Socialising your dog: Why is it important?

Animal Care

  6 Minutes
Dogs are so much more than just pets or security, they’re a part of the family. As a pet parent, it is your responsibility to ensure that your dog is a well-adjusted good citizen. One of the best things about having a well-behaved furry child is being able to take them along on adventures with you, be it a trip to the beach or the latest dog-friendly restaurant. Without putting in some hard work when your dog first joins your family, these trips can become a nightmare. Proper socialisation is an essential part of this process.

Socialisation does not just mean that your dog gets on with every other dog it meets. A well-socialised dog is exposed to a variety of environments, people and animals and knows to react to new experiences in a calm and non-reactive manner. Socialisation is very important for a dog’s health and emotional well-being, so when you are introducing your dog to a new experience, it must be a positive interaction. It’s particularly important for puppies as they are still learning how to interact with the world around them, but if you have adopted an older dog that has not been socialised, there are things you can do to help them adjust too. Dogs who are not properly socialised can become fearful, anxious and aggressive towards other animals and people. Socialisation helps to prevent behavioural problems. Dogs who are happy and confident in a variety of settings are more likely to be obedient and responsive to their owners. Socialising your dog teaches them to interact positively with others, which encourages them to have a better bond with you.

Socialisation is important for your safety, the safety of others and your dog too. A fearful dog can react to situations where it does not feel comfortable by biting, or trying to escape and hurting themselves in the process. Socialisation makes it easier for your dog to deal with life changes like moving house or the arrival of a new baby – furry or human.

The best time to socialise your dog is when they’re a puppy. There is an important window that only lasts up until the puppy is 16 weeks old where they absorb new experiences like a sponge and are very easily introduced to new people, animals and experiences. Many vets will recommend that puppies are not taken to public areas until they have had their second set of vaccinations at 12 weeks, so this means that the crucial window is even smaller.

Here are some tips on how to socialise your puppy:

  1. Start slow: It is important that socialising is a positive experience for your puppy. Trying to throw too many new things at them at once can overwhelm and scare them. Make sure they are comfortable with things they would encounter at home such as vacuum cleaners and hair dryers first, and your friends and family. Take them on car rides and introduce them to the vet on visits that don’t involve vaccinations.
  2. Pay attention to their reactions: Once they’re old enough to explore the world, introduce new experiences to them slowly. Forcing a puppy to interact with something new can scare them and make them less likely to enjoy other new things. Let the puppy explore the world at their own pace. For example, if you want them to enjoy swimming, don’t carry them into the water. Take them to the edge of the body of water and let them investigate it, while gently encouraging them to join you for a swim. If you notice them reacting to anything fearfully, take a step back to where they are comfortable and take breaks when they are scared or tired.
  3. Positive reinforcement: When your puppy is having a good time in a new environment, it is important to reinforce this experience. Use your puppy’s favourite treat or toy and plenty of praise to show them that the outside world is a great place to be.
  4. Find a puppy class: Most vets will be able to tell you where local puppy classes are held, or even have puppy classes of their own. Puppies don’t only learn to sit and stay during class, but they are given a chance to interact with other people and dogs under the supervision of a trainer and in a controlled environment. These classes are a fun way to meet other puppy owners (and set up playdates for outside-of-class socialising), and offer an excellent opportunity to bond with your puppy.
  5. Consistency is key: While a puppy class once a week is a great addition to your puppy’s schedule, they will need much more than this, and consistently. Create a socialisation plan that includes walks in new neighbourhoods, visits to your favourite dog-friendly spots and introductions to everyone that you socialise with regularly. Remember to introduce your puppy to people of different ages, and ethnicities and people wearing a variety of accessories such as hats, helmets and sunglasses, that could be scary when encountered for the first time.
  6. Keep calm: Your puppy will take their cues from you, so you must be a reassuring presence and lead by example. Don’t panic when an interaction doesn’t go the way you imagined, rather just retreat and regroup. Don’t drag your puppy around and force them into a new situation, and never shout at your puppy when they react to something negatively. Always remember what we mentioned earlier in this article about positive reinforcement and how crucial it is.

Socialise a puppy

Sometimes it isn’t possible to socialise a puppy. The recent lockdowns prevented many puppies from getting out and about. Many puppies do not have an idea start to life and are re-homed as poorly socialised adult dogs. What then? The good news is that all is not lost and sometimes older dogs can learn new tricks!

When socialising an adult dog, it is often a good idea to get help from a professional dog behaviourist. They can help navigate exposing your dog to new experiences and translating their reactions. Socialising an older dog is much like socialising a puppy, it just takes more time and patience. Think about it like learning a new language. When you’re young you pick up your mother tongue easily and learn new words often. When you try to learn a language as an adult, it is still possible, but it takes longer. It isn’t easy to break old habits, but with plenty of love, praise, treats and time, your older dog can learn that the outside world is a fun and safe to be.

Your adult dog may also never be completely comfortable in every situation if they haven’t been exposed to them from a young age, but with patience and persistence, it is possible to improve their social skills.

As a pet owner, it is our job to make sure our dogs are happy, and have the appropriate kind of physical and mental stimulation to keep them that way. Socialisation is a vital part of a dog’s life, making sure they are comfortable with the sights, smells and sounds around them. Having a well-socialised dog makes visits to the vet less stressful, and allows you to take your dog along on adventures without having to worry that he will snap at another animal or a person out of fear. A socialised dog is a confident and calm dog, and a good canine citizen. Be patient, and don’t give up!

This article originally appeared on Anima-Strath and can be found here: Socialising your dog: Why is it important?

References and additional reading:

  1. Cathy Madson, M. (2023) How to help a dog that’s missed early socialization, Preventive Vet. Available at: (Accessed: 27 May 2024).
  2. How to socialize a puppy and why it’s so important (no date) PetMD. Available at: (Accessed: 27 May 2024).
  3. How to Socialize an Adult Dog, Including Older & Rescue Dogs | Pupford (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 27 May 2024).
  4. The Importance of Puppy Socialisation (no date) Medivet.UK. Available at: (Accessed: 27 May 2024).
  5. pets24 et al. (2023) The importance of socialisation for dogs, Pets24. Available at: (Accessed: 27 May 2024).
  6. SA, H.R. (no date) The importance of dog socialization and exercise, Husky Rescue SA. Available at: (Accessed: 27 May 2024).
  7. Unlocking the advantages of socialising your dog (2024) Reed Animal Hospital. Available at: (Accessed: 27 May 2024).