When Should I Socialize my Puppy?

I am a strong advocate for puppy socialization. I am a firm believer that the more experience a puppy can get in that crucial socialization window (between 8-20 weeks of age), the more successful the puppy will be in life.

But socializing an 8 week old puppy can be tricky. There immune systems are young and vulnerable, they have not been fully vaccinated. So exposing them to new dogs and new environments will leave them susceptible to illnesses.

But here’s the thing. I would rather have a puppy that is properly socialized and gets kennel cough (easily treatable) then have a dog that was kept in a bubble as a puppy and comes out afraid, aggressive and dangerous. Pickle has lived through kennel cough (twice!), and a stomach parasite, and she’s fine. She has also become skilled at reading dog signals and doesn’t pick fights with even the most persistent of pups. I’d call that a worthwhile trade off.

But why take my word for it?

Hardware and garden stores make fun trips for young pups!

Experts are now pushing owners to socialize their puppies in safe, low risk situations, like puppy classes:

“Puppy socialization classes offer a safe and organized means of socializing puppies. Each puppy should have up-to-date vaccinations and be disease and parasite free before entering the class. Where possible, classes should be held on surfaces that are easily cleaned and disinfected (e.g., indoor environments). Visits to dog parks or other areas that aren’t sanitized or are highly trafficked by dogs of unknown vaccination or disease status should be avoided.”

Really, it takes a little common sense, but there is no reason a puppy should be sheltered until they are fully vaccinated (which happens sometime around 20 weeks!). You are wasting valuable time to adjust your dog to the world, and leave them vulnerable to behavior issues later on.

Let’s take a different approach to this. Think for a second about the number of dog that are in shelters/rescues across the country right now. How many of them do you think were surrendered (by very well intentioned owners) because that dog bit someone? How many dogs a year are euthanized because they came from puppy mills and were never socialized to the outside world?

Even at a young age, socializing with older, respectful, fully vaccinated dog is okay for your puppy!

My point is, even owners with the best intentions can get it wrong. Being overly protective of your puppy is great and will probably save you a little money on vet bills. But what will you do when your puppy bites and seriously injures a child because they have never seen one before?

If you are still at a loss for what to do, here are a couple hints:

1) Introduce your puppy to familiar, vaccinated dogs. It will reduce risk, but still allow your dog to interact and learn lessons from the older dog.

2) If your puppy is small enough, carry it in a bag (with it’s head out to breathe). Many pet stores sell ones like these, which we used to socialize Pickle before she was vaccinated. People will get to see, pet and give treats to your puppy, and they are away from danger the whole time!

Travel carriers are great for puppies that can’t walk on dirty sidewalks!

3) Play pass the puppy! Find a dog friendly bar, invite a couple friends, and tell them to go make friends with your puppy. No one in their right mind would refuse the chance to hold a new puppy! Kira and I still have friends that we made this way!

4) Carry your puppy through a plaza, hardware store, pet store, anywhere that dogs are allowed. The more exposures the better! Carrying them will again keep them out of harms way and you can manage their level of exposure.

5) Have a puppy party! Pickle was home for approximately 24 hours when we had 10 or so friends over for a Seahawks party. She adjusted to people coming into the house, being handled, exposure to loud and sudden noises, the whole shebang, all while being in the comfort of her own home! If you have friends with children, I’d encourage they come as well. Teaching a puppy to be respectful to children (and vice-versa) is great for a little puppy!

Socialization is all about positive experiences, so make sure your puppy is happy and comfortable with all the new situations. Starting the socialization process early will give you more chances to expose your puppy to new people, places and environments. There are ways to safeguard against your puppy being unvaccinated, and taking a few simple precautions can open a door of possibilities for where you can take your puppy. If you are willing to take the time to socialize your dog, you will create a much happier and more stable relationship with your dog!