New Research Offers a New Way To Think About Socialising Your Puppy (8–16+ Weeks Old)

If you are reading this article then congratulations on the new addition to your family. Puppyhood is a wonderful time for you to nurture and teach your dog what to expect in life. Right when they are at their cutest, they are learning all about how to be a dog. The experiences they have at this age will help to shape the dog they will be for the rest of their life. For this reason it is very important that you understand how to set them up for success.

Unfortunately not everything in is your control. The breed of your dog and its genetics will also influence the kind of behaviour they will display as an adult. For example, some dogs are more susceptible to developing aggression than others. While we don’t know the exact reasons for this, we do believe that having the right socialisation experience can help to reduce the risk of your dog developing aggression later in life. The best way to do this is to provide your dog with a wide range of non-threatening social experiences with other dogs and people consistently throughout puppyhood.


One common misconception is that it is simply the amount of socialisation that matters, not the quality. However, a recent study that I published has found that this is not true. The study suggests that we need to put more emphasis on the quality of the socialisation rather than the quantity.

Negative socialisation experiences early in puppyhood may lead to bad memories that stick with a dog for life. Unfortunately, it can be hard for an owner to tell if their puppy is having a bad experience. You shouldn’t be discouraged though, there are lots of signs that can tell you how your puppy is going and ways in which you can make socializing much easier for them:

1. For your puppy’s first few interactions, try to match them with a dog of similar size and age. This will be less intimidating than being asked to play with an adult dog who is much larger than them. Dogshare can help you to do this.

2. Puppy preschool socialisation classes are a good place to bring your puppy for some additional dog time and to learn all about raising a puppy, but beware that the same problems mentioned below can also happen in these classes. When there are 4-6 puppies (or more) in one room it can be difficult for any two puppies to form a proper bond. Also, you may not meet another puppy in the class that is a good match for your puppy. Meeting other puppies for play-dates through Dogshare can provide an additional option with much more choice.

3. Puppies have short attention spans and get tired quickly, so keep the first few play sessions short (15 minutes) so that you can make sure you end on a high and they don’t get too overwhelmed.

4. The energy level and boldness of the dogs should be matched where possible. If your puppy wants to play all the time, this can be intimidating to a fearful dog and may cause them to display aggression.


5. Some dogs naturally have better social skills than others. A fearful puppy might hide, freeze or run away from other dogs. Some dogs will be able to read this, and will behave in a non-threatening manner. They might lower themselves down to seem less intimidating and only play very gently. These dogs are probably not appreciated for what they are – excellent dogs for fearful puppies to socialise with. They might be hard to identify because they often just leave the fearful puppy alone and go off to play with other more confident dogs (which is exactly what fearful puppies want). However, over time as the puppy becomes less fearful, these socially adept dogs will begin to interact with them more and more.

6. In contrast, if your puppy has very poor social skills, then they cannot tell that the other dog is fearful and will continue to play with them despite this. This negative experience for the other dog could make it more likely for them to develop further fear of other dogs, which sometimes leads to aggression. Also, your puppy may find that some dogs react with aggression to their advances without apparent explanation to them. This can be quite bewildering for your puppy, and can also lead to fear and aggression as a reaction to these encounters. If you think that your dog may be one with poor social skills that just wants to play all the time, then your best matches will be larger, confident dogs that can take all that energy without a worry.

7. Make sure you watch puppies when they play very carefully. Look out for any signs of aggression and be sure to separate them if this occurs. Identify what you think caused it and try to prevent it from occurring again. Some puppies will simply not be a good match for each other and so it is better to move on and try again with a new match.

8. Once you find a good match with your puppy, try to get them to meet each other multiple times per week. Such positive socialisation will form a trusting bond between them and could help to prevent the development of fear and aggression


Remember that at public parks you do not know the temperament of other dogs. This leads to uncontrolled encounters that could pose a risk to your dog while it is figuring out whether to be afraid of unfamiliar dogs. If your puppy is quiet or fearful with other puppies, then Dogshare provides you with an excellent opportunity to fix this. You need to find a match who is also quiet, yet friendly. You can expect that on their first puppy play-dates, they will not play a lot and will likely avoid each other most of the time. This is fine. Your dog needs time to develop a relationship and does not warm to other dogs quickly. You will find that after a few play dates they become less fearful of each other and start to form a bond of trust. Only at this stage will you see them begin to play. This is exactly what these dogs need for their socialisation experience.

This article should have given you an idea of some of the problems to watch out for when socialising your puppy. Hopefully after reading this you will be better able to monitor the social interactions that your puppy has in order to prevent the development of fear and aggression. All the best with your newest member of your family!


Article written by:

By Dr. Dennis Wormald ©

BBSc, BSc (hons), BVSc (hons)


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