better cope with these new situations.

“In companion dogs, socialization typically refers to the process of desensitization: gradually exposing a puppy to new experiences, animals, and objects that it is likely to encounter over the course of its life, while ensuring that the puppy finds this exposure pleasant. “

Battaglia CL. Periods of early development and the effects of stimulation and social experiences in the canine. J Vet Behav. 2009;4:203–210
Morning walk with dog (black Labrador Retriever)

Early SOCIALIZATION for puppies

A puppy experiences three key periods in its early social development:

  • Primary eriod: is from birth until approximately 3 weeks of age
  • Socialization period: occurs from approximately 3 weeks until 12 weeks of age, and certainly no later than 14 weeks of age
  • Enrichment or juvenile period: can start as early as ten weeks, and lasts until puberty and the onset of sexual maturity

The key to puppy social development is QUALITY over QUANTITY. It’s your responsibility to expose your puppy to as many different stimuli as possible, during the “socialization period” of development. Prolonged close contact with new things or people is not always ideal. Your puppy needs easy, happy experiences, even if that means only 5 to 10 minutes of exposure. The more relaxed your pup is, the better. “Too much of a good thing” can quickly overwhelm your puppy and cause fear issues later in life. This means, please do not throw your new pup in a dog park and hope for the best…or you can just stay away from the overcrowded, dog parks with non-vaccinated dogs, especially as a puppy. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

If you have questions about what to expose to your puppy, then check out this awesome puppy socialization checklist!

SOCIALIZING an older dog

Did you adopt your dog as an an adult? Is is too late to socialize?! Technically, the “socialization period” is over if you adopted your dog as adult, but that does not mean your work is finished as a responsible dog owner.

“Ideally, puppies are socialized early in life by being exposed to as many new experiences as possible before they reach twelve weeks of age. Sometimes, however, you’re faced with the task of socializing an older dog. Perhaps you’ve adopted an older dog that was never properly socialized, or circumstances beyond your control prevented you from being able to properly socialize your young pup. Maybe your adult dog simply needs a refresher course after being away too long from other people and/or pets. Whatever the reason, socializing adult dogs is quite a bit different from socializing puppies.”

Published by Jean Marie Bauhaus on June 13, 2019, accessed on August 29, 2019 at
Tail between legs.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association , “the key thing to remember when socializing an older dog is that it takes time and a lot of repetition. Be patient with your dog, and don’t be discouraged if his progress is slow. Creating a calm, loving environment for your dog, along with positive associations with each new experience, will go a long way toward dispelling his fear and helping him become a happy, well-balanced dog. “

If you are stuck and it seems like your dog is regressing, then your dog might be in need of a behavior modification program. This is where the professionals come in! If you ever need more help in learning how to socialize your older dog, speak with a professional trainer or your vet. Always research reputable, local trainers to help safely guide you through this process.

My rescue dog must have been abused!

As an intake coordinator, I hear this phrase quite often from people that have adopted dogs from rescues. This is an assumption that many people mistakenly make about their new family member. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are bad people out there that have truly caused animals harm. However, out of the the 100 terrified dogs that I’ve seen go through the shelter, not ALL of them were abused. More than likely, your dog missed some critical exposure and positive experiences during their early social development periods.

For example, I adopted Aslan through Cause for Paws of NC, and she was definitely a project. She was a fearful dog, that was likely used for breeding and not really socialized with people or new environments often, if ever. He fear eventually progressed into major concerns that required training intervention. She is still a project that will require a lifetime of management by setting her up to succeed and building confidence. Honestly, she made me a better dog owner and handler. Overall, she is now a much less anxious dog, with loads of confidence in comparison to her old self. I wouldn’t have her any other way!

A very fearful version of Aslan in 2016 at Granville County Animal Shelter

Dog socialization is not as easy as it sounds, but with hard work and lots of patience you will end up with a well-rounded dog to enjoy for years to come.

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