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(207) 846-6515

BEHAVIOR: SOCIALIZATION FOR PUPPIES

YVCipedia BEHAVIOR 
SOCIALIZATION FOR PUPPIES

 Even though dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, each new 
puppy that comes into our world must learn about humans. Socialization is the 
process during which puppies develop positive relationships with other living 
beings. The most sensitive period for successful socialization is during the first 
3 – 4 months of life. The experiences the pet has during this time will have a major 
infl ence on its developing personality and how well it gets along with people 
and other animals when it grows into adulthood. It is very important for puppies 
to have frequent, positive social experiences during these early months in order to 
prevent asocial behavior, fear, and biting. Puppies that are inadequately socialized 
may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity or aggression. This is not to say 
that socialization is complete by 4 months of age; only that it should begin before 
that time. Continued exposure to a variety of people and other animals, as the pet 
grows and develops, is also an essential part of maintaining good social skills. It is 
also extremely important that your new puppy be exposed to new environments 
and stimuli at this time (e.g., sounds, odors, locations, sights, surfaces) to reduce the 
fear of the unfamiliar that might otherwise develop as the pet grows older. 

WHAT TO DO
 It is essential that every puppy meets as many new people as possible (including babies, 
children, adults, and seniors), in a wide variety of situations, but be careful not to 
overwhelm it. Begin with calm introductions to one or two people at a time. If the pet 
handles this well, then more people, increased noise, and more activity can be added. It 
can be beneficial to ask each person who meets the puppy to give it a small piece of 
kibble or a tiny treat. This will teach the puppy to look forward to meeting people. It will 
also discourage hand-shyness, since the puppy will learn to associate new people and an 
outstretched hand with something positive. 

 Once the puppy has learned to sit on command, have each new friend ask it to sit before 
giving the treat. This teaches a proper greeting and will make the puppy less likely to 
jump up on people. You should make certain that the puppy has the opportunity to meet 
and receive biscuits from a wide variety of people, especially those who differ from those 
in the family home. In the case of puppy socialization, variety is definitely the spice of life. 

The fear that might arise from the way a person looks, acts, sounds, moves, or perhaps 
even smells might be prevented by exposure during the socialization period. In particular, 
every effort must be made to see that the young pup has plenty of opportunities to learn 
about children. They can seem like a completely different species to dogs since they walk, 
act, and talk much differently than adults. Running, screaming, bicycles, roller blades 
and skateboards are also some of the varied stimuli that might be more common when 
children are around. Puppies that grow up without meeting children when they are young 
may never feel comfortable around them when they become adults.

 In addition, if you consider that perhaps you might want your pet one day to be a service or visitation 
dog, the range of possible sights, sounds, smells, actions, and interactions to which your 
dog might be exposed could also include riding on elevators, the sounds of hospital 
equipment, wheelchairs or the patient in a nursing home with a cane, walker, oxygen 
tank, or iv pole.

 Lack of experience with a variety of people during puppyhood is a 
common cause of social fear, avoidance, and biting. 

PUPPY CLASSES 
 Attending puppy classes during the primary socialization period (which begins to wane 
by 12 – 14 weeks of age) is another excellent way of ensuring multiple contacts with a 
variety of people and other dogs. This relatively new concept in training involves enrolling 
puppies early, before they pick up bad habits, and at an age when they learn very quickly. 

Puppy training and socialization classes are now available in many communities where, 
with the proper healthcare precautions, puppies can be admitted as early as 8 – 10 weeks 
of age. These classes can help puppies get off to a great start with training, and offer 
an excellent opportunity for important social experiences with other puppies and a wide 
variety of people. Since there can be some health risks when exposing young puppies to 
other dogs and new environments, the best age to start your puppy in classes, and the 
best classes in your area, should be discussed with the family veterinarian. For further 
guidelines on puppy socialization and puppy classes, visit the American Society of 
Veterinary Behavior website at avsabonline.org.
 
AVOID UNPLEASANT EXPERIENCES 
 A young puppy ’ s interactions should always be supervised to ensure nothing happens 
that might make it afraid of people. Go slow with socialization exposure, and if the pet 
ever seems anxious, take some time out and then re-expose it to people in slightly calmer 
situations. 

 In addition, avoid all physical punishment. Harsh scolding or punishing a young pet will 
damage its bond with you and weaken its trust in people. Techniques such as swatting 
the pup, shaking it by the scruff, rubbing its face in a mess, and roughly forcing it onto its 
back should never be used. Pets that are raised using these methods may grow up to fear 
the human hand, and are more likely to display avoidance or become fear biters. In 
general, any interactions with people that might make a puppy anxious should be 
avoided, particularly during the early months of its life. 

 Socializing takes time and patience, but the benefits are worthwhile, so be sure not to 
miss the opportunity to guide your pup through this important process. Proper 
socialization will help ensure that your pet grows up to be social, friendly, and well 
adjusted. 

Yarmouth Veterinary Center
2013

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