How to Safely Socialize Your New Puppy with Other Dogs

Puppy Training

Socialization is the greatest gift we can give our puppies. But it's a gift with an expiration date. After your pup hits about 16 weeks, socialization isn't nearly as effective, and won't have the same permanent results. Which is why it's critically important to weed out some of the advice you may find on socialization that is outdated, ineffective, or even potentially dangerous.

I've compiled what I feel is the latest and greatest information regarding socialization with  other dogs, as well as the techniques I've found to be most helpful for my clients. If you have anything to add, please write your ideas in the comments below!

  1. Don't wait until your pup is fully vaccinated. For years, veterinarians recommended that puppies completely avoid other dogs until after they're fully vaccinated. But we now know that the risk of a pup contracting an illness is far outweighed by the behavioral risks that come with lack of early socialization. Check out the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior's position statement on the subject.
  2. Avoid dog parks and pet stores. The exception to tip #1 includes places heavy in dog traffic, including dog parks and pet stores. Places like this, where dogs of unknown vaccination history may frequent, are not a safe place for your puppy to hang out. Plus, there are much safer ways to socialize your pup with other dogs!
  3. Host a puppy play date. If you have a friend with a puppy or friendly adult dog, set up a playdate at your home or theirs. This low-key, safe environment is the perfect recipe for appropriate socialization. If you don't know anyone in your area with friendly dogs, try an app like NextDoor, or join some local Facebook groups to find other well-intentioned pet parents in your area.
  4. Find a well-run puppy class. I strongly emphasize "well-run" here. Puppy classes abound in most areas, but they aren't all created equal. Puppy classes shouldn't have more than 6-7 pups for an average size space, and the pups should be separated by age and size. The trainer should require veterinary records for the puppies to ensure that everyone is up-to-date on vaccinations, and the area should be sanitized before and after the pup's arrival. Play should be monitored closely by the trainer to make sure no bullying or overly rough play occurs.

  5. Let your pup explore the world at his pace. We humans are notorious for wanting to "fix" things by pushing our pups faster than they're ready to go. If you have a shy or nervous puppy, don't put them in situations that make them uncomfortable in the hopes of "socializing" them. You will see greater success in lots of small-scale interactions where your pup has the option to hide, watch from a distance, or leave the area if he's uncomfortable. The power of choice is incredible; when puppies have the ability control their interactions with other dogs, they will often grow more confident and curious about them.
  6. Know what's normal, and what warrants professional help. If your puppy is showing any sort of aggressive or fearful behavior, early intervention is critical. Barking at or hiding from strangers, growling, snapping, and guarding toys or food warrant help from a professional to ensure that proper training is provided as quickly as possible.Feel free to contact us (even if just for a referral for a qualified trainer in your area!) for help.

12 thoughts on “How to Safely Socialize Your New Puppy with Other Dogs

  1. I adopted 2 male akc reg. Spaniels mistakenly from the same litter. They are aggressive with toys. entering doorways, toys, if one leaves our house for awhile the other attacks him when he gets back. They both fight to be an alpha. They are crate trained..we put them in separate rooms for time out…up to 5 minutes. Nothing seems to work…we need help.we love them both…with us they are not food aggressive…but very loving. Can u advise us??

    1. I would stop time outs. You are using there safe zone (AKA crate) as punishment and that is not good for them and might make the situation worse, as you are literally taking away there break spots.

  2. My two dogs are very aggressive one is 6years old the other is 3 years old I think my older dog influenced my younger dog to become aggressive towards dogs the way he is because he was very friendly in his youth how do I stop the aggression

  3. I have a puppy that is just over 16 weeks old. She's a mutt but after DNA testing, she's predominantly lab, german shepherd and has a little bit of rottweiler in her too. She has a dog brother that she gets along with but she hasn't met any other dogs outside of the home yet. I'm in the wichita, KS area and want to know if there's a socialization class that is good here or best tips for socializing her since we've waited so long. The only people with dogs I know have dogs that don't do well with other or have small breed dogs. I'd like to her to be able to socialize with other big dogs as well since her brother is also a small breed.

    1. Great question! We generally look for trainers with CCPDT or IAABC qualifications – you can find a list of trainers on those two certification websites. Look for a class that keeps the group size small and uses positive reinforcement-based methods!

  4. My 13 month old Cane Corso is on guard around other dogs, she seems to be fine until the other dog barks at her, especially if they are bigger. It seems to be selective with medium size dogs & even some small size dogs. She has dog friends; one female & 4 males & idk how many dogs she was with at her dog boarding, she has gone 2 times. 2 dogs ran towards her (& drug their owner) during our walk & I was worried if the other dogs or maybe my dog was going to “protect me” but they were just excited to say “hi” to her & sniff her & she let them. We did also go a few times for Service Dog training classes with the same (boarding) trainer & group of dogs that did the boarding. I just worry it is not enough now that she’s most grown. Everytime she sees a dog at Dog friendly places they bark at her first normally but not all the time.

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