Socialization is Just for Puppies

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I come across many people (some dog trainers included) that believe you need to socialize adult dogs to teach them how to act appropriately around other dogs or people. While it would be handy if adult dogs could still be socialized after 6 months old, it is simply untrue.

Puppies go through certain socialization stages as they grow. Below is a detailed view of the socialization stages of puppies. Be sure to catch a couple key socialization times: Fear Imprint Period and Pre-12week


Of all the time a dog is a puppy, the time before it is 12 weeks is the most critical. Socialization should begin before you even receive the dog – when it is 3 weeks old. During this time period dogs learn how to interact appropriately with each other. This is when dogs develop good bite inhibition and some social skills. This is why it is best to wait until the puppy is 8 weeks old before adopting or buying it.

First Few Weeks After Adoption

Assuming you bring home the puppy at 8 weeks old, the next few weeks will be all about meeting new people. From 8weeks until 12 weeks, puppies need to experience new people, places, and things. Be sure to work on creating positive associations during this time period though. Don’t just bring the dog around everyone and everything and expect things to go perfectly. If the dog shows any signs of fear, do not correct the dog, simply encourage and give lots of treats to help the dog get comfortable!

This is also a great time to introduce your puppy to other dogs. While other puppies can be fun to play with, it is important to let your puppy interact with safe adult dogs. Adult dogs can teach your puppy how to be polite with other dogs. Be sure you choose a calm, patient adult dog to teach your puppy some basic dog-dog manners. Also remember that it is up to you to determine when your puppy needs breaks –breaks are good!

Fear Imprinting Period

Puppies between the age of 8 to 11 weeks are sensitive to physical pain. You should avoid any medical procedures that may be painful to your puppy (i.e. spaying/neutering). Make all vet visits fun and full of play and treats.

13-16 Weeks

More appropriate human interactions that can teach the puppy bite inhibition with humans, confidence building, and problem solving. During this stage, take your puppy to places it will be taken to as an adult and start teaching your puppy how to problem solve!  Give your puppy some doggy puzzles and teach him some fun tricks to help him learn how to learn – yes, dog need to be taught how to learn! It is a great confidence builder.


Most importantly, beware of advice that recommends pinning your puppy to the ground, holding its mouth shut to stop biting, or sticking its nose in anything. This will only damage your relationship with your dog. Your dog wants to trust and love you, but doing anything punishing like that will make him question your intentions! Show him you can lead with kindness and patience.

Please follow your veterinarian’s recommendations on vaccinations and disease prevention. There are safe ways to socialize your puppy without direct exposure to deadly diseases.

Adult dogs have already formed their opinions about things and gone through their own experiences. You cannot “socialize” an adult dog, but you can help them develop better associations with their triggers. You can teach them how to deal with situations, but you cannot expect them to learn better manners or just “get over it” if you throw them into stressful situations unprepared.