How Do I Raise a Happy & Well-behaved Puppy?

Socialization, enrichment, and positive reinforcement puppy training are the secret formula to raising a happy and well-behaved puppy. “Puppy socialization” is a term thrown around a lot with dog owners and pet parents, but what does it actually mean from a dog training perspective?

Did you know?

This is the most influential stage of the puppy’s life is before 16 weeks and into relationships are formed, new experiences are more accepted, and learning occurs through play. A fear period occurs during this time from 8-10 weeks when puppies are extra sensitive to trauma and negative events (because in the “wild” mom would be encouraging more independence). So this is an essential function for their survival. This can be grooming, going to the vet, at a new dog park, loud cars or trucks, being injured by a dog or child, and so on.

It is a myth that socialization is exposing a new puppy to as many new things and environments as possible. While this is close, it’s not a good dog trainer would recommend.

There’s a lot of bad puppy socialization training information online and Fetch Worthy Dog Training aims to cut through the noise to provide new puppy parents through our Puppy Training Package. We focus on expert foundational puppy training advice using effective scientifically based training strategies.

“Crucial stages of a dog’s behavioral and cognitive development and learning, or developmental periods, should be the focus of dog trainers working with puppies.” 

Victoria Stilwell

What’s the best way to train a puppy?

Fetch Worthy Dog Training aims to cut through the noise to provide new puppy parents through our Puppy Training Package. We focus on expert foundational puppy training advice using effective scientifically based training strategies.

The goal of puppy socialization is to make *positive associations in the first 16 weeks with various stimuli like new people, places, sounds, animals, and environments. This includes vet visits, handling, and grooming! Learn what makes up the important parts of socialization to get it down right.

Using our guidelines will have a greater impact on your puppy socialization and training plan. Everyone wants a happy, confident, and emotionally stable dog so they can experience more freedom as a family group.

Active Observations

Observing how your dog responds to new stimuli by reading body language and your dog’s response is a skill. If any dog at any age is hiding, drooling, bolting to the end of the leash, shaking, clawing, or yelping, are stress indicators they have had enough. Avoid dismissing their experience or finding it amusing because the dog’s brain will create neural pathways of fear of that experience. The opposite of our goal.

It’s important to note that little differences are a BIG difference to dogs, like a man with a hat is different from just a man, or a tall man. A hardwood floor is different from a tile floor.

Make observations of all-new novel stimuli using this scale on a scale of 1-3.

  1. Patience Needed – Dog body language displays feel, freeze, or fight:
    • Ears back, tail tucked,
    • cowering, jumping,
    • whale eye, shaking,
    • nervously barking and etc.
    • Call us ASAP!
  2. Positive Progress Made – Dog displayed happy, relaxed behavior and displayed few stressed behaviors (body language), recovered quickly and accepted the positive association (food/treat)
  3. Going Swimmingly – Dog displayed curious, relaxed behavior, and explored the stimulus.
Aussie Doodle Puppy Sophia

Proactive Socialization

Good Things Happen Around Novel Stimuli

All-new encounters to stimuli should be positive for your dog. Do your best to provide good opportunities for positive experiences.

This means the process should occur at the dog’s pace to determine what is out of their comfort zone. Keep socialization practice short, slow, and start with low-level exposure.

Follow these basic rules:

  1. Create space: Keep your distance from the new situation or person until the dog shows a willingness to move forward.
  1. Use training food/treats: Feeding tasty treats (chicken, liver, beef, cheese) to your dog while he is experiencing something new will help create a positive association for the dog. Additionally, one of my biggest reasons for using treats is that if your dog suddenly stops eating, that can be your first warning signal that your dog is getting nervous.  When an animal enters a fearful state, he’ll refuse food.  You have a built-in alarm system to your dog’s feelings!  Use it.
  1. Go Slow: The dog sets the pace. If your dog needs 5 minutes, give him 5 minutes.  Forcing him to go faster will generally backfire and make the dog more scared.  Ever watched kids in line to see Santa?  If they are crying from 10 feet away, do they become more or less upset when they are suddenly plopped on Santa’s lap?  Usually more. Same with your dog. Throwing your pet into situations around people and other animals could do more harm than good.
  1. Verbal Affirmations & Touch: Comfort, don’t coddle. There is nothing wrong with comforting your puppy if they get scared by something. Keep your own emotions calm, cool, and collected when you do so. Most dogs will respond to touch and massage, so find your puppy’s spots that calm then. Dogs are very attuned to their people’s emotional state (they can smell the hormones and chemicals our body releases), and if they see that you’re not worried about something, they’ll most likely follow your lead. I like to use a special cue word and combine with touch. Want to learn more?
Happy puppy in grass

This is the beginning of proper puppy socialization.

If your puppy is scoring more of 1’s than 2’s or 3’s (observations above in section #1), seek professional training help by a certified dog trainer that uses modern dog training methods with positive reinforcement.

Sounds and other environments including proper play, grooming, and vet visits socialization are included in our Fetch Worthy Puppy Training Package.

If you’re in Austin, TX, or would like a virtual consult feel free to get in touch!

3 thoughts on “How do I make my puppy happy?”

  1. This was such an interesting read! Question w/ backstory: We rescued a pup at 10 weeks old and he was a very sweet, happy pup. Met some family and strangers with a couple of dogs and did great. Once we hit the 16-week mark (Dec. 2019), he started to bark at others on our walks, nothing major though. Went to daycare around that time because he had all his shots. Lockdown happened in March 2020 and ever since then, he’s become pretty reactive to people. So it’s passed the 16-week mark but the problem didn’t get bad until lockdown/post-lockdown. Is that enough details to see what went wrong?

    • Sounds like a very sweet puppy indeed! There’s a fear period between eight to eleven weeks of a puppy’s life. The sixteen week ( 166 weeks) period is when it’s believed the puppy socialization window “closes” but dogs can still make new associations after the 16 weeks. Around five or six months puppies enter into a second fear period so it sounds like your puppy may have falling into these fear periods and never had the chance to fully make new positive associations due to the lockdown from COVID. If you makes you feel better – this is very common especially since the lockdown from COVID and even post-lockdown. Don’t see as where you went wrong – but work on understanding triggers, and a trainer or behavior consultant to change your dogs emotional response to those triggers and I’ve seen great results.


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