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  • Writer's pictureCaryl Wolff

What is Puppy Socialization?

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

puppy with baby bottle
I need socialization before I'm 4 months old!

Puppy Socialization

The term “social­iza­tion” has sev­eral def­i­n­i­tions depend­ing on whom you are tak­ing to and what that person’s back­ground is.

When dog own­ers speak about “social­iza­tion,” they gen­er­ally mean they want their puppy to get along with peo­ple and other dogs.

Dog train­ers along with some cer­ti­fied ani­mal behav­ior­ists and vet­eri­nary behav­ior­ists have a dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tion of social­iza­tion which encom­passes expo­sure to dif­fer­ent peo­ple, ani­mals, loca­tions, and stim­uli includ­ing all the five senses.

The def­i­n­i­tion of “social­iza­tion” for ani­mal behav­ior­ists is how an ani­mal learns to inter­act socially with ani­mals of its own species.

“Social­iz­ing” is ani­mal to ani­mal, two liv­ing beings. How­ever, in the realm of dog­dom, the terms “social­iz­ing” and “habit­u­at­ing” have been lumped together under the term “social­iza­tion” for such a long time that it’s dif­fi­cult for many of us to sep­a­rate them now – we are using the terms col­lo­qui­ally even though our use is tech­ni­cally incor­rect. I think where the over­lap stemmed from is that Scott and Fuller said that three to twelve weeks is a crit­i­cal social­iza­tion period. They were talk­ing about puppy socialization and dogs.

Later research was done on whether habit­u­a­tion to the envi­ron­ment needed to occur dur­ing the same period. In sev­eral sub­se­quent arti­cles by many authors, both the terms of “social­iza­tion” and “habit­u­a­tion” were used sep­a­rately. At some point, the terms seemed to have mor­phed together so that “social­iza­tion” included habit­u­a­tion (which is another term hav­ing sev­eral mean­ings depend­ing on the source; but for our pur­poses here, it means get­ting used to something).

To fur­ther muddy the waters, many peo­ple con­fuse “social­iza­tion” with “behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion.” The time for social­iza­tion is the intro­duc­tion such as meet­ing another dog, see­ing a per­son with a beard, etc. hap­pens while he is a puppy with empha­sis on before the onset of the fear period. Behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion is his learn­ing to adapt after this time.

We are going to marry the tech­ni­cal with the col­lo­quial. Here, puppy socialization means a puppy’s being com­fort­able around any­thing new before he is 16 weeks old – includ­ing humans, other ani­mals, and the sights, smells, sounds, and loca­tions of every­day life – and, yes, that does lump together “social­iza­tion” and “habit­u­at­ing.”

This was an excerpt from my book Puppy Socialization – An Insider’s Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness. There are hundreds of suggestions on puppy socialization both for the breeder and the pet parent.

Please read my other articles on puppy socialization and training.

Thanks for visiting What is Puppy Socialization? I make a small commission on any products or books I recommend.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only. It does not replace a consultation with a dog trainer, dog behavior consultant, or veterinarian and may not be used to diagnose or treat any conditions in your dog.

If you need help with puppy or dog training, we do both private in-person and virtual lessons via Zoom. Please contact us by calling or texting (310) 804-2392 or sending an email to . We look forward to working with you.


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