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Socializing a Puppy

There are prime times for socializing a puppy. Most people will get their puppy at 8 weeks of age. Proactive breeders will have already begun socializing their puppies to sights and sounds prior to you getting your puppy. There are breeders however that do little to no socializing for a puppy often because they may not understand the importance. When you get your puppy at 8 weeks we find the next 2 weeks (bringing you to 10 weeks) you have the puppy are very important to socializing.

8 - 10 weeks - very key time frame for socializing a puppy.

10 - 12 weeks - starting to leave that window but still a lot can be done.

12 -20 weeks - 20 weeks (5 months) seems to make the switch that things can take a lot more time to socialize a dog to something.

The more socializing you do in a positive way in the beginning the easier it is to have a dog that is well socialized and not fearful. We often find that if people acquire a dog from a breeder past 12 weeks of age and the breeder has not done any socializing, these puppies can take a lot more work and in some cases may never be as good as if they had been socialized properly.

Pretty well everyone agrees that socializing your puppy is important. What a person defines "Socializing" as can differ a lot.

Definition to Most People:

Most people define socializing as:

1. Dog Park - Take your dog to the off-leash park as much as possible to socialize them to other dogs.

2. Greet on Leash - Have your puppy greet as many other dogs on leash as possible.

3. Pet Your Puppy - Have as many other people pet your puppy as possible.

4. Go up to Sniff - Let your dog go up and sniff anything you want them to socialize to. This could be going nose to nose to another animal or object.

Our Preferred Method

All that needs to happen to socialize a dog or puppy to anything is this:

Distraction (animal or object) is present, while your dog focuses on you.

That statement is very important so it will be repeated again for emphasis:

Distraction (animal or object) is present, while your dog focuses on you.

The dog does not have to go up and sniff or interact with the distraction to socialize to that distraction. It can actually make things much more difficult and can produce some really bad behavioural problems down the road if a dog is allowed to interact and sniff. Not always but we see it happen way too often. This is more of an issue with Mid - High Betas and Alphas.

Why Can Most People's Definition of Socializing Cause Problems?

It won't always cause problems doing it that way but it can so we will list why:

Dog Park - Many people and trainers will say you should bring your dog to the off-leash park as much as you can to socialize them to other dogs.

Pros: Your dog will meet a lot of other dogs. They will get to interact and "play" with other dogs.

The reason we put "play" in quotations is that most dogs do not "play" for fun. It is more like Sparring (think competing in martial arts) than playing. There can still be enjoyment behind it but there is an agenda there to determine which dog is higher ranking. Whichever dog can:

Keep a toy away

Out run another dog

Out wrestle another dog

Will be seen as higher ranking. The lower ranking a dog is (remember Dog Types - Alpha, Beta, Omega) the more that dog will look like they just play for fun. If you get two high ranking Omegas they may be mostly playing for fun and they have no desire to be higher ranking.

If you take Betas or Alphas, they will spar to help increase their rank in the Pack. This is why you see some dogs "playing" and then all of a sudden the play gets a little more rough and then it can turn into a full blown dog fight. Both dogs that were sparring both want to be seen as higher ranking and neither backed down so the sparring escalated and still neither backed down. Then a fight ensues until one backs down or in worst case scenario gets badly injured or killed.

Cons: If you have a Beta or an Alpha dog, dog parks will often create a lot of problems. In mid to high Betas it may not show up until 1.5 - 2 years of age. With Alphas it can show up much sooner. Every time you bring dogs together they need to sort out where they are in the pack. This is your most likely chance for a fight, when pack structure has not yet been established. (Remember the question about putting different wolves from different packs together? Potential to cause very bad problems).

If a dog is aggressive with other dogs at the off-leash park people may think that owner did not do a good job socializing that dog. We have met lots of people where they started taking their puppy to the off-leash park as soon as they could. They took the dog everyday and now the dog will always cause fights when going to the off-leash park. Some dogs want to be Alpha so bad they will fight any dog they see posing a challenge. These people are not bad dog owners, they just tried to do what they thought was right since a large majority of people think that is the best way to socialize a dog. In the case of a dog wanting to be Alpha, the method we list works much better for these types of dogs.

We have an entire article on Dog Parks listing the pros and cons for you to read further if you like. It will help you understand if you do want to go to off-leash parks, what to look for and which parks to choose to help ensure you don't have problems.

Greet on Leash - Many people and trainers may tell you to have your dog greet as many other dogs on leash as possible.

Pros: Your dog will meet a lot of other dogs. Some dogs will do fine with this their whole lives. If you have a low enough ranking dog they can help other dogs that are more aggressive or reactive become better at greeting other dogs because this low ranking dog poses no challenge (we don’t recommend using your dog as a Guinnea pig however as it is very stressful to greet someone who looks like they want to beat you up).


Proper greeting among dogs  involves curving where the dogs would curve in an arc toward each other. Coming face on to another dog shows assertiveness and can trigger a fight. On a sidewalk or pathway you generally don't have enough room to have the dogs curve toward one another.

Pulling on leash - Dogs will tend to pull toward one another on leash. This puts their body language forward which can make a dog look more aggressive to another dog. This can also trigger a fight. Picture the guy at the bar that wants to fight another and his buddies are holding him back. If his buddies let him go he may just go up and talk a tough game to the other person, they may sort things out or a fight may ensue.

Pain or Discomfort - When a dog pulls on leash it can cause them pain or discomfort. You would think that dog would understand it is due to them pulling but almost all dogs don't understand that. They think the other dog or person is causing them that pain or discomfort.

Alpha Greets First - In a dog pack the Alpha greets first. If you want to be considered the Alpha of the pack so your dog respects you and listens then it should be you that greets first.

Learn to Pull and get Excited or Aggressive - If your dog has always been allowed to greet other dogs or people on leash then they will often think it is their right to always do so. This can make it difficult to walk your dog anywhere. They may want to drag you across the street to see another dog or person.

Get Attacked and Cause Aggression - If a dog gets attacked on leash and naturally has Beta or Alpha tendencies then they will be much more likely to act aggressive toward other dogs they see on leash after that point. Omegas will bounce back the best from being attacked on leash. They may just become fearful or show lots of submission to another dog. Betas or Alphas after getting attacked may lose faith their human has the qualities necessary to protect the pack so these dogs take it upon themselves to protect the pack. This in turn can make it very difficult to take a dog anywhere they see other dogs. Many clients we have had, hardly take their dog out for a walk because it is such a frustrating experience to have their dog go crazy when they see another dog.

Pet Your Puppy - This has far less repercussions than letting your puppy greet other dogs on leash.

Pros: Your dog will get to meet lots of people. Many dogs will learn to love other people by getting pet.

Cons: Your dog can get so excited to see any other people that they pull or bark and get overly excited to greet anyone else they see. Some dogs will drag their owners to go over and be pet by another person they spot.

Dogs with natural guardian instinct, particularly those that have natural Alpha qualities may lunge and bite other people. Petting is forcing attention on another dog.

Omegas will accept petting happily and soak it in. Think of the Golden Retriever that is exuberant to see you and as soon as you pet them they melt and stay very calm and quiet until you stop petting them.

Betas will often mouth, nip and jump at you when you try to pet them. They see your forcing of attention as a challenge and will now try to force attention or sparring back on you.

Alphas will growl or bite if you try to pet them on your terms. They may accept petting on their terms but for a short while before they growl at you to indicate stop touching them.

So trying to have people pet an Alpha dog can end with undesirable results.

Go up to Sniff - Many people and trainers think you need to have a dog go up and sniff or interact with another animal or object to socialize. This can work and it can also cause problems.

Pros: When a dog sniffs another animal or object they can become more familiar with that animal or object and then be fine with it.

Cons: It can cause the dog to become more fearful or aggressive of other animals or objects. The Alpha greets and interacts first. By letting a dog go up to the other animal or objects it can be read by the dog as if you want them to be Alpha and decide what they think should happen. With Omegas or Low Betas you will often never have problems. With Mid Betas and higher it can create problems.

Let's give you an example: Imagine you have chickens you want your dog to be socialized to. We had to do this with our two dogs. I will explain our two dogs to give you better background:

German Shepherd Police Dog Drop Out - Our German Shepherd flunked her temperament test at 7 weeks of age so we acquired her from the police breeding program at 8 weeks of age. Prior to getting chickens my wife trained our shepherd to chase certain birds off the property to keep them away from her garden.

Husky Coyote Cross - Our other dog was a rescue and looks an awful lot like a coyote and a husky hooked up. This guy is an excellent mouser. He will spring off the ground and into a snow bank or swath of grass and often come out with a mouse.

Imagine what would happen if we had just let those dogs go up and sniff the chickens (a high prey drive German Shepherd trained to chase birds and a Husky Coyote cross who is an excellent hunter). Dog sniffs the chicken, chicken pecks the dog, dog chomps on the chicken. Someone could ask, "How many chickens does a dog have to kill before they become socialized to chickens?" Our answer would be zero, we don't want to have any dead chickens before we consider the dogs are socialized to chickens.

Instead we used the method we teach which is having the distraction present, chickens in this case, while our dogs focus on us. That is all it took to socialize the dogs to the chickens. Our goal was to ensure that if a chicken escaped we could call the dogs off from killing the chicken. They actually far exceeded our expectations. We can leave our chickens roam the yard all day while we go to town and the dogs will look after the chickens. They have turned from natural predator and prey to part of a pack. It is pretty neat to watch.

Our Preferred Method of Socializing a Puppy or Dog

As you have already seen from above we do this:

Distraction (animal or object) is present, while your dog focuses on you.

The top three things to get your dog to focus on you are Pack Structure items:

1. Food - Work for their kibble.

2. Possessions - Work for their Fetch or Tug toys.

3. Attention - Work for the praise and petting they get.

If your dog is motivated by all 3 things your life is much easier. If they are motivated by none of them it can take a lot more work to help with socializing.

Food is the only item that is a need for your dog. Some people will say their dog is not food motivated but that isn't true. If a dog goes a long enough period of time without food they become motivated. If that dog gets their food for free all the time they can have little to no desire to work for their food early on.

We have worked with dogs that seemed to not care about any of those items so this is what we do:

1. Work for kibble Day 1 - We will give the dog multiple chances throughout the day to work for their kibble with distractions present. The dog may choose not to work for their food. So they don't get any food Day 1. It will not be fed to them for free back home.

2. Work for kibble Day 2 - We will do the same as Day 1 and often a dog will still not want to work for their kibble on Day 2 so no kibble Day 2.

3. Work for kibble Day 3 - Many dogs will start working for kibble just on Day 1 having gone long enough. But some dogs we have worked with will go to Day 3 before they will work for their kibble with distractions present since they are now hungry enough.

Important Note: Remember the A to B Rule in which you can break down Distraction Levels. Trying to work around a really intense distraction for food can be extremely difficult. You can break it down by:

Working further from distraction.

Lessening the distraction. Example: chicken standing still versus chicken flapping wings across the yard or

o Playing back the sound your dog is distracted by on your stereo but at a quiet volume.

We are often concerned about a dog not eating their meal that day. There are many dogs that will just eat every few days. Our husky coyote cross will often go 2 or 3 days on his own without eating. If the dog does not burn the calories they have no need to take in more. Us humans will often take in calories regardless of whether we need them or not. Certain breeds are good at regulating food and others are terrible. For example, you may be hard pressed to find a fat Greyhound. An English Labrador Retriever on the other hand may never pass on the chance for a meal.

Working for Food - We often make the dog do Sits and Downs to earn their meal. You can practice other commands with them as well. Your goal is to have your dog focus on you for their meal while distractions are present.

Insert Photo of Dog working for Kibble near Distraction

Working for Toys - If your dog is very motivated by a toy for Fetch or Tug you can also play these games while the distraction is present to socialize your dog to that distraction. In the case of Fetch or Tug some people may worry their dog will run toward the distraction while playing the game. We will use an anti-pull harness and long rope to keep control of the dog. If they go to dart off, you can use the attached rope to keep your dog from running over to the distraction.

Working for Attention - Many dogs love the attention they get from their humans. Often times people give all of their attention away for free to the dog whenever the dog wants it. You can cut back on the attention you give your dog in the house and save your highest and best praise for them outside when working around distractions.

Example: When we got horses we wanted to socialize our dogs to the horses and vice versa. If we were to let the dogs go up to the horses and let them sniff it could indeed help to socialize them. Or a dog could become fearful and snap causing the horse to jump and then you initialize Predator chasing Prey. Or the horse may spook and kick the dog causing injury or death.

What we did was bring out our dogs one at a time while the horses were in the pen. We would have our dogs focus on us. Our German Shepherd loves her fetch toys so we would play fetch at a distance from the horse. Our Husky Coyote loves food and attention so we could have him do commands and praise him for good behaviour and reward with food.

We never let our dogs go up to the horses even though they are all fine with each other. The reason why is in case we have other horses come over, we don't know how they are with dogs. We don't want our dogs to assume they can go close to those horses too. This could result in them getting kicked and being severely injured or killed.

Socializing Early vs Fully Vaccinated

Many people will want to wait until their dog is fully vaccinated prior to taking their dog out to socialize them. This is often just passed 12 weeks of age which is getting outside of the sweet spot for socializing.

You don't want your dog contracting a disease at this vulnerable stage but you also don't want your dog to develop fear or fear aggression problems.

There are several things you can do to ensure the best of both worlds:

1. Sound Recordings - You can either get your own sound recordings or find all different kinds of sounds on Youtube to play back on your stereo while you have your dog focus on you for kibble or play a game. You can play the sounds back quietly and start to turn them up. Dogs barking, loud noises and other strange sounds can eventually be turned up louder and louder so your dog has no issue with loud noises.

2. Safe spots - Take your dog to safe locations where you know if their is another dog there, they are fully vaccinated and you know that dog has never had a disease.

3. Back of Your Car - To socialize your pup to the super busy areas where you would be most likely to encounter a problem you can open the door of your car or back hatch of your vehicle and practice commands there. You can drive to a busy part of town with lots of dogs, people, vehicles, bikes, etc going passed and you can use an anti-pull harness and anchor your dog to a tie-down point in your vehicle or a seat belt so they cannot escape. Then you can work on Sits and Downs for kibble with all these things going passed. It will help your dog associate good things to everything else they see going on. This is an excellent way to get a jumpstart on training without compromising your dog’s health.

Items to Socialize

1. Loud noises (start with something quiet and work your way up at your dog's pace)

2. Items blowing in the wind

3. Your neighbourhood

4. Farm animals

5. Gophers

6. Squirrels

7. Rabbits

8. Car washes

9. Vacuum (record the sound of your vacuum or have it run in another room and work your way closer)

10. Thunderstorms (recordings of these can be found on Youtube if you are not in thunderstorm season)

11. Gun fire

12. Fireworks

13. Other dogs

14. Cats

15. Dark alleys & other dark areas

16. Car rides

17. Kennel

18. People

19. Kids (Working opposite a daycare or school yard where kids are on the other side of the fence works great)

20. Skateboards, bicycles, scooters, roller blades, etc.

21. Water

22. Anything else you can think of.