Dog Socialization

Podcast - Dog Socialization

Podcast Episode 52: How to Socialize a Dog

This episode discusses dog socialization. We review how to socialize a dog correctly and what socialization is about. Also, we discuss the importance of socializing early and which dogs benefit most. It benefits all dogs, but some are more affected than others when this is missed. Further, we look at the differences between how to socialize a dog from a shelter that may be older versus a puppy that joins the family at a young age. I also touch on my journey and how I look at socialization today compared to earlier in my career. In addition, I have some pointers on how you can get help with socialization if you need it.


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Podcast Transcript: Dog Socialization

Hello, this is Ralf from Happy Dog Training, and welcome to another episode of Dog Talk. Today we’re going to talk about socialization.

How to socialize a dog is unfortunately still something we generally get wrong a lot. And when I say we, I mean pretty much everyone giving advice to dog owners because socialization, especially with a young puppy, during the first four months of their life, can make a huge difference in how the dog will be throughout the rest of their life. This is how to socialize a dog.

The Benefits of Puppy Dog Socialization

If a dog, as a young puppy, up to four months, has a lot of great encounters with people, with other dogs, gets gets familiar with cars and bikes and bicycles, motorcycles, skateboards, trash trucks, thunder, lightning, fireworks, name anything you can think of. And has good experience with these events and encounters, because somebody is guiding the puppy through, helping the puppy recover when there is a little uncertainty around something, just helps the dog be comfortable and explore and experience while they’re curious during this very critical developmental period. This is how to socialize a dog.

If we do these things correctly and take the dog out a lot and have safe experiences, we’re going to have a mentally healthier dog on our hands for the rest of their life. This is how to socialize a dog. If we, on the other hand, go and lock that puppy up until all the shots are complete or whatever other restrictions may be imposed, then we’re missing out on a very critical developmental period with a young dog for which there really isn’t a redo.

Future Dog Socialization Possibilities

We are now discovering that we may be able to, at some point in the future, to maybe reopen that critical period through the use of psilocybin from psychedelic mushrooms. There are some interesting studies with people. with octopi and with other other species. They’re very promising. But as of today, we can’t reopen the critical period. So we need to focus on doing this right the first time, because there isn’t a redo later. This is how to socialize a dog.

When the dog is older or you rescue a dog that’s older, we can do some things for socialization and I’ll get to those, but it’s not the same. I cannot undo the damage that was done up to four months of age with a young puppy at a later stage in life. It’s very difficult to get back. It’s usually impossible to get back to the same baseline and then build up from there because it’s just no longer possible.

Critical Developmental Periods

Just like with a person. When we learn language, we have a critical period for language learning. It’s very easy for us to learn a new language when we’re younger. It becomes harder later, and we may never become as fluent as if a child is raised with two different languages at the same time. So you have parents who speak different languages, and they both speak those languages to the baby from early on simultaneously.

It’s never going to be the same. Even if the kid later goes and learns other languages, you will never be as fluent as you would otherwise become. Or let’s say it’s unlikely. There are exceptions, but it’s unlikely for most people. So the norm is we need to take advantage of these critical development periods. And with socialization, we can prevent fear-based behaviors, fear-based aggression later to a large extent.

Nothing’s 100%, but it improves our odds drastically, if our dog has really good social experiences early on in life. Now you may think, well, Ralf, hold on a second. My dog’s shots aren’t complete, so if I take my puppy out, it’s going to get Parvo and die. That doesn’t help. Well, your dog shots are not going to be complete until 4 or 5 months of age. That’s correct.

Veterinarian’s Well-Meaning, But Misguided Advice

Your veterinarian will tell you to not take the dog out until the shots are complete. Their advice comes from a really good place. They have the best of intentions because veterinarians do see dogs die from Parvo as puppies. And that’s horrible. That’s not something you want. So if you go into full protection mode, and just view Parvo, Distemper and these things in complete isolation, yeah, the right response would be to lock the dog up until the dog’s vaccinated against Parvo.

But at what expense? We have to deal with both interests simultaneously, and we have to weigh the risks and benefits and just handle them correctly, simultaneously. When I say take the dog out in the early stages, I don’t mean take the dog to a public dog park. I never mean take the dog to a public dog park. But that’s a different conversation. But I don’t mean let the dog meet any random dog or let him sniff any peed-on tree or pile of poop you find along the way. That’s obviously not a good idea. You wouldn’t want to do that, but you can take your dog out and take some precautions.

Safe Puppy Socialization

You can walk your dog on the sidewalk. You can have your dog meet dogs that you are familiar with. If you have friends, relatives, neighbors, other family dogs you know are safe and healthy. Your puppy can interact and play with them. Maybe you have a contact with some of the other people who got a puppy from the same litter, and you can get together on puppy play dates.

That’s a wonderful thing. These dogs are obviously in the same situation when. They’re from the same litter, from the same mom. So we have options of doing socialization in a safe way without avoiding them completely, and without exposing our dog to a lot of additional risk. But we shouldn’t forfeit them. Socialization at the early stages is super important for puppy development.

It’s just one of those things that we absolutely have to do. Just think about what we do with our own children. Do we not take them out in a stroller because they haven’t had all their vaccinations? Of course we take them out. You got to get some fresh air, put the baby in the stroller and go down the sidewalk. That doesn’t mean we’re going to let every stranger who comes along and every homeless person touch the baby and interact with the baby freely. Of course not.

Taking Precautions

We don’t know where these hands have been. Well, we don’t know what diseases they may carry, if they’re going to cough on our child, if they have just touched something dirty and didn’t wash their hands, or so on. Of course, not. We’re not we’re not going to let that happen. But we’re not going to not take the baby out in a stroller and go through a park or go wherever.

We do these things and we’re doing them in a safe manner. We need to do the same with our dogs. We got to take them out and socialize them and have the dog meet a lot of people that we deem safe, a lot of dogs that we consider safe and experience the world, experience cars and skateboards and bicycles and all that stuff. Things that dogs may get concerned about later.

Helping Your Puppy Socialize

If your puppy shows reservations towards any of those things, a couple of treats or playing a game or comforting the dog will help them right through that and feel confident with it and then re-approach it again and be fine. This can be very quickly learned. If there is some hesitation. It doesn’t matter that there’s some hesitation if there’s a quick recovery and the puppy can try again with our help and guidance and some coaching it’s a beautiful experience that ends well.

Take socialization very seriously when you have a young puppy because there is no redo. And especially when you get young puppies at shelters. Obviously you can get them from rescue groups or you can get them from a breeder. So it doesn’t really matter where the puppy comes from. It’s just if you get a young puppy, don’t waste the time that you have up to a four months. This is a critical period.

Don’t Waste the Short Puppy Time

And realistically for you, it’s going to be eight weeks as you’re going to get the puppy at seven, eight weeks, something like that. And then you have another eight weeks before you hit the four months. So this is a very short period of time, but take advantage of that period of time to make sure that your puppy has a lot of great experiences. Don’t don’t waste. That is a complete waste. If you get a puppy and don’t do that, you do yourself and your dog a big disservice. So I strongly encourage you to socialize a lot and socialize early and socialize well. So that’s puppies. And that’s the critical development period and early life socialization.

Genetics Matter

Now, if we have a dog that is super confident, it’s a working line puppy and it’s let’s say a gun dog, a hunting dog from a breeder that breeds hunting dogs. The puppy basically grew up around gunshots because that’s what hunting dog breeders have going on on their property. They desensitize dogs to loud bangs and noises, and they have dogs that are generally okay with that. So genetically, you’re not going to have any problems from that perspective, but you still want to keep it up. But if you have a dog like that, that doesn’t mean you have to fire guns. I mean just you want to keep it up with with exposures.

Generally when you get a puppy that is very confident or you get a puppy that is not very confident and maybe has a genetic predispositions to insecurity, it’s not breed-specific. It’s individual by dog. No matter what the starting point is, exposure will be good for that dog. It’s not that you should forfeit it in one case versus the other. You should always do it. You should have your dog experience a lot of things. If my dog is genetically a tough cookie. It’s probably going to be fine no matter what you do.

Resilience is Genetic

That’s the upside of having a very high drive, very psychologically strong dog. They’re just going to power through most things. They’re less likely to develop issues, even if you don’t do as much. You still should do it. But the downside of maybe forfeiting some of it may not be as dramatic as it is in the other case, when the dog is genetically more insecure and needs a lot more help.

In that scenario, the exposure will make a bigger difference. It will be a bigger advantage to you. It’s an advantage no matter what. It’s just to what degree the dog will probably suffer if you don’t. Because if somebody is super confident in general, not much fazes them. And if you experience these distractions and things later, the dog may still be fine, but it’s not a given. So you’re always better off erring on the side of more socialization versus less. So more socialization is always better.

How to Socialize a Dog That is Older

Now the other thing is when we get to older dogs, when you rescue a dog, that’s a little bit older, or you get a puppy that’s a little bit older, it’s already past those critical periods. Don’t think that you shouldn’t socialize or you shouldn’t help your dog build social skills, especially with other dogs. Dogs have to learn how to play properly with other dogs, and they usually learn best with other puppies in the litter. And as they grow up together, they learn.

But if the puppies are split up at week 7 or 8, they’re going to go to separate homes and they no longer, have their little mates to play with. So having other playmates and having other dogs to teach them how to interact properly and teach them how to express boundaries and respect boundaries, is super valuable. If you have a dog that is a really good player, a really good social player, and you’re adding a puppy to the home, or you have a friend with a really good dog and you’re getting a puppy, those are great opportunities of having another dog teach your dog how to be a better player.

Social Dogs Are Great Teachers

I have a couple of clients with dogs that are very social and excellent at teaching, and when they’re boarding with me, I usually get them involved with puppies and help teach the puppies how to play properly and teach limits and boundaries. Because those dogs are very good, they’re very fair. They don’t just go and bite the puppy, they just put them in their place in a very fair and appropriate manner, just like good dogs do. And the puppy learns from that and they become better players, and everybody has a good time and nobody has any kind of downside or injuries. If you have a dog who doesn’t do that well and would snap at another dog then obviously you can’t do that.

But if you have a very social dog, well, yes, then you can. A social dog that can help with puppy or with adult dog socialization is worth gold. There’s nothing better because they can always do it better than we ever could. It will go so much faster if you have a dog help you, that is really good at that.

How To Socialize a Dog

Okay, now for socialization in general. Let’s say we have other dogs. Let’s talk about that more specifically. The dogs are a little older and we need to help a dog that has poor social skills because we rescued a dog with poor social skills from the shelter. And he’s not good with other dogs. I don’t mean he goes on full out attack and wants to kill the other dog. I’m talking about, he’s inappropriate in his play. He’s inappropriate in his interactions. He doesn’t respect the boundaries of another dog, keeps pushing, keeps mouthing them, keeps humping them, keeps whatever. Doesn’t back down, doesn’t read social cues well; that kind of thing.

One thing that we do when we get dogs like that is, we bring one of our really social dogs out, and the dog will be on a six foot leash with another person. We need multiple people for this; at least two. And then I take the dog we’re working with, and the dog will also be on a leash, but usually on a long line, 20-30 ft, something like that.

Next, we get the dogs in the same area and see how they behave around each other as a first assessment. We know the good dog won’t do anything but if the new dog just barks at our dog, we may have another problem to deal with. Is it very forceful in his or her approach and just rushes the dog without stopping and taking inventory of how it should be acting. We just take inventory at some distance, and then we let them get together for the first time.

How To Socialize a Dog with Guidance

If the dog were training acts inappropriately, meaning, it gets too wild and puts its head over the shoulder blades of the other, or stuff like that; things that are not that great in dog interactions, we pull them both apart with their leashes. We settle the dog that’s learning down, and then we let them get back together. We’ll repeat this process as often and as long as it takes, until the dog we’re working with understands.

Well, I took it to far and I can’t take it that far. I need to tone it down a little bit. It’ll take a couple of repetitions, but it usually doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t usually take more than a session or two to communicate that to a dog. How to interact appropriately with another dog. So it usually goes pretty quickly if it’s done right for the dog to understand, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, this goes too far.

The Process of How To Socialize a Dog

We usually don’t punish anything. Typically, we’re not penalizing any of the behavior. We simply separate them, slowing the dog down, maybe holding him by the collar, holding him by the leash, and just go, dude, settle down. Wait a moment. Just calm down. And then we let them get back together.

There’s nothing specific we do to settle them down. We just hold them for a moment, hold them back, separate them, settle them down, talk to them a little bit. Not that he understands my words, but a calming voice can help. And then let them get back together. The interaction doesn’t end. They’re not completely separated and taken to different rooms. No, we’re just pulling them apart five, ten feet, settle them down and let them get back together.

We repeat this process until the dog figures this out. This is a socialization activity we do to teach a dog to act more appropriately when they have poor social skills in interaction, which is actually quite common.

Other Options for How To Socialize a Dog

If none of this is an option for you, there are couple of other things you can try if they are available to you in your area. There are large field socialization, also sometimes offered as indoor socialization. There are done in the format of what Chad Mackin teaches with his Back to Basics program. This is something I took, a good number of years ago. I don’t even know how long, eight years ago, maybe, something like that. It’s been a while, and we used to do these socializations when we had a place and had helpers quite a while back.

How To Socialize a Dog with Large Field Socialization

It was a couple of years before the pandemic. I no longer do this. But at the time, it was wonderful to see how other dogs were able to help dogs in group settings, if they’re just orchestrated correctly. A proper group socialization is a beautiful thing. So if you’re anywhere near where large field socializations are done that follow the model of Dick Russell, or the way Chad Mackin teaches that because that’s mirrored off Dick Russell. Those are wonderful things to do, but they aren’t available everywhere. There are actually not that many. That’s one option if you are somewhere where that’s possible.

How To Socialize a Dog with Day Care

If you have a great daycare somewhere where a trainer or very knowledgeable dog people supervise the socialization consistently, not just every once in a while glance at the group of dogs, but there is somebody or a couple of people who are really supervising all the interactions and know what’s okay, what’s not. Let things play out as long as they’re appropriate and only step in when needed. It must be that kind of thing.

If you have a socialization like that somewhere in an organization or a company you can always go and watch these. They should let you see how they do these before you bring your dog there. They should also do an evaluation of your dog to see if your dog is a good fit. But there are good daycare places that provide supervised group socialization with dogs and they can help.

Other Considerations on How To Socialize a Dog

This is a great thing to do with your dog, regardless of what other other training you may be doing, because this is just about socialization. So if your dog just needs to build social skills and isn’t dog aggressive or something, that’s a different situation. But he just needs to build social skills. That’s a beautiful place to go.

Also, if your dog is very social generally and likes other dogs but doesn’t have good outlets, that’s a better option than going to a public dog park because you never know what walks in the dog park once you’re in there.

We have a whole podcast episode and article on dog parks if you want to listen to that. I’m not a big fan of dog parks, and most dog trainers are not. It’s not the greatest of places, but supervised group socialization are usually the best approach to give a dog who is social or needs to learn an outlet.

My Evolved Understanding of How To Socialize a Dog

Okay. That’s a couple of points on socialization, the importance of puppy socialization, the importance and the approaches for adult socialization. But to do socialize do socialize your dog.

My Evolution on This Subject

To close out, I want to acknowledge something because I didn’t always have the view that I shared with you here on socialization. When I was a much younger trainer and less experienced, I did believe, like many still do, that a well-socialized dog doesn’t interact with the environment and is neutral to the environment. That’s still a very common theme, and a long time ago I believed that myself. I left that nonsense behind because it’s pretty silly if I think of it now. I look back at my thoughts back then and I can’t even believe I was holding this view, because it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But hey, you live, you learn, and I’ve moved on a long time ago.

What is Socialization, Really

But it is an opinion that’s out there. A socialized dog is a dog that’s neutral to the environment, doesn’t interact with the environment and doesn’t want to interact with other dogs and people. That’s kind of nonsensical. A well socialized dog should be able to move through an environment with other dogs and people and not lose its mind. But he should also be able to interact safely with other animals, with other people when the time for that is appropriate. So it’s a balance.

A well-socialized person can go to the supermarket without stopping and chatting with everybody they meet along the way, but they can also be in a gathering of people, have a good time talking to everybody. That’s a well-socialized human being. And you would think that in the same way of a dog. A dog can move past things, but can also interact appropriately. Both two sides of the same coin. Socialization definitely means to build the skills to interact but it doesn’t mean to not interact all the time. It’s important to to also understand that.


Okay. That’s it. I hope you found this interesting. You found it informative. You got something out of it, and I’ll see you again next time. Bye.


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About Ralf and Sarah

Happy Dog Training is the pet dog training business of Ralf Weber and Sarah Gill. We are certified professional dog trainers in Southern California. We are specialized in advanced obedience training, all forms or behavioral challenges and service dog training. For behavioral training, we are known for our work with aggressive and fearful dogs. Our service dogs, through Total K9 Focus, have a nationwide reputation for their reliability, longevity and performance.


Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.

Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.

Sarah Gill, Certified Professional Master Trainer

Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.

Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.