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Canine Socialization & Habituation

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

Your puppy is a sponge until about age 12-14 weeks, so help him soak up good stuff! If your puppy is under that age, read on.

  • Socialization - introducing your puppy to other animals

  • Habituation - introducing your puppy to sights, sounds, surfaces, and objects

  • Every interaction you have with your puppy is training, whether you are officially training, or not!

Most people use the word “socialization” to mean all of these things, together. If you are going to DIY your puppy's socialization, this article is a great place to start. (Most people either do no socializing or accidentally do it too much or too intensely, inadvertently scaring their puppy, so if a skilled trainer isn't helping, be sure to click that link.)

Use the socialization checklist from Dr. Sophia Yin as a guide. Add hair dryers and prioritize babies, infants, and other dogs. She included Ugg boots because they scared one of her puppies but that line could apply to any clothing that looks unusual, including costumes or winter gear.

Think of everything your puppy will need to be comfortable with over his entire life. Is there a chance you will relocate from a rural area to a city? Remember to acclimate your puppy to those sounds, then. Consider using sounds from specially designed CDs, from the Sound Proof Puppy App, or from to help.

When working on your checklist, several 5 minute walks better are preferable to one long walk because it can be just too overwhelming for your puppy and you do have to be mindful that pup isn't walking anywhere unsafe.

Worried about taking your puppy out prior to the third round of shots? Don't be, as long as you take common sense precautions. Read more from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. The risk of anxious and aggressive behavior as an adult dog due to under-socialization or poor socialization is much higher than the risk of disease if you are being cautious.

So, because your puppy is not fully vaccinated yet, be careful to avoid walking in areas where other dogs who might not be vaccinated walk (e.g., vet’s office, groomer’s shop, dog park, pet store, and the driveway at those places). Carry your puppy or use a stroller, instead, if you aren't sure if an area is safe. Try a puppy social class, like Little Star at Maryland SPCA or the class offered by our friends at Canine Lifestyle Academy. You may want to avoid walking in the woods (rabies, tick borne diseases), and avoid allowing your puppy to sniff poop. There is a fear period in week 7- 8 so be very cautious during that time that experiences are positive and not overwhelming.

Your goal in the first month you have your young puppy is to introduce 5 to 10 new things per day to your puppy in a low key, positive way and keep track on your checklist. The goal is that your puppy has positive experiences, not neutral or negative experiences. Note any sensitivities your puppy shows and let your pup move at his own pace – don’t force an interaction if he seems nervous, it's time to call the trainer.

Think of it this way - if you force a puppy to interact with something or someone, you are flooding the pup and possibly making him more fearful. It would be like taking a child who is afraid of water and throwing him in the pool, then watching him drown, and pulling him out just in time. That would not make the child comfortable in water, right? In fact, he might panic near water in the future. With a little bit of thoughtful effort, you can raise a puppy who is as resilient and comfortable in the world as possible based on his personality and genetics.

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