What is the socialisation period for puppies, and what does good socialisation look like?

We get lots of enquiries from people who have recently acquired a new puppy, looking to join a puppy class for “the socialisation”. When talking about socialisation for puppies, it is important to know what it is and why it matters.

Between the ages of approximately 4 to 14 weeks of age, puppies are in their critical socialisation period. Practically, this means they are more likely to be inquisitive about new experiences rather than cautious.

We can make the most of this period by introducing a new puppy to all the people, animals, places, and activities that will be normal in their new home. It is important to make these introductions carefully to avoid signs of stress, anxiety, frustration, or over-excitement. The goal is to teach a new puppy that day-to-day activities and experiences are no big deal.

When planning socialisation experiences for a new puppy, many people focus heavily on introductions and play dates with new people and other dogs and puppies. These experiences can be fun, but too much can create big problems.

If your new puppy learns that new people and dogs predict play and excitement, they will learn to be excited and playful when encountering people and dogs in future. This might be okay when meeting a friend, but it can be frustrating when out for walks or while settling at a café.

A tan puppy with a black tail stepping into some water at a creek
Wilbur investigating water at a friend’s dam (supervised but independent)

It is at least as important (arguably more important) for a new puppy to learn to settle and focus on their handler around distractions like people and dogs. This can be taught by parking or sitting near a popular walking route or a local shopping centre and just watching foot traffic go by. Small treats can be used to reward your puppy for watching quietly, or you can provide them with something fun to chew and settle with.

A combination of interactive and passive experiences are essential for helping a puppy develop into a confident and happy companion. Remember, it’s not all about play dates! Think about all the experiences that will be “normal” in your home and lifestyle. Give your puppy the skills they need to succeed in a human-centric world.

If you need help, get in touch to discuss our training options. Our group puppy classes combine quiet time around new people and puppies with short play sessions where the pups can practice appropriate and reciprocal play (no bullying allowed). We also offer in-home training options for puppies, where you can learn the skills needed to practice in your own time.