Dogs are subject to a relatively short period early in life where primary social acceptances and tolerance of environmental stimuli are formed. The puppy's experiences at this time determine the general types of animals with which it will easily form social relationships and the types of stimuli that the dog can encounter in the future without fear. Stimuli not experienced during this period will often elicit avoidance responding in the adult dog. Puppy socialization is the description given to the steps taken with puppies during this period to expose them to the species, dyadic social relationships and environmental stimuli that might be encountered in its lifetime.
Common name: Puppy Socialization
Scientific name: Developmental Social and Environmental Exposure
All puppies experience socialization and juvenile developmental periods where social and environmental attachments and tolerances are formed. In consideration of safe pet behavior in a home situation, concerted socialization practices may be more critical for certain breeds including terriers and working dogs and for puppies exhibiting disproportionately fearful behavior.
All puppies experience critical acceptance stages and therefore all puppies require appropriate socialization.
Geographic location does not affect socialization needs beyond exposure to the specific stimuli that can be expected to be encountered in the dog's lifetime.
Clinical signs (primary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Puppy is between 3 and 16 weeks of age, Puppy is agitated or exhibits avoidance in the presence of novel stimuli.
Clinical signs (secondary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Cause (scientific, common term)
Normal developmental period.
Organ system affected
Central Nervous System.
Age evaluation by a professional if puppy's age is unknown.
Puppies do not generally exhibit an outward indication that they are experiencing a developmental stage, and developmental stages do not require diagnosis but rather an awareness of the age of the puppy.
Puppies experience a sudden-onset phase of heightened sensitivity to fear-arousing stimuli and an accompanying wariness around 8 weeks of age, although this period is not exclusive of the socialization developmental period.
Dogs have a relatively short period early in life where social relationships and tolerances of environmental stimuli are formed. Research has identified this period as generally occurring from the third to sixteenth week after birth, and has tentatively segregated it into two periods, the socialization period (3 to 12 weeks) and the juvenile period (12 to16 weeks). The dog's experiences during the socialization period determine the general types of animals with which it will easily form social relationships and the types of stimuli the dog can encounter without fear in the future. This period allows the dog to form social attachments to its littermates‚Äîand by extension, to other dogs‚Äîand to other species such as humans or other animals, and it allows the dog to form familiarities with the non-living stimuli that it might be expected to find in its environment. Stimuli not experienced during this period will often elicit avoidance responding in the adult dog. The dog's experiences during the juvenile period support and extend its earlier experiences and shape its interpretation and reactions to socially relevant behavior in socially accepted animals.
Puppy socialization is the description given to the steps taken with puppies during the socialization and juvenile periods to expose them to the species, dyadic social relationships and environmental stimuli that might be encountered in a puppy's lifetime.
Socialization involves exposing the puppy to people, animals and environmental stimuli that can be expected to be encountered in its lifetime. Such things can include:
People, such as babies and children and the elderly, people with beards or wearing uniforms, backpacks or hats or carrying umbrellas and briefcases, people with physical disabilities and people in wheelchairs, and people on skateboards, roller blades, bicycles and other devices that move. Sporting events and parks, sewer grates and manhole covers, dogs and other animals, cars and other vehicles, elevators, vacuum cleaners and other tools that make noise.
Data indicate that simple exposure may be sufficient to circumvent fear responses as an adult. However, puppies may occasionally exhibit mild avoidance responding to the socialization stimuli and in those cases care should be taken to associate the stimuli with familiar and pleasant consequences. Owners should find out what games the dog likes to play while at home, and then bring that toy on walks. If the puppy shows avoidance in the presence of a stimulus, the owner should encourage the puppy to play in the vicinity of the stimulus. Treats for which the puppy has shown a preference are also excellent reinforcers. Treat giving should be accompanied by a bright voice asking the puppy if it wants the treat, the goal being to create a pleasant emotional state and reaction. The owner's attitude‚Äîfun as opposed to concern‚Äîis most important. In addition, rather than waiting for the dog to react with avoidance at the sight of a stimulus, owners should attempt to anticipate those stimuli that might frighten the puppy and provide preferred toys and treats as they gradually approach such stimuli.
Puppy socialization is preferably carried out by the puppy's owner because the owner knows best the stimuli that the dog will likely encounter in its lifetime. However, if the puppy exhibits exaggerated avoidance responding or fearful reactions to novel stimuli, or if the puppy is not properly socialized and exhibits fearful or agonistic responding in the presence of certain stimuli, professional care should be sought. Treatment would be situation specific, but the most common treatment follows the protocol for systematic desensitization and counter conditioning of approach behavior.
Concerted puppy socialization efforts will help insure that a dog will adjust to and function well with its environment. Such steps will subsequently increase a dog owner's enjoyment of their dog.
Puppy socialization can be accomplished at home or in group training sessions. Consult your veterinarian or qualified behaviorist or trainer for more information.
Landsberg, G., Hunthausen, W. & Ackerman. (1997). Handbook of behavior problems of the dog and cat. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.
Scott, J.P., and Fuller, J.L. (1965). Genetics and the social behavior of the dog. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Jennifer Sobie, PhD
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
Steven Hansen, DVM, MS, MBA