The Best Ways to Socialize your Puppy

Taking the time to socialize puppies when they’re young will pay off for the rest of their lives – if the encounters are positive. Avoid festivals, concerts, and other loud, crowded places until your puppy is older and less easily overwhelmed.

The following are places where you can introduce puppies to new things. Bring lots of treats and watch your puppy’s body language – if your puppy starts showing signs of anxiety, back off and try again another day.

For some of these places, just watching the activity from across the street will be enough excitement for young puppies. For health and safety reasons, please don’t take your puppy inside dog parks, although it’s fine to sit across the street with your puppy and watch other dogs play. Puppy socialization class, where your puppy will meet other puppies in small groups in a controlled setting, is a much better environment.

People of Different Ages, Races, Sizes, Cultures & Uniforms

  • Bus stops
  • Open air shopping centers
  • Home Depot or Lowe’s (dogs are allowed inside)
  • Downtown in the morning, during lunch hours or the evening rush hour
  • Outdoor cafes and coffee houses
  • City parks that allow leashed dogs
  • Parking lots of grocery stores or shopping centers
  • Across the street from churches, synagogues, mosques, other houses of worship
  • Across the street from schools at the end of the day
  • Nursing Homes/Rehab Centers (people using wheelchairs, walkers, etc.)
  • Fire stations, police stations, car washes, body shops, outside hospitals

Different Flooring Surfaces

Puppies should be exposed to linoleum, hardwood, carpet, concrete, grass, stairs, mulch, sand, wooden steps, bridges and decks, tile and gravel and other surfaces.

To prepare your puppy for noisy surfaces, pick leaves from a tree and let them sit in the sun until they dry, then create a pile for the puppy to walk through. Make a walkway from dog food bags, large garbage bags, or any other crunchy, plastic material and encourage puppy to walk over it.  For small puppies, you can line cookie sheets with aluminum foil, wax paper or parchment paper and encourage your puppy to walk on and off. Have lots of treats on hand!

Dogs and Other Animals

Try to have your puppy encounter as many friendly dogs and other animals as you can before your puppy is 16 weeks old. Here are some places you could visit:

  • Pet stores, including stores that sell cats for rescue organizations (as long as your puppy stays far enough away so as not to disturb the animals in any way).
  • Big box pet stores that sell birds, reptiles, and fish (keep puppy in your cart and out of reach of other people’s dogs until puppy is vaccinated).
  • Puppy socialization classes
  • Groomer locations
  • Private play dates with other puppy owners
  • City Parks (Please–no dog parks until puppy is fully vaccinated.)
  • If you have a friend with a dog-friendly cat, ask if you can bring your puppy over for a meet and greet. Keep puppy on leash to make sure cats aren’t overwhelmed by puppy energy.

Home Appliances, Yard Equipment, Etc.

  • Run your dishwasher, garbage disposal, vacuum, ice maker, blow dryer etc. – keep your puppy at a distance at first until puppy is used to the noises. Use lots of treats.
  • If you have a home office, make sure puppy sees and hears the shredder, fax machine and any other equipment that may make noise.
  • If you have equipment in a garage which is regularly used such as a car vacuum, air compressor, lawn mower, trimmer etc., turn them on and play games with the puppy and feed the puppy treats. At first do this with the puppy inside until puppy gets used to the noise from a distance, and then gradually move closer.

Bikes, Joggers and Strollers

Puppies that are not exposed to things that move when they are young will likely grow into dogs that chase things that move.  Don’t let this happen to your dog! Below are a few places to visit with puppy so that he can acclimate to moving objects and learn that they are normal in the environment and therefore nothing to pay attention to.

  • Walking/jogging trails
  • Parking lots for baby stores
  • Entrance to pediatrician offices
  • Bike races and runs (watch from a distance comfortable for your puppy)

Different Environments

Your puppy will quickly socialize to objects and sounds in and around your home and while this are important, it is not enough. While puppies are young, they need to experience a variety of different environments that they may encounter when they’re older. Here are some ideas:

  • Regularly drive your puppy to a new neighborhood and go for a short walk.
  • Have as many people as possible come to your home. If you are new in town and don’t know a lot of people in your neighborhood, order food for delivery or order products on line that will be delivered by truck – and let the puppy meet the delivery people if possible.
  • If you or one of your friends works for a dog-friendly business, take your puppy to the office or work site for a visit.
  • Try to take your puppy to at least two other homes before the puppy is 16 weeks of age to explore the different scents and objects
  • If you plan to travel regularly with your puppy, take him for overnight stays at a hotel so that he learns to be comfortable no matter where he is.
  • If possible, play with your puppy in and around your car before you have to drive anywhere far together. Take short drives to get puppy used to the motion of the car.

Happy Socializing! Bring lots of treats! And remember: for socializing to be effective, encounters need to be positive experiences for your puppy. Be ready to protect your puppy from anyone who wants more contact than your puppy is comfortable with.

Not saying that you shouldn’t challenge your puppy – you should – just do it at your puppy’s speed. Some puppies are social butterflies and others are shy. They can both learn to be comfortable around new people, places and things, but shy puppies may need to be introduced from farther distances and for shorter amounts of time.

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