NutriSource Blogs

How to socialize your puppy: Your guide and complete checklist

January 26, 2023

When you bring a puppy into the home, they need round-the-clock care. But between the potty training, naps and playtime, there’s a core area of puppy development to consider: how to socialize your puppy.

What does it mean to socialize your puppy?

Early in life, that growing puppy brain develops quickly, taking in and processing all the sensations and stimuli that come with living life.

By socializing your puppy, you’re serving as their guide to the new world. With your help, puppy connects with humans and other dogs. They’re also acclimating to the sensory inputs of their environments, so the sights, sounds and noises of daily life are normalized.

Socializing encodes your puppy with the “rules” of the environment and the various beings they’ll encounter.

Socializing also shapes your dog’s personality. When it’s done in a way that’s gentle and positive, puppy will grow up into a calm, confident dog.

What is the primary socialization window for puppies?

Most puppies go to their new home when they’re right in the middle of the primary socialization window, a critical and highly active period of their brain development. Starting at 3 weeks, peaking at 8 and ending anytime between 12-16 weeks (depending on breed), puppy’s brain gets a turbo boost of social and environmental processing.

Three key areas of puppy socialization

  • Canine: Puppies have much to learn from their original “family pack.” For that reason, puppies should remain with their mother and littermates until they’re at least eight weeks old — ideally, 12 to 16 weeks. After that, puppy socialization classes can reinforce their learnings.
  • Human: Provide many positive encounters with a variety of people.
  • Environment: Get outside so puppy can take in the world through its senses — sights, smells, sounds, textures — along with the typical happenings they’ll encounter outdoors.

How can I socialize my puppy before their vaccinations?

Pet parents often ask if it’s safe to take their puppy on socialization outings before they get their complete slate of vaccinations. They can have outings, as long as you limit their exposure, particularly to adult dogs. That means the dog park is off-limits at this time. But at ages 8 weeks and beyond, they can continue their canine encounters at puppy socialization class.

What happens if puppy gets scared during socializing?

Sometimes, new things are scary to puppies! A plastic bag blowing in the wind or meeting a tall man with a booming voice can cause your pup to recoil and scramble to safety.

Don’t force it. Give puppy space and time to settle and explore on their own.

When they start to come around, make a big fuss with praise — topped off with yummy treat to “lock in” the event with a positive marker.

If they don’t recover from their fright, give puppy a break. You can always try again another day.

Puppy socialization checklist

When puppy goes home with you, socialization with humans, other dogs and their environment should be woven into your daily routine. To help you plan, use this puppy socialization checklist.

Socialization with canines

  • Puppies should live with their “primary family pack” until they’re at least 8 weeks old. Ideally, a puppy will gain valuable socialization from their mother and littermates.
  • Sign up for puppy socialization classes. Group puppy training courses also include time for play. Many trainers begin enrollment at 8 weeks and older.
  • Older dogs in the house. Provide plenty of supervision, because everyone in the pack will need about a month to adjust to the new living arrangement.
  • Don’t visit dog parks and dog-friendly shops until your puppy has their full round of vaccinations. Don’t be shy about warning off other pet parents who approach with their adult dogs.
  • Do help puppy get used to passing dogs. Being out on walks and quick trips to the park can double as exposure time to the presence of other canines.

Socialization with people

Helping a puppy acclimate to people is the easy part — just about everyone wants to meet a puppy.

  • Keep treats handy at all times, so the new person has something to offer as part of a friendly and positive introduction.
  • Invite visitors to the house. This helps puppy understand it’s OK when friends enter your “turf.”
  • Go people-watching. Sit on the front steps or head to a public space. Puppy will need to take in people on the move, including joggers, walkers, parents with strollers and kids on bikes. For their safety, don’t walk a puppy through crowded areas.
  • Focus on variety. Make sure your puppy meets a broad representation of humanity: Men, women, children, teenagers, seniors as well as people who use assistive devices.
  • Safety first! When introducing a puppy to a toddler or baby, keep these encounters closely supervised for everyone’s safety. (Particularly during the chewing stage!)
  • Wear your hat. Cap brims, sunglasses, scarves and other accessories that obscure people’s eyes and faces should be a part of your pup’s people-meeting routine.

Acclimating to the environment

Every puppy is different, and responses to these aspects of your environment can vary wildly from puppy to puppy. These are just a

  • Busy intersections and walkways
  • Passing vehicles, ranging from passenger cars to garbage trucks
  • Pedestrian tunnels
  • Passing trains
  • Public walking path
  • Weather events, such as rain, wind, fog and snow
  • Car rides
  • Airplanes and helicopters flying overhead
  • Crossing bridges on foot
  • Docks
  • Shorelines of rivers, lakes and ponds
  • Automatic doors
  • Elevators (avoid escalators)
  • Transporting sanitation carts to the curb and back
  • Lawn care equipment, such as lawnmowers and leaf blowers
  • Snow removal equipment, from shovels to snow blowers to snowplows

What happens if you miss the puppy socialization window?

So the primary socialization window ends and puppy hasn’t experienced all the things. Don’t fret. They’re past the peak. But there’s still plenty of capacity in that malleable puppy brain! After all, puppies with summer birthdays won’t experience their first snow until months after the end of the socialization window. They find their way!

Treat your superstar right

Pups are our superstars in the making. They need someone like you who can bring out their best! NutriSource’s SuperStar Soft & Chewy Training Treats are the perfect snack to have on hand when socializing your pup. They’re delicious, and won’t crumble in your pocket.

Best of all, every purchase spreads goodness, because 100% of the proceeds are donated to great causes that help kids, dogs, veterans and so much more. Pick up a bag today at your favorite pet retailer and learn more about the NutriSource SuperStar Giving Program.