How important is puppy socialisation?

Dec 08, 2023

Puppy socialisation is a critical aspect of raising a well-behaved and happy dog. It involves introducing puppies to a range of people, environments, and other animals, from an early age, to help them develop the social skills they need to interact appropriately with the world around them.

At 16 weeks Around 85% of a dog’s brain is developed and the puppy socialisation window is almost closed. What your dog hasn’t learned or gotten familiar with by this point will become a problem down the road. At that point in time, it will become a long, time-consuming process to fix/adjust it and in some cases it would be impossible to fully overcome.

In this blog post, we'll explore why puppy socialisation is so important and how to go about it.

Reduced aggression and fear

Puppies that are socialised early are less likely to develop aggressive or fearful behaviour later in life. This is because socialisation helps puppies to become accustomed to different people and situations, reducing the likelihood that they will perceive new people or experiences as a threat.

Improved obedience and training

Puppies that have been socialised are easier to train and more obedient. They are more confident and comfortable with new experiences, which makes them more receptive to learning new commands and behaviours.

Better health outcomes

Socialisation helps puppies to become comfortable with unfamiliar environments, such as the veterinarian's office, which can reduce stress during medical appointments. This can have a positive impact on a puppy's overall health and well-being.

Enhanced social skills

Socialisation helps puppies to develop strong social skills, which are crucial for a well-adjusted and happy dog. They learn to communicate effectively with other dogs and humans, and they develop an understanding of appropriate behaviour in different social situations.

Prevention of behaviour problems

Puppies that have not been socialised are at risk of developing behaviour problems such as separation anxiety, aggression, and excessive barking. Socialisation can help prevent these issues from arising, which can save owners a great deal of time, money, and stress in the long run.

What can you do to socialise your puppy?

Start slow

When socialising your puppy, it's important to start slow and gradually expose them to new experiences. Begin with quiet, calm environments, such as your home or garden , and gradually increase the level of exposure as your puppy becomes more comfortable. This will help prevent overstimulation and ensure that your puppy has positive experiences.

Introduce your puppy to new people

Introducing your puppy to new people is a crucial aspect of socialisation. Invite friends and family members over to meet your puppy, and encourage them to give your puppy treats and praise. It's important to supervise interactions between your puppy and new people, to ensure that they are safe and positive.

Provide positive experiences with other animals

Exposing your puppy to other animals, such as cats or other dogs, can help them develop social skills and reduce the likelihood of aggression towards other animals. However, it's important to introduce your puppy to other animals slowly and under close supervision. Positive experiences with other animals can include playing, sniffing, and even just being in the same room together.

Everyone assumes socialisation is meeting as many puppies and other dogs as possible. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

You have to understand that your puppy has been around mum & siblings for 8-9 weeks so meeting other dogs really isn’t a priority. Too many interactions with other dogs will cause problems further down the line, trust me!

I avoided a lot of other dog walkers for the first year of my dogs life and when interactions did happen I kept them to very brief interactions. You must teach your dog how to behave in the presence of other dogs first, before allowing free access to them. Reactivity, impulse control issues, toddler strops can all stem from too many on and off lead meetings.

Go for walks

Taking your puppy for walks is an excellent way to expose them to new environments and experiences. Begin with short, low-stress walks around the local streets and gradually increase the duration and difficulty of the walks as your puppy becomes more confident. Encourage your puppy to explore their surroundings and reward them with treats and praise for good behaviour.

Attend puppy socialisation classes

Puppy socialisation classes are an excellent way to provide your puppy with positive socialisation experiences, in a controlled and supervised environment. These classes typically involve interactions with other puppies and supervised playtime, as well as training and obedience exercises. Attending these classes can help your puppy develop strong social skills and reduce the likelihood of behaviour problems later in life.

Yes puppy classes can be helpful but I must reiterate puppy socialisation isn’t just about meeting lots of other puppies & dogs. I wouldn’t be attending a puppy class where the sole focus is on play time. Solely on/off lead play. This really is a recipe for disaster!

Reward good behaviour

When socialising your puppy, it's important to reward good behaviour with treats, praise, and affection. Positive reinforcement is a crucial aspect of socialisation, as it helps your puppy associate new experiences with positive outcomes. This can encourage your puppy to be more confident and relaxed in new situations, reducing the likelihood of anxiety and fear.

How socialisation can go wrong

Socialising a puppy can sometimes go wrong, leading to various problems that can affect the puppy's health, happiness, and behaviour. We’ll explore common problems that can arise when socialising a puppy and how to avoid them.


Overstimulation occurs when a puppy is exposed to too much sensory input at once, leading to stress, anxiety, and behavioural problems. This can happen if the puppy is taken to busy, noisy, or chaotic environments without proper preparation or supervision. Don’t throw them in at the deep end and expect them to cope ok with it. To avoid overstimulation, gradually expose your puppy to new environments and stimuli, and provide plenty of breaks and rest periods.

Negative experiences

Negative experiences can occur when a puppy is exposed to unpleasant or scary situations during socialisation. This can happen if the puppy is forced to interact with aggressive or unfriendly dogs or humans, or if the puppy is exposed to loud noises or other stimuli that cause fear or anxiety. To prevent negative experiences, carefully choose the people, animals, and environments your puppy interacts with, and always supervise interactions to ensure they are positive and safe.

Lack of exposure

Lack of exposure occurs when a puppy is not exposed to a variety of people, animals, and environments during socialisation. This can lead to socialisation deficits, where the puppy is unable to cope with new situations or experiences. To avoid lack of exposure, make sure your puppy is exposed to a range of people, animals, and environments during socialisation, and continue to provide exposure as your puppy grows and develops.

Inappropriate interactions

Inappropriate interactions occur when a puppy interacts inappropriately with people, animals, or the environment. This can happen if the puppy is not taught appropriate behaviour during socialisation, or if the puppy is allowed to engage in rough play or other inappropriate behaviours. To prevent inappropriate interactions, teach your puppy appropriate behaviour during socialisation, and supervise interactions to ensure they are safe and appropriate.


For me this has to been one of the most common problems I see and probably one of the worse things you can do if your puppy is displaying fear in any situation.

You must Remember THEY ARE NOT HUMANS!!!! So stop humanising a puppy’s behaviour.

Firstly you need to be aware of the signs and read your puppy’s behaviour. Here are a few common behaviours when a puppy is displaying fear:

  • Tail tucked under

  • Excessive panting

  • Hiding behind or under furniture

  • Hiding behind you or other humans

  • Avoidance

  • Barking

  • Backing into you

When socialising your puppy, it's important to handle fearful behavior with care and DO NOT under any circumstances start making a fuss of them when they display fear. While it can be tempting to comfort your puppy when they are scared, making a fuss of them can reinforce their fearful behavior and make it worse in the long run. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn't make a fuss of a puppy when it's displaying fear during the socialization window:

It can reinforce fearful behavior

Making a fuss of your puppy when they display fear can reinforce their fearful behavior, making them more likely to exhibit fearful behavior in the future. This is because they learn that when they display fearful behavior, they receive attention and comfort from their owner, which reinforces their behavior.

It can create a dependence on you

If you make a fuss of your puppy when they display fear, they may become dependent on you for comfort and reassurance. This can create a situation where your puppy is unable to cope with new experiences or situations without your presence, making it difficult for them to adapt and learn.

It can be counterproductive to socialization

Socialization involves exposing your puppy to new experiences and situations to help them develop confidence and social skills. If you make a fuss of your puppy when they display fear, you may inadvertently discourage them from exploring and learning about new experiences, which can be counterproductive to socialisation.

It can be stressful for your puppy

Making a fuss of your puppy when they display fear can be stressful for them, as they may feel overwhelmed and confused by your reaction. This can create anxiety and stress, which can make it harder for them to learn and adapt.

The best thing to do in a fearful situation is just act normal and don’t engage with fearful behaviour in any way. Creating some distance would be the first option. The moment the puppy starts to display some more confidence by going out to explore again is the time to praise and reward. Timing is key because if they get spooked again then you need to stop.

Here is a prime example of what I have experienced when I am meeting a fearful puppy for the first time.

When I walk into the lounge, a puppy displaying zero fear who is confident around people would come running or walking over and be very excited at meeting a new guest.

A fearful, wary puppy would either be backing away, hiding behind its owners or under furniture and trying to create space and distance. Let me assure you this behaviour isn’t normal and will only get worse if it isn’t dealt with quickly.

This becomes problematic when the owners in these moments of fear try talking to the puppy, reassuring the puppy, saying ‘it’s ok’ ‘don’t worry’. In a lot of cases the puppy retreats by their side and they are now stroking the puppy for displaying this fearful behaviour. PLEASE DONT DO THIS! You are just making it worse and saying to your puppy ‘you are right to be scared’

This is where we get it wrong by humanising the puppy’s behaviour. We reassure children in these circumstances and that’s completely normal. But they are dogs not humans. Just think of the tone you are using. It’s the same tone you would use to say ‘good boy’ ‘good girl’ . So think how that’s being translated to your puppy. That’s all they understand, they certainly don’t understand your ‘it’s ok, don’t worry’ .

Only when they move forwards to begin exploring and venturing out would be the time to reassure them. Don’t let them hide behind you and certainly don’t stroke them when they are doing this.

Carrying puppies to socialise them

I understand why we do it but I’m not a massive fan of this protocol. Yes before they’ve had their last vaccinations I accept that they shouldn’t be on the floor. We also want to be very mindful about the lead and making that something negative.

If a puppy is glued to us when we are showing them all these new things all they are learning is that carrying them is the norm and it’s actually discouraging them from gaining confidence to do it on their own, which is what socialisation is all about.

The moment they then go on the floor and are experiencing these things again they are now wondering why they aren’t in mum & dads arms, a sling or a carry bag.

The main reason I don’t like it is because you are getting zero feed back on how your puppy is coping in all these situations if they are in your arms. Put it on the floor, you will see exactly how it’s coping.

If your puppy is in your arms and is displaying fear of something, how do we do know??

It’s snuggled closely into you and during the whole experience your probably stroking, fussing, reassuring and rewarding them. We need to get feedback to see how they are coping. I’m in no doubt during that 30/40 min walk something or several things would’ve spooked them and if they’re in your arms, we wouldn’t really know and we’ve probably rewarded that behaviour too.

I’m not saying don’t do it but just beware of the ramifications of doing it and how the fearful behaviour gets rewarded. The more your puppy is allowed to do things on their own the better they will be at coping with these things without you and not so overly reliant on you.

Trust me, I’ve dealt with many fearful puppies and it’s horrible to see them petrified of the world around them. Every time they leave their house they are confronted by things that scare the hell out them. People, dogs, cars, children, wheelchairs, bikes. That is why it’s vitally important to get it right.

You have one chance, then once that window slams shut, there isn’t really any going back.

Please, please, please get it right. I’m so passionate about this because I see it go wrong far to often and it doesn’t have to be this way.

Good luck

Paul 🐶🐶