Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Puppy Socialization

Puppy Socialization: 10 Surprising Do’s and Don’ts


How to Socialize Your Puppy ImageThe only way your puppy experiences something is to experience it; you can’t show them pictures or tell them about the outside world. The critical period of puppy socialization is brief; it’s a window of opportunity largely closed by 16 weeks of age.

Would you delay socializing your child until after all vaccines? Would you keep them in the house all the time for fear of disease?

Of course not. Yet some people are still told to isolate their young pups.

Are there risks to early socialization? Of course – as there are for children. But the benefits far outweigh those risks, as the American Veterinary Medical Association agrees, and those risks can be lessened.

Following the guidelines below, I’ve socialized hundreds of young pups in New York City and other areas for over 25 years and taught puppy classes without a single incident of serious infectious disease.

Here are 10 Young Puppy Socialization Do’s and Don’ts:

Take your pup to dog-free shopping areas. Walk them in areas not frequented by unknown or stray dogs avoiding dog potty areas like trees or hydrants.

Go to pet supply stores, parks, dog runs or any area where unknown or stray dogs may go.

Bring him into stores that allow pups such as many banks and hardware stores. Even more stores accept carried pups.

Be shy; ask if it is okay. And, while you’re chatting with the staff about it, your puppy is getting socialized.

Give your pup a day of rest between trips. Go out to new areas every other day for 3-4 trips a week.

Take him out daily. Socialization can be stressful and pups need a ton of rest. I’ve found most pups do better on the “day on/day off” schedule. On days off, use games to build confidence and your bond.

Get to the veterinarian for regular visits. Carry your pup in and out, if you can. Keep him on the table. Get an appointment early in the day .

Allow your pup to wander or sniff in the parking lot or waiting room. Sick dogs go to the vet. Veterinary hospitals are careful and clean, but still, I am cautious.

Allow him to explore his world. Walk him on a regular harness when he is small. Take your time, there’s a lot to see!

Worry about perfect walking yet. That will come. His job is to figure things out. I don’t allow dragging me around or criss-crossing in front of me but other than that, have fun little one!

Keep things short and sweet. A few minutes here, a few minutes there can do the trick. Or sit on a bench and watch the world go by together. Include him on errands.

Keep him out for hours at a time. Pups tire easily. They don’t need long hikes; they need long naps.

Act the way you want your puppy to act: happy, confident, secure.

Act fearful or concerned (even if you are a little) because your pup takes your word on everything. 

Do expose your pup to sensible, well-socialized, older vaccinated dogs who aren’t new additions. Make sure any playmate a part of their family for two weeks or more before your pup plays with them.

Don’t let newly adopted pups play together. The “two weeks or more” rule allows any incubating disease to develop. After two weeks, you’re pretty safe. Don’t allow larger, older dogs to play roughly with a young puppy.

Take a good puppy class – fun, friendly and supervised. Such classes are fantastic socialization as well as a great place to get basic questions answered. Pick a class that has that two-week rule.

Go to classes where pups are allowed to play too hard or beat up on each other. Avoid classes in pet supply stores, especially ones that allow rescues in on the weekends. Supporting rescue is a GREAT thing for them to do but that is simply not a place for a pup not yet fully vaccinated.

Talk to your veterinarian or dog behavior professional if you have questions or if your puppy is having problems.

Wait. Problems caught quickly are generally easier to deal with. A little help early can make a big difference for you and your puppy.

So p-l-e-a-s-e, let’s throw the damaging dog myth that you must wait to socialize your pup away once and for all: Get your pup out early!

Now you know.

If you like my blogs, you’ll love my books:
How to Train Your Dog to ComeMy Smart PuppyChildproofing Your DogDogologyTails from the Barkside.

Visit me on TwitterFacebookGoogle+


  1. I have this bookmarked for when we get a dog!! Thanks for the great tips!

  2. Very helpful list. I’d love to include a print out of this article to include in the folder of info that accompanies my pups to their new homes. Would that be allowed?

    • Thank you for asking, Amy, and OF COURSE! All my info is made for sharing. All I ask is that you credit me and this website in the print outs.


  3. I give My Smart Puppy to my new puppy families and was so happy to find this site. I’d like to reference it on my website. I really appreciate your Dos and Don’ts for socializing. It is always a bit tricky to balance between getting your puppy out there while keeping them safe.

    • Hi Liz –

      Thank you for the kind words and you are welcome to reference blogs or the site anytime you like. Printing things is fine as well, as long as it is done with credit.

      Best – Sarah

  4. So very important. We missed that window because our vet told us to. We had some help from a good behaviorist, and he’s gotten better on walks, but I still have a German Shepherd who can’t be loose in the house when we have guests.

  5. I’ll be handing out this page (with credit) and directing some friends here. Invaluable info!

  6. Hi Sarah, I have a YorkiPoo, she is 6 years old now. I had rescued her from the shelter when she was 6 months old.
    My son and his girlfriend just adopted a 5 month Dauhsund who is very active and friendly. I am puppy sitting for the first week while they are at work, but my yorkipoo is not getting along very well with her. My dog will just go sit by herself and once in awhile throw out a growl to the new puppy. My dog is very protective and attached to me
    Any suggestions what I can do? My daughter has a yorki that use to live with us so those two get along.

    • Hi Judy –

      That actually sounds both restrained and normal from here. Many adult dogs don’t enjoy rambunctious pups and her sitting off my herself and just growling at him is a fine option. Give her time and room and prevent him from hassling her. Don’t try to force them together. She should warm up in time. I’d expect her to snap at him some, too, if he’s pushy and “in her face.” That’s an adult dogs job and they often start doing it when a pup is around 5 months old. Enjoy them both! Sarah

      PS: Have you seen this blog? Might be helpful to you:

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.