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Puppy Socialization

Puppies are the most open to accepting new experiences between 6 and 18 weeks of age, so it is crucial to have them safely exposed to new people, environments, and sensations in that period of time.  Socialization should always be a positive experience.  If your puppy is too scared they will learn to fear the new stimulus rather than get used to it.  Start farther away and reassure your puppy with cuddles and treats, moving closer only if they are calm.


Because they aren’t fully protected until they have received their second set of shots at twelve weeks, do not go into dog-heavy areas such as pet stores or dog parks, and only meet other dogs who you know are vaccinated and safe.

Puppy's Rule of Twelve

Socialization is a crucial part of a puppy's development and will give your puppy the best chance at being a confident, well-adjusted adult.  A puppy is most willing to try new things before twelve to sixteen weeks of age so it is important to get them out there right away to experience the world!


  This checklist shows twelve things (with twelve examples) that your puppy should experience before they are twelve weeks old.  Note that every situation must be a positive one!  If your puppy is not enjoying the experience never force it or it can be detrimental to their development.  Treats and reassurance can help if your puppy is frightened but if that isn't enough you can increase the distance between your puppy and the stimulus or remove them completely.


  Keep in mind that the examples listed are only suggestions!  Any new and different experiences your puppy can have in a positive way are good for them.

Before a Puppy is 12 Weeks Old They Should Have...

Experienced 12 Different Surfaces

  • Dirt

  • Asphalt 

  • Grass

  • Mud

  • Metal Grate

  • Tile

  •  Woodchips

  • Sand

  • Rocks

  • Elevated (table, counter, etc.)

  • Uneven ground

  • Underbrush

Experienced 12 Different Locations

  • your yard

  • other people's homes

  • vet clinic (not for an appointment)

  • groomer (only to greet, not groomed)

  • lake / pond / river

  • elevator

  • car

  • stairs

  • dog-friendly store

  • pet store (after second set of shots)

  • boat

  • children's playground

Played with 12 Different Objects

  • soft toys

  • hard toys

  • balls

  • noisy toys

  • tug toys

  • paper / cardboard

  • empty milk jug

  • chew toys (bully stick, pig ear, etc.)

  • rope toy

  • crinkle toy

  • treat dispensing toy

  • puzzle toys

Met 12 Different People (Outside Family)

  • children

  • babies

  • adult men

  • adult women

  • elderly people

  • people in wheelchairs

  • people with crutches / canes

  • people with beards

  • people with a hat / sunglasses

  • people in costume

Exposed to 12 Different Noises

  • doorbell

  • siren

  • noisy children

  • baby crying

  • big truck / bus

  • motorcycle

  • washer / dryer

  • clapping / cheering

  • pots / pans clanging

  • vaccuum

  • car door slamming

  • banging

Exposed to 12 Moving Objects (No Chasing!)

  • bicycle

  • skateboard

  • car / truck

  • RC car

  • children running

  • cats running

  • roller skates

  • boat

  • horses

  • vaccuum

  • scooter

  • birds / critters

Handled By Family 12 Times Per Week

  • hold under arm

  • pick up

  • hold to chest

  • hold in between legs

  • look in ears

  • handle paws

  • hold like a baby

  • look in mouth

  • hold on floor

  • carry while walking

  • handle tail

  • trim nails (if comfortable)

Eaten From 12 Different Containers

  • plastic bowl

  • metal bowl

  • coffee cup

  • KONG toy

  • uneven surface

  • puzzle toy

  • from a spoon

  • ceramic plate

  • pie plate

  • casserole dish

  • owner's hand

  • frying pan

Eaten in 12 Different Locations

  • back yard

  • front yard

  • crate / kennel

  • basement

  • bedroom

  • laundry room

  • kitchen

  • friend's house

  • car

  • bathtub

  • under a chair

  • on a table / counter (supervised)

Played With Many Puppies and Safe Dogs

  • vaccinated, well-behaved dogs of appropriate size and age

  • remove puppy from the situation if either dog gets too rough or overstimulated

Left Safely Alone 12 Times Per Week for 5-45 Minutes

  • start small and gradually increase time alone

Experienced Wearing a Leash and Collar 12 Different Times in 12 Different Locations

  • remember to increase distance or remove from distractions / stimuli as necessary to ensure positive experiences only

Fear Periods

It is very normal for puppies to go through various fear periods as they age.  This can mean they are overly cautious of things that they wouldn't have been scared of before, more sensitive to noises, or slightly reactive to new people or dogs.  These periods will pass but you need to be mindful not to introduce too many new things and keep any experience super positive so your puppy's socialization won't regress.  Your puppy may experience one or more fear periods up until a year of age when they generally subside.

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