Socialization

Dogs are creatures of routine.

That’s over simplifying it, but the general idea is the sooner and the more frequently you enable your newly acquired pup to associate positive experiences with new things, the easier it is for the pup to accept new things down the road.

Going back to Dr. Dunbar’s developmental deadlines, there are two competing priorities for the new owner’s attention besides house breaking:

  • Socialization with People (by 12 weeks of age)
  • Bite Inhibition (by 18 weeks of age)

Once your pup arrives, I have no doubt you will work on house breaking. I also hope you will make time for socialization and bite inhibition.


I want you to think about that teenage nephew of yours, the one who gets straight A’s but has a “Do Not Enter” sign on his bedroom door, listens to emo rock and refuses to maintain eye contact. He used to play nice with his cousins when they were little. When did he become such a punk?

A JA puppy transitions from toddler to teenager between 8-week-old to 5-month-old. Most healthy puppies can follow a generic, one-size-fits-all approach to socialization and bite inhibition described in this blog. However, if the owner chooses to focus only on house breaking during the puppy’s first few months in the new home, there will be consequences down the road. The remediation of said consequences will vary by the degree of deficiency, and may require professional interference. From my first hand experience, it is possible to live with a dog that does not like other dogs. But it is potentially dangerous to live with a JA that does not like people, making it difficult to administer basic veterinary care and grooming needs. Please make time to socialize your JA puppy, at the very least to allow for medical and hygienic purposes.

Dr. Dunbar sets a very high bar for socialization with people:

As a rule of thumb, your pup needs to meet at least a hundred different people before he is three months old—an average of three unfamiliar people a day.

Well, the reality is many of us work Monday to Friday. Unless we have someone home with the pup, we rush home during lunch to let the pup out to go potty, feed him lunch and rush back to work. Besides throwing puppy parties in the safety of your own home (reference SIRIUS® After You Get Your Puppy), below are some ideas for how you can help safely introduce your new JA puppy to the world:

  • In between your pup’s scheduled 8-wk, 12-wk and 16-wk check ups with the vet, bring him in and ask the staff members if they can feed him kibble or treats to help associate the vet’s clinic with positive experiences. Sit in the reception area and allow him to observe other animals being brought in
  • During the morning or afternoon school rush, park your car near the school and sit with your puppy in your lap (or Sherpa bag, or a bucket), and allow your puppy to observe the kids walking to and from school. You can hand feed your pup his breakfast/dinner during this time. Try varying the schools; pre-school and kindergarten age children make erratic movements compared to older children. Older kids also ride bikes, scooters or skateboards. You can try the same with office parks during commute hours as well, and potentially coffee shops, grocery stores, pet stores, hospitals, retirement homes, places of worship, car washes, car dealerships and shopping centers while you run errands
  • Allow your pup to meet and greet your USPS mail carrier and small package delivery service. If you have an Amazon Prime membership like I do, your UPS drivers will get to know your pup’s greeting of “Woof!” over time
  • If you or your neighbor have a lawn service, hold your pup and allow him to observe the crew at work, feed him yummy treats while the leaf blowers and lawn blowers are in action
  • Take your pup to public parks to watch little league or other sports practices. The pup doesn’t have to actually interact with the players, but give him the chance to observe the equipment, the movement, hear the noise, etc. You can try the same thing with airports, ferry terminals, bus stations, and train stations. For whatever reason, tents, rolling luggage, umbrellas and motorized devices such as golf carts and Segways can be scary to pups. Allow the pup to come to the conclusion that these objects cause no harm. The goal for these exercises is to build up the pup’s confidence
  • If your gym or auto-mechanic allows dogs, bring your pup by to desensitize him to noise. You can try the same with construction sites or municipal roadwork sites. Sighting of workers in hard hats and construction equipment are an added bonus
  • Observe police, firemen/EMT at work from a distance, or take your JA pup by the fire station and ask for permission to check out the truck and gear. Lights and sirens alone can be frightening, but so can first responders in protective gear. If there is ever an emergency, you don’t want a scared, barking JA to keep first responders at bay

In any of the situations above, if the pup is receptive to being handled or interacting with others, encourage him with verbal praises and/or food treats. However, observe the humans carefully that they are not behaving in ways that stress out the pup. Be on the lookout for people who do annoying things then complain that your pup is behaving poorly. For example, too often people lean over in front of the pup and rub the pup’s head. The pup might rear up to lick or mouth, and then the stranger exclaims your pup is mouthy. Worse, the pup could growl and bite. Lili Chin has a brilliant info graphic that illustrates How Not To Greet A Dog.

I make it very clear to strangers that my pups do not enjoy having their heads touched and ask that they let my pup approach them before they attempt to stroke the pup’s cheeks or back. Alternatively, you can pre-emptively put a search-and-rescue style harness on your pup with large badges reading either “Please Ask to Pet” or “In Training,” and instruct others how best to approach your pup. You can purchase such a harnesses from the Active Dogs website.

Blessing of the Animals Service

Shortly before our JA pup received her rabies shot, we learned the Episcopal Church in Saratoga holds a Blessing of the Animals Service the first Sunday of each October, as many other churches do in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. We took her in to get blessed. Luckily she was small enough for me to hand carry her the whole time. She got to meet lots of people of all ages, see other dogs, cats, pet birds, even draft horses!

You’ll want to make sure your pup has all of his required vaccinations before allowing him to have direct contact with unfamiliar surfaces—Parvo virus can live for months and years on the ground. After your pup has received all his vaccinations, you might also consider introducing your pup to the following places:

  • Professional groomer. While you may elect to bathe and groom your dog yourself long term, a positive visit to the professional doggie salon can help with noise desensitization and handling tremendously. Many JA pups behave like drama queens when it comes to nail trimming. A professional groomer will help you and your pup get over it
  • Doggie daycare or boarding facility. Similar to shopping for a puppy social facility or instructor, you want to find one who is welcoming to you and your JA pup. Usually the facility will perform a free temperament evaluation and provide a tour of the facility. Most of them only allow spayed/neutered animals beyond six months of age. PetCo’s Pooch Hotel is an exception in that they allow intact dogs that pass temperament evaluations
  • Hotel/motel stays. This one is easier after pup is potty trained, or you can try camping
  • Elevator/escalator rides
  • Ferry/train rides
  • Beach, forest, lakes and streams

Socialization is a lifelong endeavor. Whatever you can do to maximize your pup’s exposure to new people, new places and new things in the first six months of his life, and make it a positive experience, will greatly influence his attitude and reaction to novelty later in life.

Suggested reading:

Next Section: Bite Inhibition and Dog-Dog Socialization