Puppy Socialization 101



If you have ever had a puppy, are getting a puppy soon, or currently have a puppy, you’ve probably heard the term “socialization” many times. With all of the conflicting information out there on the internet, you may be a bit confused about what socialization truly is, how to do it, and when to do it. What does it all mean?!


What is Socialization?

The term “socialization” can refer to the process of building positive associations with new experiences in an effort to help your puppy grow into a confident and well-adjusted adult dog. It’s so much more than just having your puppy meet new people and dogs, although that is a part of it! It also involves teaching your puppy to enjoy new experiences and confidently learn about the world around them. There is a specific time period called a “socialization window” that you have to work with when socializing your puppy, as this is when they develop associations that typically end up lasting throughout the rest of their life. This window varies between individuals and breeds, but generally can be from 8-20 weeks. Any productive work you can do to socialize your puppy during this time frame will help set them up for success to be the adult dog you want them to be!


Misconceptions About Socialization

There are misconceptions about what socialization is and isn’t that tend to make the process confusing for new puppy parents to navigate. Many times you may encounter people with the misunderstanding that “good” socialization just involves exposing your puppy to as many new stimuli, environments, objects, and people as possible early on in life, and that exposure alone is going to create a well-adjusted adult dog. This is not always the case, especially with puppies who may have a more timid or unconfident personality to start out with. Exposure alone isn’t going to create a good socialization experience with your puppy, the new experiences also have to be enjoyable and positive for the work to be effective. You want to make sure that when you are introducing your puppy to new places, people, dogs, and things, that you are also pairing that introduction with something positive (like treats or play) and making sure to watch your puppy’s body language throughout the experience to ensure they aren’t showing signs of being stressed and overwhelmed. Some body language signs of stress to be on the lookout for can include:

  1. Lip flicks- this is when your puppy does a lot of frequent lip licking, licking their nose, or flicking their tongue. When this happens often outside the context of eating, drinking, or anticipating food, it typically can be an indicator of stress or a dog who is unsure.

  2. Whale eye- when your puppy’s eyes are opened so wide that you can see the whites of their eyes, this is called whale eye. This is a common indicator of stress or fear.

  3. Flattened, pulled back ears- When your puppy flattens their ears and pulls them back, this can sometimes be an indicator of stress and fear. Typically this behavior is paired with other stress signals.

  4. Tail positioning- we all know that a tucked tail is the sign of an unhappy or fearful dog, but did you know that wagging tails aren’t always a good thing? If your puppy is wagging their tail with stiff body language, and the tail is stiff and upright, this may be a sign of stress or overarousal. When your puppy’s tail wags, you want to look for a wagging tail that is loose and horizontal with their spine rather than completely stiff and upright.


You want to make sure that when you are introducing your puppy to new places, people, dogs, and things, that you are also pairing that introduction with something positive (like treats or play) and making sure to watch your puppy’s body language throughout the experience to ensure they aren’t showing signs of being stressed and overwhelmed.

If your puppy is showing signs of stress or fear when you are out socializing them, it is very important to remove them from the situation or add enough distance between you and the trigger that they are able to calm down. Letting a puppy “work it out” while they are stressed may actually have the opposite effect of what you want, and may create a negative association or fear response around the triggering environment or situation. The last thing you want to do with a stressed puppy is force them to inte