Early Socialization - Beyond Week 8

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Quick Reference Guide:

Continue building positive experiences! Be creative and aim for novel items and experiences during activities. Make sure to still let puppies have rest and downtime.

Passive environmental enrichment- Litter’s den, play area, or outdoor area with precautions in place – click to view our Biosecurity section. Interactive activities can be done in a separate clean room, litter’s play area.

Volunteer Type:
Volunteers can be very helpful for socialization of older puppies, but make sure they are trained in body language and handling.


Biosecurity Warning!
This is a guideline only and not envisaged to be implemented without considering the biosecurity and infection control of your facility. Always seek veterinary advice regarding suitable biosecurity methods that are acceptable for each facility so that the risk associated versus the benefit can be addressed before implementing socialization. Some facilities will house and socialize puppies within one building and puppies are only introduced to real life environments when they go to puppy raisers/carers. Alternatively, other facilities have a different structural environment that allows puppies outside of the breeding/kennel area and engage in both onsite and offsite outings. Best Practice for any system employed must be guided by a veterinarian.

After their 8 week vaccinations, puppies are able to begin exploring the big wide world. Many organisations aim to have their puppies in raiser/carer homes by this age but this is not always possible. The following content is aimed to provide enriching and educational activities for both puppies in facility or home environments. Depending on your available resources, you can pick activities most relevant to your organisation’s needs and abilities. Make sure to provide the puppies with a regular routine. Remember, the aim is to prepare the pup for a life of ongoing learning and working, so all activities must be fun and enjoyable. It is important that you proceed to more advanced parts of the skills only when the pup is ready, as advancing too quickly can affect their outlook on work and learning, as well as inadvertently teaching them the wrong way to do things. Slowly introduce more key skills and build your pups self control.

Problem Solving

Should pup not be responsive assess things like tiredness or just having an off day for learning and engaging. Consider whether the pup is stressed – can you see any stress signals? Sometimes the pup is not in a learning mode, so it is best to leave on a positive rather than teaching what you do not want from the pup. Going back to a known skill like sit then leaving has set the pup with success prior to leaving. If the puppy does appear stressed, give him some time to resolve the conflict on his own before progressing or continuing with the activity.

This is a broad topic and must be managed differently depending on the age of the litter and the particular interactions within the litter. Please click here to view our information on this.

Always focus on the fundamentals initially then gradually build up the new key skill. When teaching a new skill, it is important to build on it gradually, so the pup has the best chance of success. it is best to practice the new skills multiple times in a variety of situations.

The progression of the new skill in small slices is paramount while increasing duration, providing more distractions or while at a greater distance – yet alone when trying to combine any two or all three.

This all takes time so start slowly and remember short positive sessions are best. Multiple brief sessions can be done throughout the day to assist the put to process the skill. Although food reward can be used initially but the aim is to have your pup choose you and focus on you not the food reward. This is important when trying to work through a distraction.

Always acknowledge when your pup does check in with you. Food is not the reward but the use of you through your body language like a smile, verbal praise, or change in energy so pup knows it has done well and you are extremely pleased.

The pup is learning that being with humans is fun. Over the past weeks the building of human relationships will start to show benefits with the pup choosing you most times. 

Should something not be working then change what you are doing! Consider what does and doesn’t work for your individual puppy. Why is the pup not performing – is it stressed, tired, ill, distracted, disinterested?

Signs that tell you the pup needs immediate help include:

  • Severe change in energy-inhibited or activated, not engaged
  • Long period of time needed to resume activity
  • Fight or flight response- Puppy is not actively learning 

If pup is in the red zone review your technique and ensure you are working pup at a level that ensures success.  Sometimes going back to an earlier skill level and building up again can be helpful. Reduce the 3 D’s and make sure you are giving puppies enough time to rest. Consider the stimuli that caused the reaction and why. Was there one major event or a number of small events?

This is the time to employ distancing. Use your relationship skill to get the pups attention back on you. 

Reward highly and generously for the pup choosing you by using your body language/ puppy skills – smiles, verbal praise, a happy voice. Have pup practice a known reliable skill like sit, to allow you time to assess the best way to continue so the pup is successful. 

It might mean going back a few steps so reinforce the behaviour you want then trying again. The use of another person to mimic the previous setting with clear instructions on how you want them to help the pup success can often be beneficial.

Interrupt verbally if pup starts to scavenge (Ah ah!).  Use your skills to make sure pup chooses you over the item.  Remove anything from their mouths that they pick up.

Troubleshooting for Excessive Scavengers 

If you see something the pup is likely to scavenge, pre-empt this by tickling them on their side or talking to them to distract them as they go past it. Your role is to ensure the pup chooses you over a distraction, because you are more fun. By pre-empting you help to set the pup up for success. *In severe cases/emergencies you can use a lure to guide the pup past a distraction, but use this as a last resort. The pup should be engaged and working with the handler.

Stop and place hands around pup’s chest area. Do some gentle circular motion with your hands. Once pup is calm again you can resume the body handling.

It can help to go back to an area on the body that pup is comfortable being handled and try again.

Should pup still not be comfortable reduce the session times then build up again.

Try luring with slower, more deliberate movements. Make sure you have pup’s interest in the lure and maintain that connection. Practice moving your arm with a “mixing bowl” movement – wide, sweeping and steady.

Passive Environmental Enrichment

You should continue to ensure the puppies have a stimulating and varied environment through the passive exposure to as many sounds, novel objects, motion items and surfaces as you can. 

Interactive Activities

  • Purposeful play with littermates exploring novel objects, sound objects, motion objects, and surfaces 
  • Puppies will develop positive experiences with body handling 
  • Puppies build positive associations with new objects and sounds  
  • Puppies build handler engagement

experiences around body handling, and puppies can build positive association with new objects and sounds.  Every interaction with the puppies continues the building of handler engagement. 

It is important to start to build a solid foundation of skills. Body Handing is ongoing and involves lots of practice. It can be done in short sessions throughout the day in order to set the pup up for success by keeping skill training fun and expectations consistent. Body handling is the process of teaching our puppies to accept all parts of their body being handled while remaining calm while we touch and move all parts of their body.
This is beneficial for health/Vet visits. These skills also help with body sensitivities to equipment the pup may need to wear such as boots or coat.

Remember, Body handling should be a calm, gentle process – it’s not a time for cuddles or play – that can come later! Take extra care around your pup’s teeth, ears and paws – these areas are crucial for Body Handling but many pups find the handling of these areas strange at first.

Start by Teaching the “Close” position:

  1. Start by crouching on the ground with the puppy in front of you, facing you. 
  2. Place your right knee on the ground – If pup is on a lead put the lead under your knee so both hands are free 3. Use your left hand to lure the pup from your right knee in a circle until they are between your legs facing away from you 
  3. Tilt your lure back over the pup’s head so they go into a sit 
  4. Mark and pay 
  5. Put your knee down so you are kneeling with pup sitting between your legs and place your two hands on the pup’s chest 
  6. Repeat steps 1-6 until pup is quickly and easily moving into position as you lure
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 but this time say the word “close” just as their bottom touches the ground Do this 3 times 9. Fade the lure and work on duration – Reward pup for being still and calm. Ignore any wriggling or mouthing.
  8. Do this 3 times
  9. Fade the lure and work on duration – Reward pup for being still and calm. Ignore any wriggling or mouthing.

Handling Method

NOTE: For pups over 3 weeks, all handling starts in the “Close” position.


  1. Gently hold the puppy’s chin with one hand then use the other hand to lift their ear 
  2. Look inside and smell their ear for any signs of infection 
  3. Repeat with the other ear 
  4. Gentle praise, reward


  1. Hold puppy’s chin gently and look at each eye 
  2. Gentle praise, reward


  1. Gently hold pup’s chin and use the other hand to lift pup’s chin on one side to look at their teeth 
  2. Repeat on the other side 
  3. Gentle praise, reward

Legs and paws

  1. Run your hand down one of pup’s legs to their paw 
  2. Feel between the pads on their paw 
  3. Gentle praise, reward
  4. Repeat with other 3 paws 

Vet Restraint

  1. Use your left hand to gently restrain pup’s head against your chest so they are looking towards your left 
  2. Run your right hand down the back of the pup’s right leg to their elbow then raise their leg (it should be outstretched as if for a blood draw) 
  3. Mark and pay 
  4. Switch so pup is facing the opposite way and the other leg is outstretched 
  5. Gentle praise, reward

 Lay Over

  1. Place one arm underneath pup’s front legs
  2. Lift your arm (therefore lifting the pup’s front legs)
  3. Lean down until you are lying over the top of the dog 
  4. Remove your hand from under the pup 
  5. Gentle praise, reward

Release cue

  1. Tell the puppy “Go free” and allow them to break position 
  2. Give them a pat and plenty of praise
  • Normal life is full of distractions, so it is important to use your handler skill to assess the best times and places to work on the pup at their skill level.
  • Ensure pup is toileted prior to any on-site field trips 
  • Take one pup per person to the designated area. Session lengths & even locations may vary for individual puppies.
  • Watch for stress signs – LEAVE IF PUP BECOMES OVERLY STRESSED or stops responding to you.
  • Handled by a staff member or experienced volunteer and petted by max 3 people per session. Be aware that holding a puppy does not allow for the puppies to move away. Better to allow pup to have an escape route. 
  • Not to be petted by anyone initially until the pup has learned some polite meet and greets. Pup must maintain four paws on the floor and has a reliable sit duration. Should pup jump up no petting allowed.  Pup should also not be petted by everyone they meet.
  • It is helpful to practice polite greetings, so pup has a good understanding of what is expended prior to new people patting. Before patting is allowed get the pup in a sit position while explaining to the other person how to respond to pup.
Facility Locations 
  • Reception & common areas: added bonus of potential visitors as socialisation opportunities – however seriously consider Biosecurity (e.g. bring hand sanitizer) and the emotional needs of individual pups.
  • Offices: Practice handler interactions as you move between offices. Say hi to some people and work on pup ignoring others by focusing on you and practicing sit or down.
Off-Location Outings

Biosecurity Warning!
Make sure to consider the Biosecurity risks for each possible location.
  • People’s houses: beware of and limit access to any other pets in the home.
  • Park walks, bush/forest walk locations, wetlands, beaches/lakes: make sure to consider the age of the puppy and research the location beforehand to ensure it is appropriate and you will be able to help pup succeed (considering the length of the trip and possible distractions, etc).
  • Shops or public areas where dogs do not commonly have access (due to increased risk until puppies are fully vaccinated) e.g. small shopping plazas
  • With the use of balance equipment, puppies learn to utilize their core muscles and balance on equipment. 
  • Stepping over cavalettis and onto different equipment teaches puppies limb awareness. 
  • The puppy quickly gains confidence through being rewarded for stepping on and over items. 

Goal: To accustom puppies to age-appropriate conditioning equipment to increase confidence and handler/puppy relationship. 

Age Appropriate Equipment include:

  • Bone balance cushion: This larger cushion builds off of the round balance pad and adds a more challenging balance exercise for puppies.

  • Large balance ball: This uneven surface strengthens puppies’ core muscles as they balance on the equipment.
  • Peanut *Requires handler to stabilize peanut: Puppies gain confidence when maneuvering their body on the peanut.  Ask puppies to place their front paws on the peanut and slowly lure them over the peanut. Do not let puppy stand on the peanut.

  • Wedge: This piece of equipment helps strengthen the puppy’s legs as they learn to walk on inclines. The nubby surface allows the puppies to become used to stepping on uneven surfaces.
  • Cavalettis: Puppies build their proprioception skills stepping over cavalettis. Set 2 pairs of cavalettis up next to each other for an extra challenge once the puppy is comfortable stepping over the cavalettis.
  • Cones: Walking in different directions helps strengthen puppies’ leg muscles. This exercise also requires the puppies to focus and work with their handler.
  • Other equipment options: Brooms, mop handles, long sticks. Make sure to keep close together for the puppy to easily step over the items. You can use anything that the puppies have to walk around- laundry baskets, chairs, buckets, etc. Try to keep the items small for the puppy to easily follow the handler.



To prepare the education room for this curriculum, please complete the following steps. 

  1.   Gather a treat bag with age-appropriate food. 
  2.   Gather 5 age-appropriate pieces of conditioning equipment.
  3.   Arrange the objects in a circle spread apart enough for the puppy and handler to move around comfortably. 

You are now ready to retrieve the puppy you are working with. 

  1.   Allow the puppy to explore the room upon entering for up to 30 seconds. 
  2.   Call the puppy to you and use a food reward to lure them to step on the first object. 
  3.   Encourage the puppy to follow you to the next object and lure them to step on the next object. 
  4.   After completing the first rotation, use a food reward to lure the puppy to walk across or stand on each object. 

5.    End the session on a positive note after the second rotation.

Puppies can spend time safely secured via crate at desks during the work day. This gives puppies a new environment outside of the kennel environment to practice settling which is an important skill they will practice with their raisers. Below are a few notes for this activity. You can also consider using volunteers to prepare the areas for the puppies and to watch or check in on the puppies and return them to their kennels if needed, should the puppy be too distracted by (or distracting to!) staff.

Before bringing the puppy to the desk area:

1. Look around the area to address any safety concerns such as:

  • Items that have fallen on the floor
  • Wires that could possibly be in the puppy’s reach
  • Trash cans

2. Set up the area 

  • Gather a crate or tie-down
  • Gather a few safe toys for the puppy to play with

3. Give puppy time to relieve before beginning this activity

Aim to keep the puppy at the desk area for half an hour to an hour. If the puppy is unable to relax and appears restless, give the puppy an opportunity to relieve. If the behavior continues or escalates, return the puppy to their kennel. Next time, shorten the session so the puppy remains comfortable and relaxed.


  1. Have pup on lead 
  2. Sit or stand without interacting with the dog 
  3. Wait for them to settle without being cued in any way 
  4. Mark and pay when pup lays down 
  5. Reward them intermittently for remaining calm and in a down 
  6. Once pup settles within 1 min you can move to the next location (see Skills Tracker) 

NOTE: If they get up, just ignore them, and wait for them to settle again, then praise them but do not reward until they have been lying down for a little while. 


  1. Have the pup on lead 
  2. Park the pup (place your left foot on the lead at a distance that gives them little room to move around)

3.Wait for them to lie down (with hip rolled) without cueing them in any way other than having your foot on the lead 

  1. Mark and pay when pup lays down 
  2. Reward them intermittently for remaining calm and in a down position 

NOTE: If they get up, just ignore them and wait for them to lay down again, then praise them but do not reward until they have been lying down for a little while

Crate Settling 

  • Pup is to spend time in a crate away from their littermates but around people 
  • Offer a stuffed Kong or nylabone 
  • Gradually increase time in crate based on puppy’s age and capability. See Resources for further information

– (toilet pup before and after) 

Equipment Required:

  • 3-5 different surface types – one surface should be a tray from a crate with water in it to simulate walking through puddles.
  • Treats
  • Space to spread out the surfaces


Spread out the surfaces in the play area of the run ensuring there is plenty of room between them so you can see if pup tries to avoid any 

  1. Have pup off lead and allow them to explore in their own time for a minute or 2 
  2. Start to encourage pup to go over different surfaces using your voice or stuffed toys. 
  3. Praise them for going over any under-footings 
  4. Play with them within the area to keep it fun and light 
  5. Once pup is comfortable (equivalent of scoring a 5), the following session you can repeat with different surfaces and/or do the session at a different location.

While keeping biosecurity in mind, continue to practice loose leash walking with each puppy.  Once puppies have success in low distracting areas, begin to add some distractions and challenges along the way.  Encourage puppies to explore items around you such as different types of surfaces.

The surface trail above has different sections of sand, pebbles, and mulch. The different surfaces allows the puppies to experience walking on multiple surfaces that they could encounter in their futures as working dogs. 

Below are examples of distractions and novel items that can be added to the area before the walk.

Wind spinner- Similar brightly colored wind spinners or windsocks can be strategically placed along the walking path.  These items move in the wind and allow puppies to explore them along the way. Make sure to hang windsocks at the puppies’ height.

Dinosaur Toy- Place statues or objects in different places along or in the walking path. This allows puppies to encounter novel items to explore along the way.  Make sure that the bar spacing is small enough that the puppy’s paws will not get stuck. 

Metal Grate- Different surfaces can be placed in the walking path for puppies to walk over. Be creative and use different textures that they may encounter in their future such as tarps, metal pans, etc. Having items that they are already familiar with in different locations allows puppies to generalize from past experiences with the items.

Depending on the age of the puppies in your facility, these crate games can be useful for older puppies as it reinforces many of the skills learned plus teaches self control. Puppy should be comfortable and already have positive associations with the crate, which these games can build on. Start with the first stage and progress at a level the puppies can manage – repeat stages as needed to reinforce the skill and enable puppy to succeed.

Stage 1 

  1. Open the crate door and stand facing the open doorway with pup on short lead 
  2. Wait for pup to go into crate of own accord (do not give pup any instruction or eye contact) NOTE: DO NOT TOUCH YOUR TREAT POUCH UNTIL PUP HAS GONE INTO THE CRATE 
  3. As soon as pup goes in, pay with treat high (e.g. hold treat higher to encourage puppy to remain in a sit position) and at the back of the crate to inadvertently cue a sit behaviour
  4. Remove pups lead, close the door, and take a step away 

Stage 2 

Stage 2 follows immediately from stage 1 so pup is in crate without a lead 

  1. Crouch down, open crate then treat high and at the back of the crate 
  2. Close door and step away 
  3. Repeat several times 

NOTE: If at any time the pup moves out of a sit or down position, close the door and step away again. Wait a moment then try again. 

Stage 3 

Stage 3 follows immediately from stage 2 so pup is in crate without a lead: 

  1. Crouch down, open crate and clip lead 3 times beside pup’s collar without connecting it (pup is learning not to get excited when it sees the lead in our hand)
  2. Treat high and at the back of the crate 
  3. Close door and step away 
  4. Repeat several times 

NOTE: If at any time the pup moves out of a sit or down position, close the door and step away again. Wait a moment then try again. 

Stage 4 

Stage 4 follows immediately from stage 3 so pup is in crate without a lead 

  1. Crouch down, open crate 
  2. Attach lead to pups’ collar 
  3. Treat high and at the back of the crate 
  4. Detach lead from pup’s collar 
  5. Close door and step away 
  6. Repeat several times 

NOTE: If at any time the pup moves out of a sit or down position, close the door and step away again. Wait a moment then try again. 

Stage 5: The Gamble 

Stage 5 follows immediately from stage 4 so pup is in crate without a lead 

  1. Crouch down, open crate 
  2. Attach lead to pups’ collar 
  3. Stand back with pup on lead and door open 
  4. Wait 1-3 seconds 
  5. Mark and treat high and at the back of the crate 
  6. Remove the lead 
  7. Close crate door and move away 
  8. Repeat several times 

NOTE: If at any time the pup moves out of a sit or down position, close the door and step away again. Wait a moment then try again 

Stage 6 

Stage 6 follows immediately from stage 5 so pup is in crate without a lead 

  1. Crouch down, open crate 
  2. Attach lead to pups’ collar 
  3. Treat high and at the back of the crate 
  4. Stand back with pup on lead and door open 
  5. Wait 1-3 seconds 
  6. Present target hand outside the crate to encourage dog to leave crate 
  7. When pup targets, mark but DO NOT TREAT (Value needs to be in entering and being in crate,    not when exiting it) 
  8. Immediately turn around and lure pup to stand back in front of open crate door 
  9. Keep lead short and wait until pup goes into crate again (same as in stage 1) 
  10. Mark and treat high and at the back of the crate 
  11. Repeat several times gradually increasing length of wait before targeting pup out of crate 

NOTE: If pup tries to exit before the target hand is presented, immediately close the door to crate, step away and try again in a few minutes.