Socialization - What, When, Where, and How

Socialization comes up often with grown dogs and puppies. I've hear everything from "my dog needs socialization" to "my dog had lots of socialization" and it's a really common talking point.  Let's lay out what socialization is, when socialization occurs, where socialization occurs, and how socialization happens.

What: According to the dictionary socialization is "a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position." Based on this definition, socialization is your puppy learning their personal identity and learning behavioral norms.  Which brings up when a dog or puppy learns this, because surely dogs can be socialized too, right?!

When: Research has shown that puppies have different development phases.  The canine socialization stage occurs from 3-8 weeks of age and the human socialization phase occurs from 8-12 weeks of age.  In addition to these phases, puppies also have a critical sensitive stage which occurs from 10-16 weeks where puppies learn to be resilient, bounce back, and how to handle new things that come into their life.  Essentially, puppies create a giant dictionary and get to refer back to it as adults.

So as an adult, can a dog be socialized?  No, these phases of socialization don't happen later.  You have one shot.  After these development windows close, your dog is at the social skill level they are at. They have the skills that they have.  Moving forward, your options for adult dogs are behavior modification or conditioned emotional response towards different social situations.  Both methods can take several months or even years of work and won't necessarily solve the problem.

Where: Choosing appropriate areas to socialize your puppy is very important.  New places, surfaces, people, kids, toys, objects, and socially appropriate dogs are essential to a well rounded puppy.  Places that are great for puppies:

  • Sportsman Warehouse
  • Lowes
  • Home Depot
  • Bob Wards
  • Reeder's Alley
  • Walking Mall
  • The Capitol

How: How you socialize your puppy is just as important socializing your puppy.  Don't put your puppy in scary situations or with socially inappropriate dogs.  Socially inappropriate dogs play too rough with puppies or over correct them. Sometimes the outcome can be injury or worse.  So choose adult friends carefully for your puppy.

Research shows that puppies choose puppies that are the same size and play style.  So seek out appropriate play groups for your puppy, which are split by age/size.  Allow your puppy to approach new dogs and people, rather than having them press into your puppy's space.  If your puppy seems concerned or frightened, allow them to have some space.  After they've adjusted and seem comfortable, let them approach the new object, person, or dog.  Trust their actions, never force them into anything, and always start each outing with a fresh mind.

Socialization should be thoughtful and kind.  Be patient, take your time every day, and be amazed at how far your puppy can come by 16 weeks of age.  Make sure to get your puppy out every day and remember that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure for socialization.