How To Socialize a Puppy: Before Vaccinations, Fearful and Shy Puppies!

November 15, 2022 / Dog Training / By: Lilianna Parker

How to Socialize Your Puppy

When researching how to properly raise a puppy you have likely come across the term puppy socialization and have heard that it is very important.

However, this term is actually much broader than many people think, and it involves more than just introducing your puppy to people and other dogs. So, what is puppy socialization anyway?

Socializing a dog involves introducing them to as many varied positive associations as possible. While this includes introducing a puppy to a variety of people and animals, it also includes exposing them to a wide variety of environments, sights, and sounds.

Here we will be explaining everything that new puppy owners need to know about socializing their puppy safely.

This will include the steps that you need to take to socialize a puppy, including an unvaccinated, fearful or shy puppy.

Additionally, we will also be explaining what you should do if you have any issues during the socialization process.

Let’s get right into it!

What Does It Mean To Socialize a Dog?

Socializing a dog involves introducing them to everything and anything that they are likely to encounter in their lives.

This does not only involve introducing your dog to things like children and other dogs but also environments and objects that your dog will likely encounter at some point.

For example, introducing your puppy to things like cars, bicycles, and buses will be incredibly important if you live in a city.

Meanwhile, puppies that live on a farm will need to be introduced to things like cows, chickens, and tractors.

Of course, it is also important to socialize your puppy with a variety of people as well. This will prevent your puppy from being fearful around strangers. 

Similarly, it will also be a good idea to socialize your puppy with other animals like cats and other dogs, especially if they are going to be around them at some point in their life.

What Happens if You Don’t Socialize Your Dog?

If you do not socialize a dog, then you are more likely to encounter issues with fear and severe anxiety.

After all, the world can be a very frightening place to an animal who hasn’t been exposed to very much.

However, it is never too late to socialize a dog, you will just need to be more cautious and encouraging throughout the process.

You will likely need some extra help from a professional and be an experienced dog handler yourself to work with an unsocialized adult dog as well.

When to Socialize a Puppy?

The best time to socialize a puppy is as soon as possible. This is because the younger you socialize a dog, the better off they will be in the long run.

Although the optimum age range for puppy socialization is 1 to 3 months old, not everyone has the luxury of bringing home a puppy at 8 weeks. So, starting as soon as you can is optimal.

What is the Ideal Puppy Socialization Age?

Technically the ideal puppy socialization age is between 3 days old and 12 weeks old.

This is because this is the age when puppies are most accepting of new environments and stimuli without fear.

Most of this time window is not spent with a puppy’s forever family most of the time. Rather, this time is spent with their breeder or a foster family.

As a result, it is always important only to buy from breeders that have a solid puppy socialization plan in place.

Assuming that you bring home your puppy when they are 8 weeks old, the first month of having them is the best time to start socializing them with different sights and sounds.

However, you will need to be careful as puppies are not fully vaccinated yet at that time.

When is it Too Late to Socialize a Dog?

Although it is always easier to begin socialization when a dog is still a puppy, it is never too late to socialize a dog.

However, the process will almost always be more delicate and take more time. You may need some extra help from an experienced dog trainer or animal behaviorist during this process as well.

This is because you will need to take into account the dog’s anxiety and stress level when introducing them to new things.

Considering that older unsocialized dogs usually become fearful around new things, you will need to approach these things more slowly and carefully to ensure that the dog has a positive experience.

How Much Socialization Does a Dog Need?

Dogs need a lot of socialization in order to be calm and confident in a variety of environments. However, this socialization doesn’t always involve as much work from you as you may think.

Young puppies are constantly experiencing new things simply because they haven’t been alive for very long. Believe it or not, this is socialization! Even just doing things like vacuuming your home and taking your puppy with you for a car ride are forms of socialization.

Of course, taking your puppy to new places and having them meet new people is important too. However, most of us do not have the time to constantly be socializing our puppy in this way.

Taking your puppy for one big adventure a week where they can meet new people and explore a new place safely is a great socialization goal for most puppy owners.

Puppies sniffing each other, socializing

How to Properly Socialize a Puppy

So we have explained what puppy socialization is, but how do you go about socializing your puppy? If you are a bit confused. Don’t worry! 

Here we will be breaking down what puppy owners should do to have a well socialized dog.

1. Start Off Small With New Things That are Nonthreatening

When bringing your puppy home for the first time you do not need to stress about taking your puppy out and introducing them to new people and dogs. In fact, it is best to hold off on doing this for at least a couple of weeks.

Instead, now is a great time to introduce your dog to new things within your home and in your backyard.

Introduce your puppy to new things like the vacuum cleaner, sounds from the TV, and even just the sound of street traffic

It is always a good idea to ensure that these introductions are always positive ones.

Pairing these new experiences with some treats or toys is a great way to keep your puppy feeling good. Of course, it is always good to have an upbeat attitude yourself when introducing your puppy to new things as well.

2. Have Your Puppy Explore Your Home and Backyard With Supervision

Once your puppy has been home for a few days, they will likely have some more confidence and want to explore the world themselves. This is a great thing for your puppy to do, but for their safety, they should still be supervised during this process.

For this part of socialization, you should just let your puppy go around and sniff things in their environment. Now, you should be warned that puppies like to pick things up in their mouth, and this is why they should still be supervised when exploring.

Having a toy on hand will help redirect them from chewing on inappropriate items.

3. Introduce Your Puppy to Safe New People and Animals

Once your puppy seems to be confident in their own environment, you can then start introducing them to safe people and animals.

Now, it is crucial that at this step you are introducing your puppy to people and animals that you know will be gentle and kind to your pup.

This is because you definitely would not want them to have a bad experience with introductions at this stage.

Introducing your puppy to your family members and friends is a great way to start with this, and the wider variety of people that you introduce them to the better.

While it is a good idea to introduce your puppy to children at this stage, it is best to always supervise these interactions and let the kids know how to properly handle a puppy.

Similarly, you should only really be socializing your puppy with dogs that you know will be friendly to them and are fully vaccinated with their core vaccines

This will prevent your puppy from getting sick or injured, and it will also make them much more likely to have an enjoyable and positive first experience with meeting another dog.

4. Go Out and About

Take your puppy to dog-friendly stores during socialization

Once your puppy has been vaccinated at around 12 weeks old, you can start taking them out and about without any fear of them getting sick.

Taking your puppy for walks will help them become confident in public, and they can sniff new things and see new kinds of people and dogs.

While dog friendly parks can be a great place for your puppy to explore, it is best to hold off on going to off leash dog parks at this stage.

This is because you will want to still prevent your puppy from having a frightening interaction with another dog, especially if they haven’t been exposed to many yet. 

Similarly, it is best to prevent your dog from having extended interactions with other dogs while on a leash. 

Now, it is definitely possible to start taking your puppy out for adventures before they are fully vaccinated. 

However, you will need to be more cautious. We will be explaining some safe ways that you can do this a little later on in this article.

5. Gradually Widen Their Experiences

Now, over time you will want to gradually widen your puppy’s experiences as they age.

Going to a variety of locations with them and doing fun new things regularly will help your puppy become a well-rounded adult dog.

Once your puppy has been introduced to some things now may be a good time to do things like attend a puppy training class or attend puppy play groups.

This will help socialize your puppy to other dogs further in a safe and positive environment. 

It is important to remember that socialization is never really finished in a dog, and it is important to continue exposing them to new things even when they are an adult.

Socializing Puppies Before Vaccination

A spitz Pomeranian puppy in a dog stroller on the beach for socialization and enrichment

While it is not safe to take your puppy to places where many strange dogs congregate before being vaccinated, you can definitely start socializing them!

Here are some helpful dos and don’ts when it comes to socializing an unvaccinated puppy.

What Things Should You Socialize Your Puppy to Before They’re Vaccinated

While you will need to be cautious about taking your puppy out in public and having them interact with new people and dogs before they are vaccinated, there are some other things that are completely safe.

Here is a checklist of things to introduce your puppy to before they are vaccinated:

  • Sounds coming from TVs, speakers, etc.
  • The vacuum cleaner and other household appliances that are noisy
  • The sounds of musical instruments (especially if someone in the house plays them)
  • Running water and the bath
  • A crate or playpen
  • A variety of new toys
  • The sounds of loud, outdoor noises like the sounds of traffic, fireworks, etc. (you can play these things over a speaker)
  • Other people and animals that are in your home

Though these things may seem like everyday experiences to us humans, to a little puppy all of the above things are still likely brand new.

Introducing your puppy to these new things is definitely worth it, and it will prepare your puppy for the life experiences that are to come.

What Should You Avoid Before Your Puppy is Vaccinated?

Avoid dog parks until your puppy is vaccinated

Of course, there are some things that you should avoid socializing your puppy to until they are fully vaccinated.

Here is a list of things that you should keep your puppy from until they have all of their core vaccine boosters.

  • Dog parks
  • Strange dogs
  • Strange people
  • Places where lots of dogs walk
  • Places where lots of wildlife is present

It is always best to hold off on exposing your puppy to these things until they are vaccinated because this will prevent them from getting sick

Unfortunately, puppies do not have great immune systems, which means that they can potentially become life-threateningly ill more easily than most adult dogs.

How Can You go on Adventures With Your Unvaccinated Pup?

Now, there are ways that you can start your adventures with your puppy early if you desire to.

Putting your puppy in a doggy stroller will allow them to see and hear the things in their environment without being directly exposed to them.

This is a much safer way to take an unvaccinated puppy for a stroll around the neighborhood, and it is actually incredibly beneficial to their socialization.

However, you do not necessarily need to run out and get a stroller for your puppy. Waiting until they are vaccinated at 12 weeks will be fine as well.

Additionally, it can be a great activity to go for a drive with your puppy, and they do not need to be vaccinated in order to do this. 

Car rides will expose your puppy to new sights and sounds just like a stroller does, it just will not be as up close.

How to Socialize a Scared Puppy With Other Dogs

Now, there will often be a time that a puppy is scared of something during the socialization process.

In fact, many puppies will go through a fear period which may make them frightened of things that they used to be confident around.

Here are some signs that a puppy is afraid of something and how you can help them get through their fear.

Signs That Your Puppy is Fearful

Signs That Your Puppy is Fearful

When socializing your puppy it is always a good idea to watch their body language and look for signs of fear or nervousness.

This is especially true when it comes to their interactions with people and other animals.

Here are some signs of fear to look out for in your puppy.

  • Cowering and crouching low to the ground
  • Having ears pinned back
  • Moving away from the object or person
  • Lip licking and yawning
  • Excessive panting
  • Tail tucked between the legs
  • White of eye showing (whale eye)
  • Refusing food (even their favorite treats)
  • Approaching something slowly (as if they are unsure)

If you notice any of these things in your puppy during the socialization process, then it is a good idea to take a break and revisit it later.

Of course, it is always important to be extra encouraging later on if your puppy has shown to be afraid of something in the past.

How to Socialize Your Puppy to Something They are Frightened Of

If your puppy is afraid of something, then it is best to stop the interaction and make it less scary for them in the future.

For example, if your puppy gets scared by a loud car next to them on the sidewalk, putting some distance between them and the street can help them feel safer during the socialization process.

Once your puppy seems to be doing better, slowly get closer to the street.

Continue watching their body language to find out what distance they are comfortable with throughout the process. You would do pretty much the same process for most stimuli during the socialization process.

While giving your puppy treats can help them get through mildly anxiety-inducing things, this will not always work since very frightened dogs will not eat.

When it comes to sounds that make your puppy fearful, it is best to play that sound on a speaker at a quiet volume. While the sound is quietly playing in the background you can do things like feed them a meal, play games, or pet them. 

Then, slowly make this sound louder over time. Remember, keep an eye on their body language to make sure that they are not getting frightened.

How to Socialize a Shy Puppy

Not every puppy will be extremely confident and social.

Though this is not something that puppy owners need to be extremely worried about, you will likely need to alternate your socialization methods.

Here is how you can socialize a shy puppy.

How Should You Approach Socializing a Shy Puppy?

Some puppies are very shy when being introduced to new people, other dogs, or both.

While your puppy doesn’t necessarily need to run up to strangers, it is important to enforce positive experiences to ensure that they don’t become overly fearful of strange people.

A great way to socialize a shy puppy with new people is by having new people toss your puppy a treat from a distance.

Over time this will help your puppy associate new people with good things without putting the pressure of an interaction on them.

Next, wait for your puppy to approach the new person. Once they do, enforce the behavior with praise and a treat or toy.

It is best for you to provide this praise, as this can become overwhelming for a shy puppy when it comes from a stranger.

It is also best to keep strangers from petting your puppy until they seem like your puppy would be comfortable with them doing so.

Bottom Line: Proper socialization involves puppies meeting and having good encounters to a variety of stimuli, people and other animals. Well-socialized puppies grow into healthier, happier dogs. This also means that social settings like parties or visits to dog-friendly cafes or restaurants will become a positive experience for both you and your dog!


Lilianna Parker

Lilianna Parker is a certified dog trainer through the Animal Behavior College, and has been involved in training dogs in the New York State community for several years. Lilianna has also written numerous works on dog training using positive reinforcement. She believes that every dog owner should have the tools that they need to see their dogs succeed. Her articles and blog posts about dog training are excellent ways for dog owners to get started with force-free training. She owns Simply Positive Dog Training and when she’s not writing or training, she enjoys going for hikes with her Shiba Inu called Cleo!

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