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Everyone loves a puppy, but what happens when that puppy doesn’t know how to socialize and won’t play well with others? 

As a dog owner, knowing how to socialize a dog is just as important as knowing what food to buy or what leash works best with your breed’s temperament. 

That’s why it’s crucial to spend time learning how to socialize a dog before, during, and after settling them into their new home. 

What is dog socialization?

Dog socialization begins when you give your dog opportunities to engage, sniff, and play outside of their normal living domain. You want these experiences to be positive events for the dog. These new, positive, experiences show your dog that they can react without fear or aggression. This helps them become a friendly, confident adult dog. 

Basically, knowing how to socialize a dog means making your dog feel more comfortable in his everyday environment.

How to Socialize a Dog

There are many contributing factors to the proper socialization of your dog, ranging from age to breed to even their life experiences. Keep reading for a few tips on how to socialize a dog based on age range. 


Puppy socialization is a highly rewarding part of dog training. Between three weeks and 20 weeks of age, your puppy’s brain acts like a sponge, soaking up valuable information and reinforcing habits that may last a lifetime. Your puppy doesn’t really know what it feels like to be afraid yet, so introducing them to different sights, sounds, smells, and sensations is a good way to develop confidence if you do it in a way that ensures the dog is not overwhelmed.

Hold Your New Puppy

Help your puppy get comfortable with being touched by letting all of their new family members hold them daily. And remind those family members that this is part of knowing how to socialize a dog, not just snuggle time! Keep the contact gentle and loving. Be sure to touch their paws, muzzle, and ears to make their future visits to the vet pleasant for everyone involved. If your pup seems resistant to all this handling, go slowly and use treats. Let your puppy learn that being handled is a good thing and involves tasty morsels of their favorite foods.

Introduce New Sounds

Sounds play a big part in building a dog’s confidence, especially loud ones where the source isn’t easily identified (we’re looking at you, big fireworks shows!). Expose your puppy to new sounds daily, especially sounds from situations they might encounter like kids playing at the park, pots, and pans banging in the kitchen, and cars driving down the road. You can find various sounds on music sites. Start with the volume low to see how your dog reacts. If you are outside where your dog hears sounds, let your dog hear sounds from a distance to see how they react.

Encourage Independence

It’s just human nature to want to help a puppy out with everything (they call them “puppy dog eyes” for a reason!). Work to encourage social behaviors by helping them practice being alone for a little while each day and playing independently (or without you) at the dog park and at home.


Training your dog is never really over. In fact, you don’t want it to be over. Reinforcing good habits is a huge part of how to socialize a dog and helps them feel calm and confident. You’ll both enjoy a happier, healthier canine connection if you consistently work on social skills and training exercises as your dog ages. Here are a few ways to continue positive reinforcement after the puppy socialization period is over. 

Keep the Introductions Coming

The same people who fawn over new puppies love meeting friendly young dogs and adult dogs, too. As your dog gets older, continue introducing them to new people and new dogs. This helps them remember how to behave when meeting someone unfamiliar and what’s appropriate behavior around other animals. Remember to make this a fun event by having friendly strangers give your dog treats for proper greeting behaviors.

Mix Up Your Routine

Choosing a new or different route for your daily walk opens up new smells, new environments, and new mental stimulation for your dog to explore. Plus, it reinforces that new places are full of adventure and keeps them excited to leave the house.

Remain Calm Under Pressure

Your dog isn’t perfect. None of us are. Expect them to react out of fear or caution from time to time, but try not to overreact. Dogs naturally begin to interpret unfamiliar environments as threats as they get older. If this happens, resist the urge to punish them. Instead, remove them from the environment, and redirect their energy by encouraging them to play, or request a familiar behavior like “sit”.

Adults and Older Dogs

Socialization training is most common in puppies. But it’s never too late to learn how to socialize a dog, especially in the case of a rehoming situation. Socializing your adult dog will help them continue to make good decisions (and even better furry friends!) with a few routines.

Go for Walks

Daily walks are a great way to give your adult dog exercise and to keep their endurance and strength up as he ages. They also get to practice their social skills when they encounter other dogs and people out walking. But remember, your dog can pick up on your mood and energy. If they sense you’re stressed or anxious, they’re likely to become stressed or anxious, too. 

Schedule Regular Playdates

If your dog enjoys the company of other dogs, you can keep him social by inviting friends over and letting them all interact. Reinforce positive behaviors and encourage your dog to get comfortable around new and returning visitors. If your dog isn’t a fan of playing with other dogs, consider inviting a friend with a dog to accompany you both on a walk and let them practice being relaxed and non-competitive with each other.

As always, we recommend contacting your veterinarian or getting involved with a trusted pet parent community like Ruffly Speaking to continue learning how to socialize a dog at a pace that works best for both of you. 

At Ruffly Speaking, we’re on a mission to give you access to expert dog training resources, products you can trust, and a community of like-minded pet parents to encourage you on the ruffest days. Learn more about the work we do here and discover how you can get involved.

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About Us
Robin Bennett, CPDT-KA

Robin Bennett is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, author, speaker, and expert on dogs. She founded one of the largest dog training companies in Virginia and for the last 30 years has been using her expertise in "reading dogs" to teach families how to train their pets as well as helping others in the pet care industry keep dogs safe.

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Susan Briggs, MA, CPACO

Susan Briggs is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, author, speaker, and pet care business expert. As co-founder of The Dog Gurus, she brings over 18 years of experience in the pet industry with 12 years as co-owner and operator of a successful dog daycare, lodging, grooming, and training business in Houston, Texas.

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