When to Start Dog Training and Socialization with Your Puppy

Congratulations on your new fur baby! Now that you’ve brought your furry bundle of joy home, it’s time to start planning for the future. If you want your new puppy to grow into a happy, confident dog, then it’s important to have a plan for how to properly socialize and train your puppy. Before you dive right into stressful outings and group obedience classes, I’m here to guide you with some helpful tips. Keep reading to learn when the time is right to train and age appropriate ways to socialize to set your puppy up for a happy life.

Understanding Your Puppy’s Brain Development

Just like people, dogs’ brains are changing and developing their entire lives. Also just like people, puppies are born as a blank slate. As your puppy grows, and their brain develops and starts absorbing more about the world around them, they go through stages where they’re more open to different types of learning and socialization. 

jack russel puppy on white carpet

  • From about 3-7 weeks old, most of their contact should be with their mother and their siblings. This is what the experts call the Canine Socialization Period. In other words, they’re learning how to dog… learning how to read body language and understand boundaries. 
  • From 7-18 weeks old is when socialization is key. From about 7-12 weeks to 14-18 weeks old, puppies are in a critical learning period. They are taking in so much information about the world around them. So socialization is important at this time; positive experiences with humans, other dogs, and new situations can help set them up for good relationships and learning going forward. This is also the age where most breeders start to release their puppies to their forever homes. Mixed in this stage of socialization is also the first Fear Impact Period. They’re becoming more aware of their environment, and this is when traumatic and scary incidents will have the most effect on a dog’s behavior. If your dog has an odd reaction to things like water, cars, napkins, or potpourri, it’s usually due to something that happened at this stage of life. Puppies will go through several periods of their lives when fear has a lasting impression… again at 9 months and again at 14-18 months.
  • From 13-16 weeks is considered pre-adolescence aka they’re pre-teens. Your puppy is building confidence, learning boundaries, and learning appropriate dog manners and social cues. This is when your puppy’s personality really starts to develop. They may start showing bullying behaviors if they aren’t properly directed.
  • Overall, 6-18 months tends to be the most difficult stage. These are the “teenage years”. Your puppy might be pushing boundaries, being destructive, seemingly refusing to listen, acting rambunctious, and basically being… kind of a jerk. But it’s so important to recognize that your dog isn’t purposely being a brat. Their behavior is a result of the hormones and changes that come along with puberty. Even if your puppy is spayed or neutered, they will still go through this stage because of the hormones and changes in the brain.

Having an idea of the stages of your dog’s development will help you as you move forward in training and socializing your puppy.

When and How To Socialize and Train For Each Stage

If you got your puppy from a responsible breeder, chances are they have already begun some form of training and socializing before they are sent home. With a shelter dog or rescue puppy, things might be a little more iffy if the pup has an unknown past. If the puppy was born to a dog at the rescue, they usually have employees and volunteers working with them, so they will also have a baseline of training and socialization. 

Socialization is one of the most important jobs you’ll have as a puppy parent. Even if your puppy is under-vaccinated and can’t walk around outside, it’s still essential to get them into the world either by carrying them (in your arms, in a bag, or in a stroller) or by sitting with them on a blanket in a public space. You want your dog to be able to be calm and comfortable in busy environments without engaging with everyone and everything in the environment first.

Reward them for watching the world go by or if a stranger happens to want to say hello. That being said, don’t push them too far too fast. You want the puppy to engage on their terms. You’ll also need advocate for them if they are shy, dont want to say hi, or if a person tries to come on too strong. Either way, the main goal is for your pup to form positive associations with new sights and sounds rather than being frightened by them.

Before you begin socializing your puppy with other dogs, make sure they are up to date on their vaccines. Only bring them around dogs of about the same age who are of the same vaccine status. Getting a chance to meet with other dogs is important in the early stages, but staying healthy is a priority. 

puppy socialization tips

While we talk about the importance of socializing our pups with other dogs, I don’t recommend letting unfamiliar dogs greet your pup because leash greetings aren’t natural for dogs and you never know what the other dog is like. These greetings can be unpredictable and end with your dog getting overwhelmed by an overly excited dog, getting barked at… or even bit. Any negative interaction with another dog can create fear in your dog and break down your dog’s trust and feelings of safety with you. It’s far more important that your dog has safe and positive interactions with one calm and stable dog than it is for your dog to greet hundreds of random dogs.

At any age keep your puppy under control and close to you. You never know when a situation could turn sideways, and it will keep your puppy safe as they learn about the world. 

8-16 Weeks

  • Now is the time to teach your puppy impulse control. This can include training cues like “sit”, “drop”, or “leave it” to encourage them to ignore distractions and keep their mouths to themselves. Your puppy is still in the stage where everything goes into their mouths. It’s important to begin now to gently teach them that biting is inappropriate.
  • Start teaching simple cues like “sit” and “stay”. Your puppy has a very short attention span, but just 5 minutes a day will give your pup a good foundation to build on.
  • You can begin leash training inside your home and in your yard. Walking outside of your yard before complete vaccination puts your pup at risk for diseases like parvovirus that can live for months in the soil.
  • If you plan on crate training, this is the time to introduce it. Your puppy will adapt easily, and it will keep them from getting into mischief until they’ve learned boundaries. It can prevent anxious behaviors by making them feel secure and giving them a place that they can retreat to for safety. It’s also a very useful tool for potty training.
  • This is the optimal time to get your pup used to other dogs and people. Don’t overwhelm your puppy with a crowd of new people all at once. Introduce new people slowly, and allow them to gently handle your pup. It’s important for your pup to know how to socialize with other dogs. They need to understand canine social cues and how to interact so they can be confident on walks and in other situations with other dogs.

4-6 Months

  • By now, your puppy should be close to or fully vaccinated. This means it is now safe to start leaving your yard for leash walks. If you started in your house and yard, your puppy should be used to the leash by now. You may have already started working on getting your puppy to walk at “heel”. As you walk in a new environment, you may need to retrain your pup since your new route is full of fun scents and other distractions.
  • If your pup has become a master of “sit” and “stay”, you can start working on more difficult cues. Your pup’s attention span will have increased and you can extend your sessions by a few minutes. “Sit and leave it” is a good place to start. This is an essential command that will keep your pup from eating something dangerous or just plain gross.
  • Recall is an important skill to work on now. Build this skill slowly while also working on ignoring distractions.
  • Keep on socializing your puppy with other people and pups. Just like any other skill, if you don’t use it you lose it. Socialization is the same.

6 months to a year (and more)

This is the stage of development where consistency matters the most. Your puppy is hitting adolescence and will be testing your boundaries. Training regression is very common at this stage, and you may find yourself having to go back over the basics with your pup. Maintain the training schedule you have set, and even if your dog has seemed to have developed selective hearing, keep on working with them. Don’t give up! This is an important and influential time.

Owner with her cute dog on city street

Believe it or not,  consistency during your dog’s adolescent stage helps produce a more secure and confident dog. Even as they push boundaries, they feel safe knowing that expectations stay the same. Your patience will definitely get a workout, but even this stage will pass eventually, and you will see how all your hard work has paid off.

The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to go at this alone. If you’d like help navigating puppyhood and working on your pup’s basic and socialization skills, I’m here to help. Check out Comic Home & Pet’s Dog Training Services page to learn more about how we can work together here in the Seattle area.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *