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March 2024

How to Socialise a Puppy: Everything You Need to Know

Puppy CareBehaviour & Training

Welcoming a new puppy into your home is an exciting time, but it's essential to lay the groundwork for proper socialisation early on. A well-executed socialisation plan sets the stage for a well-adjusted and confident dog, who can navigate various environments and interact positively with new people and other animals. By contrast, not socialising your puppy properly can lead to anti-social behaviour or anxiety outside of the home.

In this guide, we'll delve into the crucial steps and strategies for socialising your puppy effectively.

What is Puppy Socialisation?

Many first-time dog owners make the mistake of thinking that, when it comes to puppies, ‘socialisation’ means taking them to public places, exposing them to lots of other dogs and encouraging them to play.

This isn’t actually the case. While exposing your puppy to other dogs in public is an important aspect of socialisation, it should be done gradually and under controlled conditions to avoid your puppy developing anti-social habits. In truth, ‘socialising’ your puppy actually involves exposing them to various external stimuli (such as people, other animals, sounds and environments) in their developmental period in order to build up their confidence and encourage appropriate behaviour.

How to Socialise Your Puppy

You should start thinking about socialisation from the moment you get your puppy (which is typically possible from 8 weeks of age). At this stage, their minds are sponges and every experience they have shapes their understanding of their environment. Start the process at home and expose them to new sounds, smells, and surfaces.

Once your puppy has completed their vaccinations, you’ll be able to take them to places where other animals may have been. In the meantime, you can still expose your puppy to the world by taking them out but holding them in your arms, so the risk of exposure is lower, or keep them around dogs you know have been vaccinated. Remember, the goal is to expose them to new stimuli gradually and in a controlled setting.

8 Top Tips for Puppy Socialisation

1. Take Daily Walks
Get your puppy used to being in public places by taking them out each day. Start with short bursts (just a simple walk up and down your neighbourhood street is fine at first) and gradually build up to longer walks. Remember that places like the dog park and busy main roads are overstimulating for very young puppies, and these shouldn’t be introduced till later.

Hot Tip

It’s important not to over-exercise your puppy to protect their developing bones and joints, so walking on the grass (rather than roads or pavement) is best.

2. Mix it Up
While a simple walk up and down the street is a fine start for your eight-week-old puppy, they’re not going to learn much after a week of this. Gradually take them to new places and ensure they’re getting exposure to a variety of different people as well (not just members of your immediate household).

3. Keep Treats Handy
Have treats on hand to reward your puppy for positive social interactions. They’re also a good way of bringing your pups attention back onto you, which is important when there’s a distracting or even scary stimuli. Treats should make up no more than 10% of their total daily required calorie intake, so make sure you take these into account when allocating their daily meal.

4. Easy Does It
Make sure you’re not overwhelming your puppy by taking them too far out of their comfort zone too quickly. Socialisation should be positive to avoid encouraging anxious or nervous behaviour – and taking your puppy to very busy or noisy places too soon could cause them to have negative associations with that place or stimuli. Ideally when they are interacting with other dogs, these should be other puppies, or older dogs that are calm and you know won’t overwhelm your puppy.

5. Keep it Positive
Make sure you are calm and positive yourself while socialising your puppy. Your puppy takes behavioural cues from you, so it’s best to remain calm and speak to them gently – even if you’re getting stressed. Shouting at your puppy or fiercely tugging at your puppy’s lead is likely to scare them or rile them up even more.

6. Don’t Coddle Them
If your puppy appears nervous or afraid, don’t make a fuss. This reinforces that there’s something to be afraid of. When your puppy is noticeably uncomfortable or frightened, you’re better off calmly walking away or backing off from what’s bothering them and, once your puppy has relaxed, encourage them to look at what is causing their nervousness and marking and rewarding no reaction or inquisition from the distance. Then once you are sure they are comfortable you could very slowly inch a bit closer at their own pace (offering plenty of treats as praise as you go). It is all about very slowly decreasing the distance from a perceived threat with positive reinforcement and never pushing them to the point they react. Picking up your puppy when they’re unsure can also reinforce to your puppy that there’s a genuine threat and can encourage anti-social behaviour, so always keep them at a distance they are comfortable, and until they seem okay to move a little closer.

7. Be Mindful of Others

Just as your puppy may be unsure of some surroundings – others may be unsure of your puppy! Remember this when out in public, and if passersby don’t seem to be welcoming interaction with your puppy divert your puppy’s focus back to you. It is also vital for your puppy’s safety that they are not allowed to run up to other dogs they don’t know, as a dog with fear-based aggression due to anxiety is likely to lash out at your puppy, causing both your puppy and the other dog great distress and potentially reinforcing anxiety in both dogs.

8. Enroll in Puppy School

Puppy School is an excellent first step for both training and socialisation. Petstock Puppy School will walk you through the best methods of training your puppy and encourages positive social interactions in a guided environment.

Petstock Puppy School

What to get your best mate started on the right paw? Head to our Puppy School page to find out more

Enroll Now
People Animals Places Experiences Sounds Surfaces
Babies/Toddlers Other puppies Parks Being in the car Car horns Grass
Children Dogs (of various breeds, sizes, and life stages) Beaches Bath time Crying babies Concrete
Adults Cats Doggy Daycare Groomers Storms Sand
People using mobility aids Other small animals/pets if applicable (rabbits, guinea pigs) Puppy School Leash training Loud music Stairs
Runners Farm animals/livestock Streets Having various parts of their body handled (teeth, paws, mouth, etc) Loud household items (vacuum, hair dryer, lawnmower) Water
People on bikes/scooters/skateboards, etc. Other wild animals they may encounter on walks The Vet Swimming Yelling/ shouting/ applause/ laughing Tiles/slippery floorboards
Crowds Birds (wild and pets if applicable) Pet store Other people’s houses Construction Mud

Puppy Socialisation: How to Spot Your Puppy is Uncomfortable

While the goal of socialisation is to get your puppy out of their comfort zone and get them used to new experiences, we want to do this without overwhelming them. Here are some cues to look out for when socialising your puppy.

• Cowering
• Tail between legs
• Ears down
• Licking lips
• Yawning
• Whining
• Attempting to pull away
• Growling, biting the hair or raised heckles

If your puppy starts exhibiting any of these cues, back away from the trigger calmly and slowly. Once your puppy has calmed down, reapproach offering plenty of praise and encouragement.

Hot Tip

Remember, your puppy doesn’t need to say hello to every dog, nor do they need to engage in every social situation.

What Happens if I Don’t Socialise My Puppy?

If you don’t socialise your puppy in their crucial developmental stages, you risk them developing anxiety or other behavioural issues – including fear of new people, animals, or places.

It’s also possible for dogs that haven’t been socialised properly, including being over-socialised, to exhibit anti-social behaviour like aggression. This is essentially a coping mechanism they develop to protect themselves from perceived threats (in this instance, the outside world). Avoid this by ensuing your puppy is properly socialised. Puppy school is a great first step!

Petstock Puppy School

What to get your best mate started on the right paw? Head to our Puppy School page to find out more

Enroll Now

FAQs for Puppy Socialisation

When can puppies meet other dogs?

You can start socialising your puppy as soon as you bring them home at eight weeks old. Puppy preschool is a great way to start – as your dog will be exposed to puppies of a similar age to them. It's a good idea to not expose your puppy to strange dogs until they’ve had their second vaccination.

How can I tell if my puppy is properly socialised?

Properly socialised puppies are confident and curious in new environments and are comfortable around new people and other animals. They show no signs of aggression and minimal signs of fear.

What if my puppy seems fearful during socialisation experiences?

If your puppy shows signs of fear or anxiety during socialisation, calmly take a step back and proceed more gradually. Consult with a professional trainer or behaviourist for guidance if needed.

Is it ever too late to socialise a puppy?

While early socialisation is ideal, it's never too late to start exposing your puppy to new experiences. However, the process may take longer than with a younger dog, and extra patience and consistency may be required.

Can I socialise my puppy before they're fully vaccinated?

While it's essential to prioritise your puppy's health and safety, you can still socialise them before they're fully vaccinated. Arrange controlled playdates with vaccinated dogs in home environments to minimise the risk of disease transmission.

How often should I socialise my puppy?

Consistency is key when it comes to socialisation. Aim to expose your puppy to new experiences regularly, incorporating socialisation opportunities into their daily routine.