Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
Why Organize a Puppy Socialization Party?
If you got a new puppy, then the clock is ticking! His or her socialization window starts at 3 to 4 weeks of age and closes as soon as 14 to 16 weeks. During this critical window of opportunity, you want to expose your puppy to as many people, animals, objects, sights, sounds, and surfaces as possible.
Social interactions officially start when puppies are still with their mom and littermates. As the puppies mature and rely less and less on their moms, they will start exploring their environment and developing relationships with their littermates.
Exposure Needs to Start Early
It's the caretaker's responsibility (breeder, foster parent, or shelter) to get puppies used to some common household sights and sounds during this time, like other pets and people—including adults, seniors, and children. Then, once the puppy is in his new home at 8 weeks old, it's the responsibility of the new owner to continue the socialization process, which should technically continue for the dog's lifetime.
The Plasticity of a Puppy's Brain
What is so special about this socialization timeframe, and why is it so important? "This is the critical stage during which the neural system is primed to receive input about future stimuli," explains veterinary behaviorist Dr. Julia Albright.
During the socialization window, puppies are less fearful of encountering unfamiliar stimuli and situations and are more likely to approach humans and objects and interact with them if they have a good head start. Alternatively, a lack of appropriate early socialization can result in problematic behaviors such as excessive fear and even aggression.
Don't Create Overwhelming Situations
A puppy socialization party, therefore, can provide the means for the puppy to encounter many different types of people who look, smell, or move in a way that's different from their new owners. It's just as important, however, to pay attention to the puppy's body language and avoid exposing the pup to overwhelming situations that may induce stress or fear. Just as puppies readily absorb pleasant encounters, it is also easy for stressful situations to have a negative impact on them.
"Prior to eight weeks of age, puppies need to be safely and gently exposed to as many different environments as possible and to interact with and be hugged, handled, handfed and trained by at least 100 people, especially children, strangers and men and then, by at least another 100 people during the first month in their new homes."
— Dr. Ian Dunbar
What About the Risk of Infectious Diseases?
Many new puppy owners are discouraged from socializing their puppies due to the fear of exposure to viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites that lurk in the air or are present on the ground where puppies sniff and walk.
Owners Should Weigh the Pros and Cons
These fears are not completely unfounded, as young puppies are particularly vulnerable to serious, potentially life-threatening diseases such as parvo and distemper. Hence, this encourages some puppy owners to keep their pups in a "bubble" until they are fully protected by vaccinations.
Yet, these dogs miss out on early socialization and training. They miss out on critically important events like puppy classes where they can learn valuable life lessons such as further refining their bite inhibition, appropriate play, some foundational basic training, and adapting to new people, sights, smells, sounds, surfaces, and other experiences.
It may, therefore, be challenging for puppy owners to make a decision: Should they take the conservative approach and keep the pup isolated due to fear of disease? Should they risk exposure and take their pups everywhere due to fear of behavior problems?
While puppies’ immune systems are still developing during these early months, the combination of maternal immunity, primary vaccination, and appropriate care makes the risk of infection relatively small compared to the chance of death from a behavior problem.
— American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
Create a Safe Environment for Socialization
The ideal approach to protecting your puppy and exposing them to the real world is somewhere in the middle. This balanced approach entails exposing the puppy to people and other dogs in controlled settings (e.g., puppy classes where significant hygiene measures are taken) and minimizing the risks of disease exposure.
A puppy socialization party can, therefore, be a great way to allow the puppy to meet people in a safer manner, rather than taking the puppy on walks to public parks or other risky places just for the sake of meeting people. But of course, puppy parties should not be a substitute for puppy classes (which have so much to offer in the training and social behavior department).
How to Organize a Puppy Socialization Party
When organizing a puppy socialization party, the most important consideration is to watch the puppy's behavior and have control over the situations he is exposed to.
- High-value treats
- Puppy's favorite toys
- Collaborative friends
- A variety of people (men, women, children, toddlers, babies, seniors, people of different heights, different skin colors, people with mustaches and beards, different personalities, people with different types of hats, umbrellas, canes, uniforms, bikes, sunglasses, strollers etc.)
Tip: Slow and Steady Wins the Race
A puppy should not be exposed to a puppy socialization party cold turkey. Exposing the puppy to a large crowd can be an overwhelming experience and may cause the puppy to feel stress or fear. Rather than being desensitized, there is a risk that the puppy may become sensitized, which is the opposite of what one wants to accomplish.
Before organizing the event, the puppy should have been allowed some time to adjust to his new home and new few family members. Afterwards, friendly strangers should be incorporated into the puppy's environment, starting with one stranger, then two, and so on.
The goal is for your puppy to form positive experiences, and even well-meaning children or people may, at times, interact in certain ways that may be overwhelming and even frightening to a young puppy. You want your pup to feel comfortable around a variety of people who take the time to follow clear instructions and who will hand feed, handle, and interact with your puppy in a positive way.
Tip: Create Positive Associations
Keep the treats handy and ask for anyone interested in interacting with the puppy (who isn't?) to hand-feed treats as the puppy receives attention, one guest at a time. If you are concerned about excess calories or tummy upset, guests may offer the pup his kibble just around feeding time or a favorite toy.
With children, you will have to provide clear instructions on how to interact. Place your body between your puppy and the child until the child clearly understands what to do.
It's all about creating positive associations with as many different people and characters. You will need to keep an eye on your puppy's response to these people. In an ideal situation, your pup should look happy, confident, and curious to meet each character.
Rather than taking puppies to the people, bring the people to the puppies. Have puppy parties four nights a week, wherein all guests, especially children, men and strangers, gently handle and train the puppy.
— Dr. Ian Dunbar
Tip: Keep Things Positive
If you notice fearful body language or signs of stress at any time, keep tabs on it and try the identify the reason (is it the tall person who is wearing sunglasses or a hat?). Then, think about what you can do to ameliorate the situation in the future (e.g., feed treats every time your puppy sees people wearing sunglasses).
You may want to jot down any things that appear to cause tension or frighten your pup so that you can set up a counterconditioning and desensitization program with that particular stimulus. If your puppy shows any signs of fear, stop the interaction, and consult with a behavior professional for help.
Tip: Promote Calm Behaviors
Okay, big admission: The term "party" is not very appropriate and may create problems. It may suggest rowdy, overexcitable behaviors, whereas the goal is to create a calm, structured, yet stimulating environment. Puppy parties should not be promoting puppy over-excitability (excessive jumping up, whining/barking, and nipping). It's important to promote the puppy's ability to relax and focus despite the distraction of many people.
So, while it's great to create positive associations with a variety of people, it's also important to do so without promoting high-energy activity and excessive emotional arousal. Puppies can be encouraged to remain focused through simple, reinforced exercises. Easy exercises that can help promote relaxation and focus include "look at me," "sit," or hand-targeting. You can take turns asking for these behaviors and having your guests ask them as well.
Tip: Products that have a calming effect such as DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffusers like Adaptil, installed a couple of hours prior to the party, may help the pup feel more at ease.
Tip: Give the Pup a Break
After several pleasant yet controlled interactions, the puppy may grow tired. It's always best to stop the interactions on a positive note with the pup wanting more, rather than tiring the pup out so much so that they withdraw or exhibit avoidance behavior. It's, therefore, a good idea at some point to call it quits and give the puppy a break. When overstimulated, young puppies tire easily, and they need a nice nap (which by the way, helps solidify the experience).
Provide your puppy with a quiet spot away from the hustle and bustle, but still within hearing range where he can sit back and perhaps chew on a toy before taking a little nap. It's good for the puppy to learn to relax to the point of sleeping while hearing people in the background. If your puppy seems to have a hard time relaxing, by all means, provide him with more distance.
What About Other Dogs?
You will likely want to invite other dogs to your puppy party as well, but you need to be picky here to protect your pup from infectious pathogens and emotional scars.
To play it safe, keep it small, perhaps no more than two or three canine visitors. Invite exclusively dog owners you know and who can guarantee you that their dogs are up to date on their inoculations. Also, make sure such dogs are not overly hyper and that they are rather gentle, low-key types.
As with people, you want to monitor the interactions and ensure everybody is having a good time. Your pup should feel safe. Later on, as she gets more confident, you can then graduate to exposing her to more spirited get-togethers perhaps encompassing some more boisterous, four-legged friends. Variety is the spice of life, so make sure that your pup gets to know a variety of dogs, big, small, white, black, tri-colored, furry and short-haired.
Even better, play it safe and rather than inviting other dogs to your puppy parties, take your puppy to puppy socialization classes organized and monitored by a dog trainer who puts a great emphasis on controlling infectious diseases by keeping the location sanitized and checking every pup's vaccination records. A professional there monitoring will also help ensure safer and more productive interactions.
Continue to Organize More Puppy Parties
It's a good idea to organize future puppy parties before the window of socialization closes. These parties must involve more people the puppy doesn't know and may have more distracting features once your puppy shows signs of being comfortable with the initial party. You can even make a few special "theme parties" to help your pup learn more about being around children or men, which some pups find more challenging to adapt to.
Start with inviting over a few men and then progress to inviting over tall men, short men, men with beards, men in uniforms, young men, and older men to watch a football game. Let them take turns petting, training, and handling your pup. Feed your pup treats when there is loud talking, hand clapping, sudden gesturing, or movements (as when the team wins) so to help your puppy accept these behaviors as normal.
At another time, invite a few children of different ages over and allow your puppy to get used to hearing them laugh, giggle, run around, and just be kids while you feed your pup treats. Then, let the children interact with the pup and follow your instructions on how to gently pet the puppy and feed treats.
As seen, a puppy socialization party can provide several benefits, but it's important to always keep an eye on the puppy and remember that he's the one being celebrated. Avoid overwhelming situations which can be big party poopers and put a dent in future interactions. Keep it fun and positive, and your puppy will come to enjoy being around people.
- Dog Star Daily: Why Don’t We Adequately Socialize Young Puppies With People? Dr. Ian Dunbar.
- Danenberg S, Landsberg G (2008). Effects of dog appeasing pheromone on anxiety and fear in puppies during training and on long-term socialisation. J Am V.
- Stop fake news! Debunking pet behavior myths by Julia Albright, MA, DVM, DACVB.
- AVSAB American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Puppy Socialization Position Statement.
© 2018 Adrienne Farricelli
Ellison Hartley from Maryland, USA on December 29, 2018:
This is a great article. I think this can really help someone with a new puppy to get him socialized in a safe way. I have heard way too many stories about people taking new puppies to dog parks and having really bad experiences that stuck with them forever.Starting them off the right way makes all the difference!
During your puppy’s first three months of life, he will experience a socialization period that will permanently shape his future personality and how he will react to his environment as an adult dog. Gently exposing him to a wide variety of people, places, and situations now makes a huge, permanent difference in his temperament.
When you buy a puppy from a responsible breeder, the socialization process should start before you even bring your puppy home. Gentle handling by the breeder in the first several weeks of your puppy’s life is helpful in the development of a friendly, confident dog. As early as 3 weeks of age, puppies may begin to approach a person who is passively observing them, so having a knowledgeable breeder who encourages a positive experience with people – adults and children — will help shape the puppy’s adult behavior. As their puppies develop, good breeders allow them to experience safe inside and outside environments, car rides, crates, sounds, smells, and gentle handling.
6 Tips for Socializing an Older Dog with Other Dogs
Ideally, puppies have been socialized with a variety of experiences by the time they reach 12 weeks old. But sometimes, this is impossible, and then you need to learn how to train your dog. Socializing an older dog with other dogs can be trying at times and require a different approach than when socializing puppies.
Signs that your Dog is not Socialized
Socialization helps your dog react positively in unfamiliar environments. It prevents unwanted behavior, like jumping on, or nipping at people. Without it, dogs will behave anxiously or fearfully, which, in turn, leads to other behavioral problems like aggression. If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, your dog may not be socialized.
- Is he afraid or aggressive towards people?
- Does he raise his hackles when approached?
- Is she nervous when out on a walk?
- Is she shy around others?
- Is he too excited by others, making them anxious?
Socializing an Older Dog with Other Dogs
Learning how to train your older dog varies depending on its age, breed, and temperament. You still need to expose your dog to new situations, and the following six tips will make that easier.
1. Use a Muzzle
Muzzling proves to be a controversial issue among pet owners, but sometimes it’s necessary. It is imperative with large breeds. Muzzles help prevent bad behavior like nipping, and they also help other people feel relaxed around your dog. When people are relaxed, dogs pick up on it and respond in kind. Read more about the pros and cons of wearing muzzles on this interesting article from Psychology Today.
2. Host a Dog Play Date
Don’t take your dog out to the park at once. Try organizing a small party with a maximum of 3-4 dogs at a time at first. Like us humans, each dog has its own unique personality. Make sure they are all similar in age, size, disposition, and styles of play. Try using an app like PatchPets, which allows you to check the other fluffy friend’s profiles. If you cannot find an app like this, joining some local Facebook groups is also a great idea.
3. Go on Walks Together
New experiences are a vital part of socializing an older dog. The exercise allows your dog to burn energy, which helps your dog remains calm. Try to avoid punishments if he starts to misbehave. Instead, use positive experiences and treats as a distraction.
4. Work Up to the Dog Park
The dog park is the best environment for socializing your dog. However, when learning how to socialize an older dog with other dogs, you have to take it in stages. If you start with this, it may make matters worse. Start by incorporating the area around the dog park into your walks. Then, let your dog approach the fence to see and interact with other dogs.
Know what the do’s and don’ts when visiting a dog park. Always reward good behavior with treats. Deal with bad behavior by merely moving away. Consider using a social app for dogs to track your dog’s progress. Make notes of any particularly positive experiences or connections that form so that you can return to them later.
5. Introduce People One by One
Keep your dog on a lead and let your friends and family members approach slowly and speak softly. Giving them treats to offer your dog will also help. Make sure they avoid talking loudly or in a high-pitched voice. When dealing with strangers, give them a treat or favorite toy to pass on to your dog to help it form positive associations. If your dog reacts negatively, have the person slowly back away and try again later.
6. Keep Calm and Carry On
Whenever your dog begins to act frightened or anxious, you must not react harshly. Doing so will reinforce the fears your dog already has. Instead, remain calm and ignore the behavior where possible. The important thing is showing your dog that everything is okay, and there is no reason to be scared.
When socializing an older dog with other dogs, remember that the key factors are time and repetition. Do not worry if things do not go smoothly it is okay if progress is slow. Just make sure that you are continuously supportive, calm, and loving while reinforcing that new experiences are positive things. Given time, everything will work out.
“6 Tips for Socializing an Older Dog with Other Dogs”
Guest Author Bio: Gigi Wara is a writer who loves covering and discovering topics about language and acquisition and education-related stories in general. She has written for many businesses since 2015. At his time, Gigi writes for PatchPets, Australia’s first social dog app designed to help dog owners socialize their furry friends with other dogs and dog owners. Connect to Gigi via Twitter .
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How To Socialize An Adult Dog
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to socialize a dog properly within this window. Maybe your dog was very sick as a puppy and your vet recommended that you keep them inside and away from other dogs. Or perhaps you rescued her at an older age and she just never got a good opportunity to socialize before.
Whatever the reason your dog wasn’t socialized as a puppy, it doesn’t mean he has to be relegated to a life without dog friends or free play with others. Below you’ll find several tips on how to socialize adult dogs.
Walk your dog daily — and introduce them to other dogs
Dog walks are great opportunities for your four-legged friend to see and possibly meet other dogs and people, as well as practice proper behavior when out and about.
Why? Well, for one reason, because you’re just bound to run into more social situations when you’re out on a walk than when you’re at home. But walks are also wonderful for socializing dogs because they’ll have less pent-up energy due to the exercise and should be calmer and more submissive.
Remember not to pull back on the leash or yell at your dog if they bark or otherwise act up, because this increases their excitement level, makes the experience negative, and makes them associate that feeling with other dogs.
Instead, maintain calm-assertive energy and distract them with a correction, whether it’s a sound you’ve trained them with, a quick tug of the leash sideways, or touch. When all else fails, you can always calmly walk away.
Use a muzzle when other dogs are coming over
If you know that your dog barks or growls at other dogs, it can help the experience to use a muzzle.
Obviously, this prevents the danger of biting or attacking, but it can also make both dogs calmer so they’ll be more receptive to meeting and have a more positive experience. Cesar recommends the Funny Muzzle because its amusing appearance goes a long way towards making other owners calm as well.
Safely expose your dog to different social activities
Don’t rush things, but if you can introduce your dog to one new activity a week, it will go a long way towards helping them socialize and remain calm and well-behaved. Using a leash and muzzle helps in this regard, as does making your dog an observer at first.
For example, instead of just taking your unsocialized dog into a dog park and hoping for the best, you can expose them slowly by walking them around the outside of the fence and letting them see the dogs play and have fun.
Socializing your dog doesn’t have to be something that you struggle through on your own. To get more helpful tips and tricks, check out Cesar’s new DVD, Essentials of Dog Behavior: Socialization.
How do you help your dog to become and stay socialized? Let us know in the comments!
Ask a Question Here are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.
Question: Socializing a New Dog?
I adopted an adult Pit Bull from the pound about 6 months ago. They told me at the time they thought he might have been used for fighting as he had some scarring. He's never been aggressive with anyone in our home, or people at all, and never been aggressive with our Chihuahua or ShihTzu, despite the both of them constantly barking at and being aggressive towards him (they have their own little clique and he's definitely not invited to join). He's actually a very loving, sweet dog, but he is huge, muscular, and strong, and he looks scary.
Recently we took him to the lake where there were lots of other dogs playing, many off their leashes, and he kept looking at them and whining, like he wanted to play with them, but because he's never really been around other dogs out in public, and I haven't really had him that long yet, I held him on his leash the entire time. There were a few other dogs that came our way, and even though he'd been whining to play, whenever they came close to us he kinda lunged at them. He wasn't barking or growling, his tail was wagging and he seemed happy and not trying to be mean, but I'm just not sure. The lunging just kinda happened out of nowhere, and he never bit any other dog, but I honestly can't tell if he was just trying to get them to play with him and not doing a great job of communicating that, or if the lunges were signs of aggression.
I've been reading online and he didn't show any other signs of aggression, and his hackles weren't up, so I'm so confused. He desperately wants to play with another dog, and offers his toys to our small mean girls and they want nothing to do with him. I'd love for him to have a playdate with another big dog, or be able to give him a little more leeway the next time we go to the park, but I'm also afraid to risk him potentially harming another dog in case I'm completely wrong and he really was trying to be aggressive. If a dog is dog aggressive, wouldn't he be that way with our other 2 dogs, especially since they go after him and he basically ignores them?
It does sound like he is just nervous and unsure how to "play". We had that issue with our rescue wire hair dachshund, and we had one lesson/evaluation from a dog whisperer (I kid you not) and it got him settled in and WE learned to understand his behaviors and reactions.
She gave us lots of tricks and tips to get him socialized. This has worked very well for many years. Now that he is getting older he is reverting back a little (with the odd behaviors) but since he is older--and so are we--we don't take him as many places. He is fine in the house and with us, so we are not going to go back for a refresher.
If you are in Pittsburgh, I an recommend the lovely gal we used. She was amazing and I believe she still "whispering".
Some dogs, especially rescues, sometimes need a professional to help THE HUMAN guide them into the appropriate reactions. A lot of it is us--not them--and teaching us humans how to understand AND REACT TO the subtle behaviors that are coming from the dog's instincts.
I haven't looked, but there may even be YouTube videos to help with this. I am not sure we even knew about YouTube when Clarence came to us.
If you can't find a good video, talk to your vet and see if you have someone near you or if they offer those services at your vet.
Stores like Pet Smart have training classes. Your dog would benefit and learn social skills.