Socializing Your Puppy: Why “Later” Is Too Late

It’s a common scenario.

You’ve just brought home your new puppy.  Eight weeks old, all roly-poly fluff and cute as a button.

You’ve heard that puppies need to be “socialized,” and you definitely plan to work on that when you get a chance.  Maybe sign up for a class with your local trainer, or start taking her for walks around the neighborhood.  But not just yet.

You’ll start when the weather gets warmer.  When your work schedule eases up a bit and you have more time.  When the kids go back to school.  And you want to make sure she’s had all her shots first, right?  There will be plenty of time for socializing later.

Wrong.

Unfortunately for many new puppy owners, it’s easy to assume that there’s no need to worry about training or behavior issues at such a young age.  I talk to owners about puppy kindergarten classes and socialization during every new puppy exam at our veterinary clinic, and it’s a constant refrain: “Oh, we don’t need to start anything like that yet.  She’s doing fine right now, no problems.  Maybe when she’s older.”

The fact is, “when she’s older” will be far too late.  Scientifically, here’s the reason why:  puppies go through a critical socialization period from 6 to 16 weeks of age that will dramatically impact their behavior for the rest of their lives.  During this period, their brains are like tiny sponges – soaking up everything they experience and filing it away for the future.

(I should note here that some experts in the field consider the socialization period to end as early as 12 weeks, and there is also some evidence to suggest differences in the optimal socialization window for different breeds – which is a fascinating topic in itself, but beyond the scope of today’s post!  Suffice it to say, as a general rule of thumb, 16 weeks is a good estimation.)

Whatever puppies see at this age, they will consider a normal part of life as adults.  Kids on bicycles?  Fine.  People with umbrellas and shiny coats?  No problem.  Lawnmowers, crying babies, men with beards and hats – for a well-socialized puppy, these things are all a normal part of the world around them.

BUT… beyond 16 weeks, something happens.  New things, which before were accepted with cheerful curiosity and a wagging tail, are now met with suspicion.  Anything that the pup has not already encountered is automatically assumed to be dangerous and scary – so bicycles, umbrellas, lawnmowers, etc. are now terrifying monsters to be barked at or cowered away from.  You may have met adult dogs who are fearful of everyday objects or unfamiliar people; in many cases, this is the end result of poor socialization during this all-important period.

This is actually a pretty staggering fact – nothing “bad” has to happen at all.  A simple lack of exposure at the right time can result in an adult dog who is unable to cope with normal life.  And in practice, this is one of the saddest things I see.

Why are dogs wired this way?  From an evolutionary standpoint, in the wild, having a short window of time for accepting new things makes a lot of survival sense.  For wolves, coyotes, and foxes (the domestic dog’s closest wild relatives) as well as for feral dogs living on their own, odds are high that anything truly “new” is bad news – something that may hurt or kill them.

Thus, there’s an expiration date on how long the canine brain is open to novel experiences.  An adult wolf or coyote that happily walks up to unfamiliar things (like other predators, cars, or even humans) won’t survive long.  Even though our pet dogs lead comparatively protected lives with little to fear from their environment, they have inherited this hard-wired behavior pattern from their more cautious ancestors.  This is why no amount of cajoling and coaxing can convince a poorly socialized adolescent dog that a plastic bag blowing across the parking lot is no big deal – to her, escaping from it or defending herself is a matter of life or death.

So when should you start actively socializing your puppy?  Right now.  As soon as possible.  From the very first day your new pup comes home, the clock is ticking.

Now, one final caveat… what about vaccines?  You may have heard that your puppy should not go anywhere until she’s had all of her shots.

You should absolutely be careful!  Diseases like parvo, distemper, and others can be deadly, and are unfortunately common in many areas.  But consider this – your puppy will not be fully vaccinated until after she’s 4-5 months old.  If you wait until then, you’ve already missed your opportunity.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) feels so strongly about this issue that they published a position statement on puppy socialization in 2008, stressing that owners should be introducing their puppies to new places, people and other dogs prior to completing their vaccination series.  In particular, they strongly recommend beginning puppy kindergarten classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age.

So, what does this mean for you?  It means to be smart about where you take your puppy before she’s fully vaccinated.  I normally recommend avoiding places like dog parks, pet stores, and high-traffic public areas where lots of strange dogs are walked.  Instead, visit friends with healthy, vaccinated pets.  Go for car rides – visit McDonalds, Starbucks, or the drive-thru lane at your bank or pharmacy.  Walk your pup around the block to meet your neighbors.  Invite the kids playing outside to say hello.

Just do it before 16 weeks of age.  Someday, when she’s a happy, well-adjusted adult, your puppy will thank you for it.

  1. I need to get busy!! Little Winkie is 3 not ha old tomorrow. Puppy class is in our near future!

  2. Love it! Especially the explanation of why! I always wondered why they are wired that way!

    • It is very interesting, isn’t it? Our dogs still have a lot of the behavior patterns that their wild cousins have, even though it’s not really adaptive for them anymore in their new role. Evolution is a funny thing!

  3. Pingback: Puppy Kindergarten Vs. Obedience Class: What’s The Difference? – Dr. Jen's Dog Blog

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  5. This is an excellent article. The information is spot on, but never give up on an older dog with shyness issues. Time, patience and a lot of desensitization experiences (similar to socializing young dogs) can pay off in the long run. I know as I own a very shy, socially reactive dog. At 5 years she has passed her CGC and is able to function reasonably well in public situations. Never. Give. Up. While you’ll probably never have a rock-solid, super confident dog if you miss the socialization window, or if something goes wrong, you can have a functional, happy canine companion if you’re willing to put in the work.

    • I definitely agree – that’s great advice, thanks for commenting! In my experience, I find that dogs can definitely learn to become more confident and also overcome specific fears as adults, but it takes a lot more time and effort to “fix” a problem after the fact than it does to lay a good foundation in the beginning. Of course, we don’t always have that luxury! Some of the most rewarding patients I’ve worked with have been very fearful, reactive adult dogs who gradually blossom into relatively calm, happy pets over the course of several months of work. It sounds like you’ve done a great job with your girl! 🙂

      • Couldn’t agree more with Bob D’s & jsummerfield8’s comments. We took on an 18 month Golden Retriever who had never been socialised and it’s been hard work but we are getting there with him

  6. I agree with early socialization, but there is a lot to be said about leaving pups with their family until they’re 12 weeks old. It might not give you as big of a socialization window, but if you’re buying from a GOOD breeder they will have done a lot of socialization for you. Not to mention pups learning how to interact with other dogs from their litter mates and mother. If you understand dogs it makes training even easier.

    • Yes – this is a great point! Staying longer with mom and littermates has some definite advantages in terms of canine social skills, bite inhibition, etc. so if the breeder is proactive about socialization with her litters, then this can be a great option.

      • I have found that 9 weeks is better because the puppies play starts escalating into more serious fighting and best to have them not practice that behavior ,especially if one is a bully and one shy. My puppy and his brother wew getting inti seriouse altercations .

  7. I see these types of articles all the time, and usually from trainers and more often from trainers who personally recommend buying from breeders, and don’t recommend adopting, just so these issues can be addressed. However, what I have seen adopting dogs from rescues and shelters for over 30 years at all ages from puppies and as young adults and full size adults, is that truly, none of these practices can really make a difference. I have found that more socialization can’t hurt, but it is not necessary to having a dog that will be solid in temperament.

    I have adopted way too many adult dogs and temperament tested many more who came from pretty horrible beginnings as puppies and who never had all these proper training experiences, and they were healthy and happy dogs. What they needed more than anything was proper training and socialization at any stage.

    What I see people doing in choosing a puppy is that they believe if they get a puppy and do all these things, then they will have a great dog, but actually they are disappointed when, despite doing these things, their puppy is fearful and shy and reactive. Yet an adult dog who never had all these benefits is not fearful or shy, but just needs training because he has been left in a backyard.

    It goes back to nature vs. nature, which has never been proven. The standard acceptance is: “Buy a puppy from a breeder who does “A” and “B” and “C” and you will be guaranteed to have a great puppy. But if you adopt you will get so much unknown and a ticking time bomb.” All of these things are not true, yet trainers perpetuate this over and over and people want to believe.

    • Dogs come with a predetermined genetic code. You can socialize a puppy perfectly and because of genetics it still will always be a bit more fearful while a dog with less socialization is a more outgoing dog due to its genetics that allow it to have resilience. The fact remains early age exposure to multiple.stimuli is needed for any dog to be its best. Socialization is not training it is exposure hopefully without accompanying trauma. Having fostered over 600 rescue pups many born in my home I see the differences in individuals from all backgrounds including those born into my care. What the pups experience while in utero also can affect their personalities.

      • “The fact remains early age exposure to multiple.stimuli is needed for any dog to be its best.”
        In a perfect world, everything would be at its best for all animals and humans, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where there are a lot of different things happening all the time. I think the above statement in quotes is more of a theory rather than reality. Reality is that not every animal is going to get “the best” of everything, but they can still be great dogs. I don’t want people to believe that they won’t have a great dog if they adopt an older dog since that is what the above quote implies.

      • “Socialization is not training it is exposure hopefully without accompanying trauma.”
        Socialization can definitely be a form of training if it is done correctly, just like anything else. Bad socialization throws a dog into a dog park and hopes for the best. Good socialization understands about thresholds and desensitization and walks the dog gradually around a dog park first to judge the reaction to the dogs and the dog gets a positive encounter with all types of dogs. Prior to a dog park, the dog is walked in the neighborhood to adjust the dog to an urban or suburban environment and works with treats and shows the dog benches and fences and dogs behind those fences. So, socialization is definitely training and done properly or improperly, can make all the difference.

      • Thank you for your reply, I was a bit upset when I read that article as like you I work with rescue.
        I am only a small link in the chain where I pick up the dogs and cats and put them on transport when it goes through our small town.
        They are like humans, all have their own personalities and stories.
        I also have dogs of my own that were born here and they have some of their parents behaviours and like human brothers and sisters etc all have their own ways.
        I do not have all the litter still but have contract with them all

        • >>They are like humans, all have their own personalities and stories.<< This is very true! Every dog is different, and may react differently to the same set of circumstances. Thanks so much for commenting 🙂

    • Hi Jackie! Thanks for sharing your thoughts – you do raise some great points, although I would disagree with a few things also.

      Most reputable trainers I know (including myself!) don’t have any kind of breeder vs. rescue agenda at heart in sharing this information. I whole-heartedly agree that you can get wonderful rescue dogs who come from very difficult backgrounds; and you can also get a carefully chosen pup from a breeder and do all the right things, but still end up with an adult dog who has some significant issues.

      What science tells us is that for any given adult dog, his overall fearfulness or confidence is the result of a complex interplay between nature (the genetic foundation he was born with) and nurture (socialization or lack there-of, as well as any significant good or bad experiences he may have had during puppyhood and adolescence).

      Adult dogs can certainly make great strides in overcoming a lack of early socialization, especially if they have a genetically sound, confident temperament. And genetically fearful pups may always remain somewhat anxious and afraid of novel things despite good socialization during this critical window. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition, just one piece (albeit a significant one, in my experience) of the puzzle.

      My feeling is, it’s always best to maximize your chances for having a well-adjusted, confident adult dog in any way you can. If you’re fortunate enough to have your dog during the critical socialization window, you can certainly use this to your advantage 🙂

      Thanks again for commenting!

  8. I would love to see an article that talks about the importance of proper socialization of dogs at any age. The two common types of articles I always see about socialization are like this one: it talks about puppies and some pre-determined fear stages, that frankly I don’t believe exists. The second type of socialization article that I see, though far less frequently than the articles about puppies that draw in more attention, is the type that usually has a headline, “So, you just adopted a dog from a shelter! Now what?” Gosh, that is so demeaning to adopted dogs and highly ignorant of their needs as animals in new homes, just like those adorable and fluffy puppies. These dogs aren’t these things that are going to melt in the corner or chew off your kids hands. They need just as much attention and time and understanding as those cute puppies, and they should be treated the same and their needs should be given the same attention.

    Here is a recent example on my end that I am referring to. In March of this year, I adopted a purebred, three month old Rottweiler puppy from a rescue in Central California. Before hand I confirmed she was very friendly with people and animals despite the garbage beginnings tied up in a yard in a drug infested neighborhood. She was an owner surrender after the rescue volunteer talked to them about how the dog was being left alone in the yard and tied up.

    I have adopted many adult dogs from rescues, so I new how to start to figure out what made this dog tick and how to find out what they needed. I applied the exact same methods to this three month old puppy that I did to a five year old Dachshund I adopted several years back. I started to see what type of training they had (none) and proceeded to start to walk them in my urban neighborhood and see how they were with strange people and animals. From there I took them to public parks and walked them on the fringes of the busy areas and spend time with them to see how they responded to distractions and sounds. Now remember, this is a three month old puppy and a five year old Dachshund receiving the same treatment and methods. The timeframe was longer for the Dachshund due to his extreme under socialization, but the methods were the same. Once they cleared the neighborhood and the public parks, I then took them to the fringes of dog parks to see how they would respond to the fenced in areas and more dogs. Once they were fine with the fringes I brought them in during the daytime on leash initially when the dogs were very low in numbers so they had time to adjust and sniff around.

    Both dogs were eventually comfortable inside dog parks and open space hikes in a short timeframe. In fact the Dachshund recently started his pet therapy career at a Masonic home.

    FYI, for those asking about the three month old puppy and not having the traditional rabies vaccination at four months, California recently changed their guidelines to allow the rabies shot at three months so she was ready to go, including being spayed and vaccinated, when I picked up her at three months.

    I have applied those same methods to other dogs I have adopted, both as puppies and adults. Each was unique in their needs and had different timeframes, but the methods were the same. Nothing was done differently for the puppy as I did for the adult dogs.

    • I agree with you that this could be a great topic for a future post! Newly adopted adult dogs definitely have their own set of needs, similar in many ways to the needs of young puppies and every bit as important.

      As you say, helping an adult dog acclimate to his/her new surroundings and the world at large is much the same process as socialization in puppies – the main differences are that it may take longer with an adult dog (as you noted, with your dachshund), and that in theory, adult dogs may not take novelty quite as much in stride as a young puppy. In my experience, anxious or reactive adult dogs require a more concerted effort at gradual exposure with plenty of positive reinforcement to become comfortable, vs. a 10-12 week old puppy who is neurobiologically primed to encounter new things and take them in stride. Your experience may be different – I welcome your perspective either way 🙂

      But, given that we normally recommend making sure that puppies have overtly positive experiences with new things vs. simply neutral ones, this is probably more of a theoretical difference than a practical one in most cases. A great discussion, and I thank you for bringing up these very interesting points!

  9. Always fun to come across an article that confirms that what I’m doing is right :-). My puppy is now 6 months old, but from the day I brought him home at 10 weeks of age, we started socializing: exposure to lots of different people and environments. I am involved in volunteer therapy dog work with my dogs, so it’s critical that they are comfortable in all kinds of situations with different kinds of people.
    My dogs are a toy breed, so it’s very easy to take them places. Before they finish vaccinations, I use a carry bag or stroller to keep them off the ground and away from other dogs that I don’t know. But I make sure they get lots of exposure to “safe” dogs of all sizes.

    • Yes – that sounds like a perfect way to do things! Using a carry bag or stroller is a great way to get exposure to new environments while minimizing the risks of illness and unwanted with strange dogs or potentially scary things.

  10. As a responsible breeder I NEVER let a puppy leave my house before 8 weeks. Normally not before 12 weeks. During that time I make sure they’ve been exposed to a multitude of things so when they do go to their new homes they don’t have to miss some of that important exposure learning period. This is why buying from pet stores is a very bad idea. Limited exposure to a variety of things.

    • That’s wonderful – I love to meet breeders who are so proactive and careful with their pups! With someone like you, who is making sure that good socialization is happening during this time, staying with mom and littermates until 12 weeks is really the best of both worlds 🙂

  11. My dog is almost 4 yrs. old and it is like you were writing about her. What can we do?

    • Start now, obedience classes are good. Just be aware, and protect your dog. It will ease up.

    • Even if your dog is older, there are lots of things you can do to help – it may take longer for adult dogs to acclimate to things, and they may need a more focused effort (with lots of rewards!) to help them learn to be comfortable around things that frighten them, but it can definitely be done. The most important thing is to let her learn at her own pace and make sure she feels safe.

  12. I took my babies all over town to meet everyone the dsy i brought them home..also pulled their food bowls away while eating..put my hand in food..so they learn never to snap if someone or child cones near them while eating..let them lick a baby ..then take them away say very good thsts enough..all common sense thongs prevents future tragity

    • It sounds like you’ve done a great job with socializing your pups! They are very lucky to have you 🙂

  13. I agree with what you are saying however I work with dog rescues and often you are dealing with grown dogs, not puppies and many of these dogs have not had the proper socialization but that does not mean you can’t still have a great dog. Training should be ongoing and yes some dogs require more work but that doesn’t mean it is a lost cause. Knowledgeable, experienced adopters are very impotant.

    • I agree wholeheartedly – my goal with the post was to point out that many new puppy owners mistakenly wait longer than they should to make any kind of concerted effort to get their pup out and about. With adult dogs adopted later in life, obviously we don’t have this luxury… but that in no way means that they can’t still be wonderful dogs. I would agree also that knowledgeable adopters can be incredibly valuable 🙂

  14. Can I publish this article in my breed magazine? I’m the editor for the Saint Bernard club of America.

  15. Puppy class definitely. Around the block? Unless you have a map of where parvo has walked, a great way to expose a pup to disease, particularly with new owners keen to get out. Socialisation is defined as bonding with a different species – dog to human. A responsible breeder exposes pups to noises and new experiences in a safe environment. A new owner can too. People who do not carry germs from other dogs, bicycles, cars, loud noises, vaccuums, all can be experienced within the home or within the car viewing the world. From a hygienic environment.

    • Thanks so much for commenting! We can agree to disagree on this – I stand by my advice that a puppy needs to experience walking on sidewalks and grass, and see and interact with the world in all the ways he will as an adult. So if you want your pup to be comfortable going on leash walks on the street, this needs to start early as well.

      Provided that your puppy is current on his/her booster series for parvo, distemper, etc. they are fairly well-protected even from direct high-dose exposure – parvo is sadly very common in our area, but we virtually never see it in vaccinated puppies regardless of where they’ve been.

      It’s best not to tempt fate, of course, which is why I don’t recommend dog parks or other obvious high-risk areas. But there is no reason that a properly vaccinated 8-10 week old pup can’t walk around their neighborhood safely. If you avoid any place at all that a strange dog could potentially have touched or walked on, your list of possible places to go will be extremely limited.

      So my advice is – be smart, don’t take needless risks, but do get your pup out-and-about doing normal dog things from 8 weeks of age. Don’t keep them in a bubble away from the world 🙂

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  17. And what about all the rescued dogs that are adopted as adults with no information about their early experiences?

    • These dogs are products of both their genetics and early experiences, like any other dogs 🙂 Some may be very stable and confident, others less so. In my experience, adult dogs can make great strides in overcoming any fears or behavioral issues that they may have – and many may not have any significant issues at all.

  18. Here’s a question: we adopted a rescue dog who was 6 months old when we got her. She is very fearful of anything new and men. My suspicion is that she was abused during the critical socialization period. Is there anything we can do with her now to help her understand the world is a safe place? She’s 2.5 years now.

    • Fortunately, yes – there are definitely things that you can do to help her 🙂 Adult dogs can make great strides in acclimating to new things, they just may take more time and focused effort than a young puppy.

      I would recommend gradually getting her out and about in different places, just go slow and give lots of rewards if she is willing to check things out. You may need to stay on the periphery of things for a while until she gets comfortable (such as going to Petco, but just standing in the parking lot eating treats if she’s too nervous to go in), but if you let her progress at her own pace with lots of support and encouragement, chances are good that she will continue to improve.

      If there are specific things that she’s afraid of, you can work with a good reward-based trainer in your area on a plan to help her work through those particular triggers if needed.

  19. Well that basically writes off any older rescue dogs and the 100,000s of rescued greyhounds around the world – how depressing

    • Not at all – the post doesn’t say or imply anything about adult dogs, simply that many puppy owners wait longer than they should to make an effort at active socialization.

      If you have an adult dog, you simply work with what you have – they will be partly a product of whatever early experiences they may have had, as all dogs are, but I disagree completely that this implies anything negative about their worth.

      • I think the headline is plain irresponsible “SOCIALIZING YOUR PUPPY: WHY “LATER” IS TOO LATE” I too work with adult rescue dogs but this article especially the headline could deter adopters

    • Laura, take a look at my earlier comments about being able to apply the same socialization techniques to adopted dogs, as is applied to puppies. An older dog might need more repetitions and more time in between each session, but the techniques should be the same.

  20. Dear Dr. Jen what does one do if they (like me) feel for the rhetoric about bottling up your puppy?

    Parvo. Parvo. Parvo. That’s all the vet said when we asked if we should take our 8 wk old GSD out for walks and the to park. Honestly, if I could go back, I’d risk Parvo because what we have now is a large, powerful, anxious and unsocialized 14 month old GSD who is still recovering from the bad advice.

    Keeping him inside till 4 months old is the worst advice I’ve ever received.

    • I’m sorry to hear that – it’s definitely frustrating! Unfortunately, keeping your pup inside until 16 weeks is still fairly common advice from some veterinarians.

      The good news is, there is still lots you can do to help your dog. It may take longer and require more focused effort to get him comfortable with things, but it can definitely be done. Get him out and about now as much as you can safely, with lots of treats and praise for being brave. If there are specific things that he has a hard time with, like strangers or other dogs, I would recommend finding a good reward-based trainer to help you get started.

  21. I love your articles this is all great advice for me as I want to be a dog trainer one day. The science behind dogs and training is so interesting! Would you mind giving me some advice around where I should go to school to learn and get certified? Or how I can go about figuring out where is best? I’m in Canada. Do you know where will help me most with getting the best education and what would end up helping me most career-wise? It would mean so much if you could, I figure the best person to ask if someone in the business themselves who I respect and want to emulate. Sorry one more question.. I want to be a trainer/dog walker/sitter and one day work with therapy dogs and people and run some kind of group where the dogs and people work together, people who have trauma issues, and hopefully help them(and separately also work with service dogs but I’m not too sure). That’s my dream end goal. If you have any advice on that it would be so appreciated. But if you don’t have the time for any advice or don’t know anything that’s ok! The main thing is I hope you keep putting out great work, it helps so many 🙂 Thank you for your time! 🙂

    • I’m glad that you’re enjoying the blog! I think it’s great that you want to be a dog trainer – it’s a very fun, rewarding field to be in if you like working with dogs and people 🙂

      In terms of learning more and getting started in the business, there are lots of things that you can do. If you’re academically oriented, you could pursue a masters or doctorate degree in psychology, ethology, or applied animal behavior – this would be especially important if you want to work with aggressive dogs or other serious behavior issues.

      If you’re looking for some options that don’t involve quite as much school (which I definitely understand, lol!), there are some great online courses that you can take to learn more about the science of training and lots of related topics. The Karen Pryor Academy (www.karenpryoracademy.com) offers some good courses for trainers (or aspiring trainers), so might be a good place to start. The Fenzi Dog Sports Academy (www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com) also has some great classes that may be helpful to you – a lot of their courses are geared towards performance dogs and handlers, but there are also some on theory and more general behavior science that are excellent.

      I would also recommend joining the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers (www.cappdt.ca), and checking out their annual conference since this would be a great place to learn as well. Finally, if there is a good reward-based trainer or veterinary behaviorist in your area, it’s hard to beat the experience you can get from just watching and learning – many of these folks will allow you to shadow or assist them, if you ask. This can be every bit as valuable (or more so, in many cases) as taking a class or attending a lecture, so definitely take advantage of this kind of opportunity if you can.

      Best of luck on your endeavors! I think your goals sound very achievable 🙂

      • Wow thank you so much for your comment I didn’t think you’d reply so soon. I can’t tell you how much all of this info means to me, I definitely have a better picture of which way I want to go. I was already looking into the karen pryor academy and think I’ll do that and I am also interested in more traditional schooling so it’s good to know there’s an option with that too. And shadowing a vet behaviorist would be amazing I didn’t even think of that. I had thought of volunteering at a few places but shadowing them would be even more useful. Thank you again!! I feel very encouraged 🙂

    • No problem! That’s a common misconception, and it makes me sad that so many vets still tell their clients this also.

  22. Sadly exactly that has happened to my pups. I rescued these sickly, mangy, wormy, ticky brother and sister pups. So because they were so full of everything it took loads of effort and TLC to get them looking good and healthy. The sister then got tick bite fever and because of all that I vaccined them late and didn’t take them out, out of fear that they could pick something up. And even though we have two older dogs they are now fear aggressive to any other dog which is becoming scary for me walking them. At 16 weeks we took them out and over came a happy big dog sniffing them and they chunked like they were going to get killed. That was the worst experience for them. Two dog trainers later am I no where closer to success and have actually ruined my dogs. I have always had dogs and happy social dogs and have never know what I just read in your article….sadly….as yes it is too late. If I walk them now, I walk one of them with an older dog and always only 2 at the time, which is time consuming. And I go at a time when hopefully I will not encounter any other dogs……can you give me any recommendations what I can do?

    • Poor pups! It sounds like you did the best you could – sometimes medical problems make it impossible to do much socialization when they’re young.

      The good news is, there’s a lot you can do to help them even though they’re older now. Leash reactivity or aggression towards other dogs is a really common problem – I’m planning to do a post on this topic soon, actually, so there will be a lot more detail on options for treating it 🙂

      For most dogs with this problem, the best approach involves teaching them to associate good things with seeing other dogs. We usually do this by praising (or clicking, if you use a clicker) and rewarding with high-value food rewards every time they see another dog. It’s important to start at a distance where your dog is comfortable and able to think, which may mean that you need **a lot** of distance at first – you want your dog to notice the other dog, but not immediately begin barking or lunging. Over time, your dog will begin to look happily at you for his cookie rather than reacting aggressively, and you can slowly begin to move closer.

      It sounds like you’ve had some bad experiences with trainers in the past, so you may want to make an appointment with a veterinary behaviorist to help you make a more specific plan for your pups. He/she should also be able to recommend a good reward-based trainer in your area with experience dealing with this issue, who can help you set up controlled training situations if needed to make sure your pups are successful.

  23. Absolutely agree wholeheartedly with the article. We carefully socialised our 2 pups very early. We also tailored our socialsaton specifically to the breed we have. They are now very robust in terms of dealing with their their environment on walks, eg ,men with hats, bikes, children, or startling noises. I also have fostered a number of street dogs from other countries, and in the main they have coped incredibly well, sometimes a lot better than relatively well socialised local pet dogs. I do wonder therefore, how much genetics has to play a part. Do mongrel dogs (for want of a better term…) actually have more adaptive skills even, than some “well bred” pedigree dogs. Some breeders do breed for good temperament and calm manner, some breeders for a certain type, colour, performance ability at the expense of a good all round pet dog.

  24. Amazing article. Everything I’ve read has stressed me out but this article was spot on. Thank you!!!

    • It does! It’s different for every breed, since large breed dogs tend to mature much more slowly than smaller dogs. But in general, the prime socialization window ends at around 16 weeks for the vast majority of puppies.

  25. Pingback: It’s Not “All In How You Raise Them”: The Role Of Genetics In Behavior – Dr. Jen's Dog Blog