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Puppy Socialization Mistakes: 10 Things to Avoid

The benefits of a well socialized dog are endless.

Puppies that are properly socialized are easier to train and a joy to be around. 

They typically do not have the fear or aggression issues that are associated with dogs that have not been properly socialized.

This in turn makes it easier for us to share our lives with them.  For these reasons we want to make sure we socialize our dogs properly. 

But sometimes, even though we have the best of intentions, we still make mistakes during the socialization process.  

I sure know I have. Here are 10 common puppy socialization mistakes people make.

Puppy Socialization Mistakes: 10 Things to Avoid

Before we get into the 10 common mistakes people make while trying to socialize their puppy I just wanted to take a moment to talk about the Puppy Blues. Dealing with a new puppy can be hard, especially if you are a first time puppy parent.  You might even feel like you made a mistake. Let’s face it puppies generally come untrained, they bite, and they’re not potty trained. But it does get better. Check out my post on Puppy Blues: Dealing with the Regret to see how I managed my own puppy blues.

Puppy Socialization Mistakes: 10 Things to Avoid Black and White picture of a puppy

10 Common Puppy Socialization Mistakes:

1. You stop socializing your puppy

Socializing your dog is a lifetime event. Just because they are no longer in the critical early socialization period, doesn’t mean you should stop socializing them.   We made this mistake with our current dog.  

From the time we brought her home at 9 weeks old until about 4 months old we made sure to bring her on car rides that did not include going to the veterinarian. We took her to fun places like the park or to our kid’s baseball games.  But over time the car rides stopped being a focus. What we didn’t realize at the time was that while the weather was cold the only time she went for a ride was to go to the groomers.  Not a favorite place for her.  This caused her to associate the car rides with unpleasant events.  This in turn caused her to cry whenever she was in the car.   

It took a lot of car rides and patience, but we were able to retrain her so she did not associate the car with something that was unpleasant.  As a poodle mix she will still visit the groomer, but we make sure it is not the only reason she goes for a ride.

Not sure how to get started with socializing your puppy? Check out our post on How to Socialize A Puppy – Made Easy

2.  Changing the tone of your voice

This is another one of the puppy socialization mistakes I am guilty of making. Speaking in a higher pitched calming voice worked for my kids so why not my fur babies?  That high pitched cooing voice you use with the kids tells your puppy that something has changed. With dogs, change is not good. It tells them they need to be on guard as they try to figure out why you are acting different.  Instead try to remain as clam as possible and speak to them in your normal voice. The goal of introducing your pup to new experiences is to show them that “new” is no big deal.  

In addition to speaking in your normal voice, you need to relax your body. If you become tense during an encounter with something new, your pup will follow your lead.  

In a recent study Swedish researchers compared the stress levels in dogs to their owners. They did this by measuring levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the hairs of both the dogs and their owners.  It was found that there was a strong correlation between the dogs long-term stress levels and their owners.

Puppies playing outside

3. Bring your puppy to a dog park

Dog parks are not a place you want to bring your puppy. There are many dangers lurking in a dog park that you cannot see. Since young puppies are not fully vaccinated they are vulnerable to picking up diseases in the park.   Canine diseases can be transmitted either through direct contact with a sick dog, through animal feces or picked up through the soil and water bowls.  Did you know that Canine Parvovirus can live in contaminated soil for a very long time?  Even if there is no other dogs at the dog park you still run the risk of your dog getting sick.

To learn more about the risk of disease at dog parks, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s page on Dogs’ Social Lives and Disease Risks – Tips for Canine and Human Safety

In addition to the risk of disease, you risk your puppy getting hurt by another dog. Larger dogs may look at a small puppy running around and view them as prey.  Even dogs with the best recall might ignore their owners when the hunt is on.

In dog parks you often cannot control the situation.  We took our adult dog to the dog park once.  It was a very bad experience. Once she was loose in the park, she was mobbed by a pack of dogs.  They were mostly friendly, but being surrounded by dogs was overwhelming for her.  Plus there were a few dogs that wanted to show their dominant by nipping at her. The other dog owners did nothing to help. Remember when you socialize your puppy you want to make sure all the experiences are positive.

For more information about the dangers of Dog Parks read; Dog Park Concerns and Tips on How to Protect your Dog

Puppy Socialization Mistakes: 10 Things to Avoid puppy in cart

4. Taking your puppy to any kind of pet store

Pet Stores have some of the same issues as dog parks.  You won’t know if the other dogs there are aggressive or if they might be sick. Although you shouldn’t have to worry about loose dogs roaming the store, it is still possible for an aggressive dog to lunge at your puppy as they walk by.  It is also not uncommon to see a store employee cleaning up after an accident.  Remember, canine diseases can last a long time and are hard to kill.

If must bring your puppy to a pet supply store you should carry him at all times.  I recommend never taking your puppy into a place that sells puppies.  To understand why read the Humane Society of US investigation of puppy stores: HSUS undercover investigation reveals more sick, dead puppies at Petland stores

5. Taking your puppy from their mother too soon

Some breeders will allow you to take your puppy home at 6 weeks old. This is generally not recommended.  According to the AKC article What Is the Best Age to Send Puppies to Their New Homes?, “most veterinarians and breeders agree that 7-to-8 weeks of age is the prime time for a puppy to meet its new family.”  Prior to this age your puppy’s first teachers should be their mother and littermates. It’s at this time that puppies are learning to be dogs. Through play they learn what is acceptable and what is not. This includes learning impulse control and bite inhibition through feedback from their mother and siblings.

6. Overwhelm your puppy

One of the common puppy socialization mistakes is trying to do too much too fast.  I know, because I have been there. We received a puppy socialization checklist at our first puppy kindergarten class. It must have had 50 or more recommendations of things we should expose our puppy to.  Just looking at the list was overwhelming to me. It’s natural to want to combine a few items on the list. However, it’s more important that each experience is a positive one, even if you don’t accomplish everything on the list.

In my post 5 Safe and Easy Ways to Socialize your Puppy, I mentioned how we invited our neighbors over to meet our puppy. When doing this we always made sure it was only one or two people at a time.  If we invited the whole neighborhood over to meet her at the same time, she would most likely become over stimulated by all the attention.  You need to make sure every encounter is a safe and comfortable one. Also it is very important that your puppy has a way to retreat if they are feeling overwhelmed.  

Two puppies playing

7. Socialize them outside of the house too soon.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends that you wait until at least 7 days after your puppy has received their first round of vaccines and a first deworming before you begin to socialize them outside of your home.  The first round of vaccines and deworming generally happen at around 7-8 weeks of age.  However these are general guidelines. You should ask your veterinarian when it is safe for your puppy to go to public places.   Puppies that are taken out in public before their first round of vaccines run the risk of picking up a disease.   Puppies should then be kept up to date on all vaccines going forward.

8. Start the socialization process too late

Because of health concerns some people wait until their puppy is fully vaccinated at 4 months old.  If you wait until your puppy is fully vaccinated you will miss out on the critical socialization period. This is the period where sociability outweighs fear. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that “the most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life.”

White puppy with red ball

9. Restraining your pup while introducing something new

This is one of the puppy socialization mistakes I see most often.  The typical scenario is when two puppies meet for the first time.  The puppies are pulling on their leash to get closer and the owners are pulling them in the opposite direction.  While this might make sense to do with your older dog, restraining your puppy while they are investigating someone or something new will signal to them that this is something to be afraid of.

Try not to restrain your puppy when you introduce them to something or someone. As long as you know the situation is safe, give your pup a chance to explore without restraining them.

10. You wing it

Every time you introduce your puppy to something or someone new you should be in control of the situation.  Do your research.  You should know what to expect ahead of time.  Some things you should think about when deciding to take your puppy out to socialize them are:  

  • How might the puppy react?
  • Will there be a lot of people there?
  • Will it be overwhelming for your puppy?
  • It is safe?
  • Will there be other dogs?
  • Is there a safe place for them to retreat?

Taking your puppy out somewhere and hoping for the best is not the right way to safely socialize your pup.

These 10 mistakes are not the only puppy socialization mistakes one can make, but it is a good start.  

For more information on puppy training, check out these posts:

Sherry Allbaugh

Monday 26th of April 2021

I am changing my voice. I have a 1 week old Sheltie that is terrified of anything and everything outside of my home. I have been trying to socialize in tiny amounts, but have no luck. It is very depressing. I have tried everything and I have owned two previous Shelties and this is not just a shy, reserved puppy. I will try the tips here. Thanks.

Sherry Allbaugh

Monday 26th of April 2021

Typo.....that is a 12 week old Sheltie puppy!!

Holli

Saturday 27th of July 2019

Great post and i am so glad you mentioned how dangerous dog parks and pet stores are for puppies! I know of a lady who took her puppy to the dog park and it got Parvo. :( Very scary! I love to take my pup for car rides!

Jenna Emmons

Thursday 25th of July 2019

I've always felt that dogs pick up on the stress levels and anxieties of their owners. Interesting to see that there as actually some scientific support to that theory.

Ashley at Dog Lover and Mother

Thursday 25th of July 2019

This is such a well written and informative post! Changing the tone of your voice and restraining your pup during new introductions are such common things that puppy owners do, so I am so happy you are helping to spread the word on how they are mistakes.

Bonnie

Thursday 25th of July 2019

Thank you! I appreciate your positive feedback