The Importance of Human/Puppy Socialization in Dog Training

Don't Let This Be the Face of Your Puppy!

Puppies are like babies experiencing the world with each step and sniff, except they are on an extremely accelerated learning program!   It takes our kids 18 years to be ready to experience the world on their own and be considered adults, but puppies are usually considered full grown anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.

That means as the owners and breeders of puppies we have a very short period of time to make sure our little angels are well trained and socialized before it is too late and they make up their own minds about their world!  Not all puppies are born social wonders, some of them are nervous about people and things they don’t know and they must be carefully taught how to appropriately conquer and care for things in their environment without causing trauma or distress.

Puppies have a short period of time during brain development when they are most impressionable usually up to about 15 weeks of age.  They learn more during this time frame than they will in their whole lifetime.  They learn how to experience their world, what things are happy, sad, exciting, or terrifying.  The quality and quantity of these events has a huge impact on the development of their personalities and can determine the tendency toward good and bad behavior.

The first 7-8 weeks the pup is developing rapidly and learning about his environment through his mother and siblings.  This is why I am adamant that I don’t take a puppy prior to 8 weeks old, there are just some things he can only learn from his mother and brothers and sisters; like appropriate bite inhibition.

The second stage is between 8-14 weeks and this is the optimal time for pups to acclimate to their new homes.  This is the time to teach your new pup how to be well socialized and start training.  Both socialization and training are key during this period of time!

Between 8-11 weeks some puppies go through a fear-impact period, where traumatic or scary events are likely to scar your puppy for life and negative and shy behaviors can last a lifetime!  It is essential during this period to control the quality of the socialization that occurs and if your pup becomes scared or nervous back up and get him out of the situation, even if the situation seems normal or is not scary for you.

I just got a nervous puppy!  I did all my research and homework and the breeder passed all questions with flying colors.  Even when I visited the puppies they were in a busy home full of children and were outgoing while together.  However, when I separated my new pup from his siblings and mother he has become a bit insecure.

His idea right now is; If you don’t know what it is…growl at it!  This is an unacceptable behavior in my house.  My house is far too busy, and I have WAY too much “Life” planned for this pup for him to be insecure, nervous, shy, much less have any aggressive tendencies!

My Plan

He is 8 weeks old, and just beginning his first fear stage, so I must be very careful not to enhance his fears by forcing too much socialization on him at one time in an uncontrolled environment.  I have to learn to read his behaviors and be able to control the people and things that come into his environment.

Some trainers advise flooding; where the dog is flooded with the stimulation to the point he realizes it is not scary or stressful and therefore in theory overcomes his fears.  However, flooding can back fire and make the process worse.

Imagine your worst fear; spiders, heights, being confined or buried.  Now imagine that your therapy required you to be covered in spiders, be pushed out of an airplane, or be shut in a box until you overcame your fear!  I am a little spider phobic, and I simply can’t imagine being covered in spiders, I think it would make my fears much worse!

From your pup’s (or my pup’s) perspective being flooded by people (even if they are well meaning people) can be frightening.  So it is important to get to know your pup and learn to read his body language and signals and take him places where you can control the people.

Signs of Stress

Get To Know Your Pups Signs of Stress

  • Shaking
  • Stiffening of the body
  • Dilated pupils
  • Being able to see the whites of the eyes
  • Tail tucking
  • Showing teeth
  • Avoidance or walking/running away
  • Choosing to lay as far away as possible
  • Rolling over with the belly exposed
  • Barking, Growling or crying

If you see a multitude or mixture of these behaviors get your pup out of the situation, but don’t coddle, hold, or fawn over your pup when he is scared.  Simply back up to a more comfortable area so that you can offer calming signs and the ability to reward your pup, never leave on a bad note while petting and cooing to your puppy, this will be misconstrued as praising your pup for his fears.

How To Control People

Don’t go places that you know will be packed if your pup is likely to be nervous.  Find places that are not busy.  For example I wouldn’t take my pup to Starbucks on a Saturday morning at 8, it is going to be too busy to get good work done and have control over people.  But, Starbucks at 3 during the weekday is not as busy.

Utilize people you know.  Take your pup to friend’s homes.  Take your pup to the vet’s office just for socialization and treats and carry your pup in pet stores to socialize with people.  Because puppies are not fully vaccinated and safe, it is unsafe to let them walk on the floors in pet stores until they are fully vaccinated, so I recommend carrying them if you decide to pop in for socialization!

Run your pup by a church outing to visit with people you know who will respect your wishes, for moving slowly and giving treats.

Always have people give your new pup a treat, this will help to break the ice and the pup will learn that people are good and associate them with treats.  To encourage my pup to approach people I use a treat down next to his nose to lure him to the person then give them the treat to dispense.  As he is eating I take a step or two back so that he is learning to be social and outgoing on his own.  If he comes running back to me, I give the person another treat and encourage him to make the steps forward to take it.  If he won’t make the steps on his own, I will step out with him.

Do not pick him up, if at all possible!  He should learn to be independently social and some dogs will either only be social if picked up, or they become more

Everyone Wants a Well Adjusted Pup!

protective in the arms of their owners.  He needs to learn to stand on his own and deal with people in his own four feet!

Work on your own dog’s schedule; don’t push if your pup is not ready!  If he is becoming more and more social you can begin teaching him to sit and wait patiently for petting and YOU can now be the one to give treats for appropriate social behavior!

I will begin this regiment now, and hope for the best!  Some dog’s are simply standoffish, and not overly friendly but hopefully with a little time, kindness and work together you and I can teach our dogs that people are a lot of fun!  After all, I want a dog that enjoys the company of people and one that I can trust when I go out, and when I have people over to visit!

And finally, I'd highly encourage you to consider picking up a copy of Chet Womach's Hands Off Dog Training formula, for a complete A-Z training plan to put your puppy on.  This stage of your dog's life is full of development.  Its at this young time in their life that you can most easily program their personality, and keep them from ever developing annoying behavior problems.  Don't make the mistake of just thinking your dog will turn out to be well behaved WITHOUT a plan... it doesn't work like that.

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  1. Sonja says:

    Hi, How can I train Minx, my six week old Boerboel to only eat food that I give her. The reason for this is, my previous Boerboel Julie was piosoned a week ago and unfortunatly passed away. I want Minx to be trained so that she wont eat any food given to her by someone else to prevent this to happen again. Kind Regards, Sonja


    marguerite wessels Reply:

    What did you say ti Sonja?


    Sarah Reply:

    I would try the “Leave it” command that is in a blog post on this website somewhere. It teaches your dog that when you say the command “Leave it” your puppy will not even look at the food someone is trying to give her. That is my favourite command because it always works!! So check out that article!



  2. You have covered all the important bases,not everyone knows how important the first three weeks of your pups life are. Ideally the breeder will have lots of different people handling the pups during this time. Even though the eyes and ears are not yet opened the pups can still smell and feel.Great work.


  3. Ruth Herold says:

    I picked up a stray dog, about 5 months old. Unable to find his home, I kept him. He was very nervous and still is. He is now 4 years old and is comfortable with me and my 18 year old Bijon. He is extremely unfriendly to everyone except my daughter and two granddaughters. He especially hates men, but isn’t much better with women. He barks at everyone and goes ballistic when people walk by the house when he is out back or inside when someone comes to the door. I tried the treat thing, but he will not take a treat when he is upset. He runs away and hides under my bed until the people leave. Since he is past puppyhood, is there no hope? He is a very lovable puppy to me when we are alone and it upsets me that he is so unsociable. It’s very difficutl to walk him too, as he is constantly on edge. I have gotten a little better on that note, as long as no one is around, he will walk normally.


    Minette Reply:

    There is always hope!!! However, you are never going to change his personality i.e. he is never going to be a Golden Retriever and love everyone!

    You must work very slowly, VERY SLOWLY and desensitize him by working with the things that scare him at a level that he is comfortable enough to handle. If he can take a treat he is probably more comfortable so try backing up far enough and using good enough treats (like liver) for a job well done.

    It may take him months if not longer for you to see real improvement but you have to work at his comfort level before moving forward!

    It is more difficult but it is NEVER hopeless!


    Pat Emmerson Reply:

    Ruth–I adopted a dog at 8 months who had been severely neglected: left in kennel with little food and no socialization. He is sensitive by nature (mostly Border Collie) and after I adopted him,developed serious fear aggression behaviors that resulted in biting. I worked with a veterinary behaviorist and at least three trainers on different issues–all very slow, all positive, and all while trying to keep my dog below his threshold triggers while raising his threshold. He is 2 years old now, and while I can’t say he’s “Golden Retriever” friendly with strangers, he does go to a dog playgroup every week, he solicits and accepts attention from visitors in my home, he goes on walks downtown and lies quietly at outdoor coffee shops, participates in agility classes and will compete in his first agility trial next weekend. It’s been hard, steady work to get him where he is, and we’re not finished yet. I don’t think we will ever be. But it’s the most rewarding work I have done with a dog. My advice: be patient, seek help from qualified, positive trainers, and don’t give up.


    Ruth Herold Reply:

    Thanks very much for your helpful comments. I’ll try to find a behaviorist. That would be best, I guess, though I can’t really afford it these days. He’s worth it and means a lot to me. My vet wasn’t very helpful. He just said males are like that. I think he’s a maltipoo. my dog, not the vet.


  4. Sandy Belg says:

    Great job with the basics. Not everyone knows about the 8 to 11 week fear time for puppies. I have Therapy Dogs and am excited about starting my new puppy on limited visits and developing her personality and socialization skills.


  5. We are breeders of Labradoodles and we have a dog almost 19 months old that is coming back to us for the 2nd time. He was placed the first time in a family with 4 children and he seemed happy and comfortable with them, but when he left us he became increasingly nervous in their home and seemed to be happy only when they went outside on walks or in the yard. They brought him back after keeping him 6 months. He was very happy here and did calm down after a week or so as far as the nervous pacing and restlessness he exhibited when he came back.

    We then found a family who fell in love with him, Dad is work at home dad and two young but quiet children. they kept him 10 days and called and said he ran away and it took 3 hours, the police and animal control to get him back in the house. They decided to try harder with him and emailed in a week that he was improving. Then 4 weeks later they have now emailed and are bringing him home. One of the children opened the door and Tiger ran out the front and again 2 hours to get him to come back into the home. So they are returning him on Saturday.

    Any suggestions?


  6. Deidra says:

    This was very helpful. My puppy is in the bitting stage how do I stop that.


    Minette Reply:

    Get up and walk away when teeth come out…don’t interact with him when he is biting! What he wants is to play with you so if you walk away every time his teeth come out then he will learn he is not getting what he wants.


  7. Cheryl Thomas says:

    I have a question. I have two dogs 4 1/2 and 5 years. Both fixed, both male. They behave wonderful expect when they see another dog, cat or a person if they are in the car, or if someone comes to the door. How do I get them to stop barking? I walk both at the same time and they behave. I got one dog when it was 3 1/2 and the other at 4 yrs. So a lot of their habits were formed. I have been able to train to getting rid of most of them but there are these few things (which are big) I need to change. One dog was left alone a lot, not fed regularly and had shock collar used on him the other one had 5 days left in the kennel to live, we don’t know how long he was there. They are both very good with people and grandkids, as long as I am ok with the person they are fine. Any help would be great.


  8. kristine says:

    I adopted my (now 3 year) mixed breed (aussie/ retreiver) from a rescue foster home at about 10 wks. I tried to do all the right things when he was a pup but he obviously has trust issues with strangers/dogs and exhibits aggressive / stressed out behaviors. THis article makes me wonder what he learned in his foster home environment that has caused these issues because we could never identify where they could come from. What can I do to help him become more trusting of strangers and not aggressive towards other dogs or even people? He is an absolute sweetheart within our family but others don’t get to see that side of him…help!


  9. janice herron says:

    I have 2 toy poddles pepproni 3years old and mozzoralla 2 years old pp is very well trained/however mozz. was at 8 months attacted by a run away dobberman he to this day barks and screams when he sees a big dog i’ve tried all your suggestions to no advail. any suggestions i’ve learned so much from your web. and still learning janice


  10. pete says:

    I have a 3 yr old english bulldog (vinny).. he is a people/dog dog and loves everyone. Anywhere we go, he gets along with everyone, always the topic of attention. As a puppy, I went through a basic training course with him & all was fine. He is always well behaved. However, we recently brought home a toy Maltise (bella), she was 8 weeks old when we got her. now she’s about 7 months. Vinny took to her from the get-go. they love each other and he has become her protector. The issue I have now is when someone comes to the front door, even people vinny is firmiliar with, he gets VERY aggressive sometimes to the point of biting & now bella is mimicking him. He NEVER did this, even to strangers, before bella arrived. I’m assuming he is protecting her but it has got to stop. Any suggestions?


  11. Carike says:

    We have just received two Pug puppies aged 12 weeks. How do we go about training them – not just socia;ising but potty training etc too? As a group of two, or do we separate them. One is a male and one a female – they are from the same litter. The female is quite delicate an becomes ferful when alone, and the male is sturdy and not afraid.


    Minette Reply:

    It is important for them to spend some time separate from one another! They need to develop their own personalities free from one another and they need to be able to function alone. Have one on one time with each of them and make it fun, and train separately and together!


  12. Hi, i have two dogs, which i adopted they were abandom in the streets
    Puppy Grumpy (male) 2 1-2 yrs approx and Negri Lee (female) 1 1-2 yrs approx. as per vet. my home is in a corner,i have a fence they dont go outside to the streets, but they bark to everyone that passes by, Puppy would bark but some times since Negri is home since she barks so much he is barking with her all the time, I dont mine
    them barking thats how they communicate, but i would like to make them
    shut up when i tell them to do. its there any way i can train them to stop barking, pls help, thanks


  13. Hazel Morgan says:

    Hi, I have two 3 year old red nose pit bulls. They are very loving and well behaved. But when they are out in the fenced yard and another dog comes into the unfenced yard they bark which is okay but they will turn on each other. Normally this last about4 seconds but a couple of months ago one bit the other during this time. What makes them turn on each other when they can’t get to the dog that is running free in our yard? Oh by the way they are litter mates, love each other dearly, they don’t want to be separated even to get groomed. Both have been neutered at 5 mos. I love them dearly but can’t afford another vet bill. How can I stop this behavior? Thank you Hazel


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