Socialization: The Most Important Puppy Lesson

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

When people find out I’m a dog trainer, they immediately say something like, “oh wow, I bet that’s the best job ever, I bet you have so much fun with puppies all day!” But here’s the thing, yes it is the best job ever but no, I don’t get to have lots of fun with puppies all day. Instead, my usual day consists of case after case of reactive or guarded dogs.

You see, puppies are fun, they’re cute, and they seem nice and sociable, so people don’t think they need help. And maybe they don’t. Maybe they are able to teach their puppy to come, sit, and stay all on their own and that's fantastic! But it doesn’t matter if the puppy isn’t well socialized and friendly with everyone, not just the people and other dogs who usually hang around his house. What ends up happening with many puppies is they will quietly transition from puppyhood into adolescence and that's where the problems start.

Puppies are easy! That’s how they are able to fool us into putting on those rose-tinted glasses, they’ll grow out of this “puppy behavior” right? Around the 5-8 month mark is when you will start to see lack of proper socialization rear its ugly head. Suddenly you have what used to be an easy puppy now acting fearful and reactive. We don’t help matters much by getting angry or tightening up on the leash or getting tense and anxious whenever other dogs or people come near us and our puppy reacts. Then what do we do? We stop bringing the puppy anywhere at all. So, of course, the problem just gets worse until eventually, someone ends up with a highly reactive 4-year-old dog and that's when they get up and call a trainer.

So no, sadly I am not having so much fun with puppies all day, I wish! Because if I were having fun with puppies all day, then all those puppies would be ready to go! They’d become the poster puppies for properly socialized and well-behaved dogs who would then go on to have a fun, active, and rewarding life with their families who can take the dog out with them pretty much anywhere pet dogs are allowed.

It’s ok if you want to teach your puppy yourself. It’s ok if you’ve had puppies all your life and you have a way that you like to train them, that’s great! Train your puppy how you like. But everyone needs help to properly socialize their puppy. It’s the one thing you can’t do alone. Whether you join a puppy class or take your puppy with you everywhere you go, you must make sure they get properly and positively socialized with men, children, women, and other dogs, in that order.

All those dogs living out their entire lives in shelters were once puppies that were abandoned or surrendered over behavior problems. You’ll hear people state that the number one reason dogs are given up is due to monetary expense, but it's far less likely that a nice, well behaved, and problem-free dog is going to be given up. I have seen many dogs given up to shelters over behavior problems, the most common of which is reactivity. Socialize your dog properly within the first 12 weeks of life and on into adulthood and you won’t have this problem.

Making sure your puppy is well-socialized from the start will be the best thing you ever did for your puppy.

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