How to Help a Dog That’s Missed Early Socialization

How to Help a Dog That’s Missed Early Socialization

The early socialization of puppies can make all the difference in the quality of a dog’s life because it is a vital factor in canine development. Puppies that have missed or are denied early socialization risk suffering the consequences for their entire lives


Photo by Alvan Nee on Unsplash


The arrival of the COVID pandemic denied many newly adopted puppies the opportunity to socialize with other dogs due to either illness or social distancing.


While puppies that come from responsible small litter breeders begin healthy socialization with littermates under the supervision of Mom, and perhaps other dogs belonging to the breeder, abandoned puppies or strays adopted often have experienced trauma in some form. Strays or abandoned dogs rarely come with histories that shed light on behavioral issues.

Puppies found abandoned and brought to Pet Haven.


When a new puppy is adopted, the common practice is not to permit socialization until the first set of vaccines is completed, but puppies can socialize in other ways and still be protected. Taking your puppy with you in a puppy bag or backpack will expose it to the outside world, noises, smells, and people. Enrolling a newly adopted puppy in a special puppy class is another valid alternative.


What Happens If a Dog Has Missed Early Socialization?

If your dog has missed early socialization, fear not, you can do quite a bit to alleviate fear and insecurity in your pooch, but it will require commitment and patience on your part.

Dogs that miss socialization interaction in the puppy period from birth to four to five months of age considered the socialization window often lead to undesirable behavioral traits including:


  • Fearfulness
  • Anxiety
  • Excitability
  • Aggressiveness 


Dogs that have not socialized adequately may be particularly reactive around other canines or people that they do not know. They also may not respond positively to unfamiliar people handling them such as a groomer, a veterinarian’s assistant, or even pet sitters or dog walkers. Dogs can exhibit anxiety whenever they leave their habitual environment like your home or yard and may respond badly to loud noises due to construction, sirens, fireworks, or loud outdoor power equipment like stump grinders.

Canine Socialization Periods

Maturing socialization skills does not happen overnight. There are several stages in your puppy’s quest to acquire socialization skills.


Canine Socialization

This is the initial period after birth. It is when Mom teaches canine socialization. A puppy learns behavior that is appropriate among canines from Mom and by interacting with littermates. Generally, this takes place from three to seven weeks of age. Puppies should not be removed from Mom and the litter before this age.


Human Socialization

From approximately two to four months old, puppies are extremely receptive to new stimuli and to new experiences that include a variety of humans. They can also play with other puppies of a similar age and are no longer limited to littermates.


Fear and Trauma 

From eight to eleven weeks of age fear and trauma should be avoided if possible. Any kind of traumatic or negative experience that happens during this period can have a permanent effect on your dog.



From thirteen to sixteen weeks of age, your puppy is building its self-confidence as well as developing appropriate behavior traits when interacting with other canines. It’s important to watch over your dog’s interaction with other dogs during this period, as this is when bullying behavior can be perpetrated or suffered, again having a lasting effect.


Will Proper Socialization Prevent Bad Behavior Later On?

Even if your puppy benefits from the best socialization in its early life, dogs can still develop behavioral problems later in life. In a dog’s imprint period, socialization is crucial, but lack of correct socialization is not the only reason for undesirable behavior later. Your veterinarian must rule out underlying medical issues.


Helping an Undersocialized Dog

Don’t lose hope, and don’t place blame on yourself or others if your dog is undersocialized. You can help your pooch.


  • Consult a certified canine behavior professional, or a veterinarian that is a board-certified behaviorist. A professional can help you introduce steps toward improved socialization and behavior. 
  • Respect your dog’s pace of doing things, do not frustrate your pooch by overloading it with behavior training. Frustration can breed increased aggression or fear.
  • Practice canine social distance with your dog. If there are triggers that set your dog off, keep your distance from them when out and about. Avoid dog parks and doggie daycare. Pair triggers with something positive like a treat or favorite toy.
  • Focus on the final objective of helping your dog to feel more comfortable, confident, and less stressed and be safer as a result.
  • Use positive reinforcement and not punishment when working with your dog. Treats, praise, favorite toys, and cuddling are preferable when working on socialization with your dog. 
  • Be realistic when setting goals and above all be patient. 

Fostering Undersocialized Dogs

There’s a good chance that those that foster dogs, will at some point foster an undersocialized canine. Many dogs that end up in foster care have some kind of problem. As Dr. Rebecca MacMillan from The Vets says, “Foster dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and while a match will be made by the rehoming center between yourself and any potential foster dogs, it is worth bearing in mind that many of these dogs have some form of behavioral, training, or healthcare issue. So, ensure you have enough time, energy, and patience before going down the road of fostering.”


Fostering undersocialized canines will require exactly that…time, energy, and patience, but it can be done and these dogs can be helped.

A Final Thought

Dogs that have problems with other dogs or animals in general, as well as with unknown people can still have happy lives. With a loving home, proper diet, lots of exercises, mental stimulation, and affection, your pooch will have a quality life even with minimal socialization.


Fae Pet Haven Adoptable that needed extra help. See her adoption bio HERE


At Pet Haven we take the time needed to socialize dogs properly and educate fosters and adopters on how to improve and maintain a dogs emotional wellbeing. We value emotional health as much as physical health.