Animal shelters and kennel environments are less than ideal living situations for puppies. Because the puppies are not living with a family or in the comfort of a home, shelters are inherently stressful and generally are not good places for puppy socialization.

For those reasons, puppies should spend as little time in shelters as possible. To provide puppies with the best possible care, we have a network of foster homes or rescue groups to send puppies for care and socialization.

A puppy’s primary socialization period, the period of life when it is most important to expose him to people and other dogs, is between three and sixteen weeks. However, when a puppy arrives at a shelter, the staff often don’t know how or if a puppy was socialized to other dogs or people.

Puppy development stages

To help puppies grow up happy and healthy, it’s important to be aware of what they need at each phase in their development. Here is a quick summary of the stages of puppy development, starting at birth up to two years old.

Neonatal stage and dependence on mother dog: birth to 2 weeks

From birth to two weeks, puppies are completely dependent on mom for food and care, such as keeping themselves clean. The senses of touch and taste are present at birth. Neonatal puppies have limited movement and are capable of only a slow crawl.

Transitional stage, development of senses,weaning: 2-4 weeks

From two to four weeks, puppies become aware of and interact with their litter mates as well as their mother. Their eyes open and their sight is well developed by five weeks. The senses of hearing and smell are developing; their baby teeth start emerging. During this stage, puppies begin to walk, bark and wag their tails. By the end of this period, puppies are able to eliminate without their mother’s stimulation.

Weaning from the mother also begins during this phase. At around three weeks, puppies should be started on solid food. Offer the puppies small amounts of soft food in a shallow dish. By the time the puppies are eight weeks old, they should be eating solid food and no longer nursing.

Training, vaccinations and socialization: 3-16 weeks

From four to six weeks, puppies continue to be influenced by their mother and litter mates. They learn to play, gaining needed social skills from litter mates, such as inhibited biting (biting to play, not to hurt). The puppies also learn the ins and outs of group structure and ranking within the group. Puppies become much more vocal during this period, with the appearance of play barking and growling.

At this point, if mom is aggressive or fearful of people, the puppies may be affected by her attitude. To socialize your puppies to humans, have a variety of people interacting with them — young (with supervision) and old, male and female. During the socialization period, it’s also very important to expose your puppy to other normal experiences, such as car rides, crate-training, vacuum-cleaning, ringing doorbells, and a variety of objects and sounds. Also, handling of the feet and body parts is a good thing for a puppy to experience at an early age.

Training and socialization can begin very early, from the beginning of this socialization period, but do not permanently separate a puppy from his mother and siblings before eight weeks of age. House-training can begin as early as five weeks, when puppies will follow their mother through a dog door or can be taken out for elimination lessons.

At approximately six weeks, puppies can begin in-home training. You should handle all parts of the puppy, introduce his first collar and lead, encourage him to come using his name, and reward him with praise and treats. At this age, you can also start training puppies with positive reinforcement methods: using a clicker, praise and rewards.

At about eight weeks, puppies start experiencing fear; everyday objects and experiences can alarm them. This is a perfectly normal reaction — it doesn’t mean that you will have a fearful dog.

You don’t want to socialize your puppies with other dogs and cats until the puppies have been vaccinated, since they may pick up diseases (such as parvo, distemper, and hepatitis) that can be fatal to puppies. In general, about a week after the second parvo/distemper vaccination, it is reasonably safe for your puppy to play with other similarly vaccinated puppies, in a class with a relationship-based trainer.

Puppies can socialize with other species of animals as well — horses, cats, whatever animals you would like your puppy to be comfortable around. Of course, you’ll need to use caution and make sure that the other animals are friendly.

Establishing hierarchy within the group: 4-6 months

During this period, puppies grow rapidly and you may notice daily changes. Even though puppies are very energetic, don’t exercise your puppy too much, since he can overdo it. Among themselves, puppies begin to use ranking in their group structure — that is, they start testing where they fit in. Puppies may experience another fear phase that lasts about a month and seems to come from nowhere. Again, this is a perfectly normal part of puppy development and is nothing to be alarmed about.


Adolescent stage and socialization: 6-12 months

Like most adolescents, puppies are very rambunctious, so continue the process of training and socializing your dog during this phase. Socialization and training are necessary if you want your puppy to be comfortable and act acceptably in public places such as dog parks and beaches, or anywhere that she will meet new dogs and new people.

Potty training a puppy

When you get a new puppy or dog, you’ll need to show him or her what is acceptable in your home. Different people may have different rules: Some want to train their dogs to eliminate in litter trays or on paper, while others want all “bathroom” business to occur outdoors. For your dog to know what you want, you have to establish a predictable routine.

Potty training your dog or puppy

For the first couple of weeks, a new dog of any age should be supervised when he has the full (or even partial) run of the house. During those times when you cannot supervise him, it is wise to restrict the movement of a new animal during the house-training phase. You can potty train your dog by using a crate. Or, for limited periods of time, you can confine the dog to a small, easy-to-clean room, like the bathroom, equipped with a child gate.

Your dog should consider this space a safe place, so add the dog’s bed, water and things to chew on to create a comfortable den. The dog should be fed in this space as well. To keep this space safe, make sure that nothing that would cause her discomfort happens here and keep children out of this area.

Set up a daily schedule where you walk your dog on lead (or carry her) to the desired elimination spot after meals, after naps, and every couple of hours in between. To reinforce that the trip has a purpose, you should not play with the dog during trips to eliminate. Use a word or phrase (like “do your business”) to remind the dog of her duty. As soon as she has produced, praise her lavishly and give her a treat.

What do I need to know about potty training a puppy?

Puppies cannot hold their bladders and bowels for more than a few hours. Even the most intelligent and well-intentioned puppy has to wait until its muscles develop before it can exercise appropriate bladder and bowel control, just like a human infant. If you must be away for more than two or three hours, and you are training the puppy to eliminate outdoors, you will need someone to help by walking the puppy for you.


If you are training a puppy to eliminate on paper or in a litter box, the space the puppy is contained in will need to be large enough for a sleeping area away from an elimination spot. (Dogs don’t like to eliminate where they sleep.) Keep in mind that a puppy, if trained to eliminate on paper or a litter box, may have a lifelong surface preference; that is, even as an adult, he may eliminate on paper if it is lying around the house. Having a puppy eliminate in the house will prolong the process of teaching him to eliminate outdoors.

How long does house-training take?

After a week or so of no accidents, you can begin allowing the dog freedom in the house after each successful trip outdoors. Supervision will still be needed, however, as well as praise and an occasional reward. Supervise the dog anytime he is given free run of the house, watching for signs such as circling and sniffing corners.

How do I deal with “accidents”?

If an “accident” happens and you catch the dog in the act, stop him and escort him to the correct spot. Praise him if he stops eliminating when you ask him to. Be sure not to yell when you catch him in the act because this can cause him to discontinue eliminating in front of you, thus prolonging the potty-training process. If you find the results of an accident after it’s happened, again, do not punish the dog, since punishment could make him afraid to eliminate in your presence. It’s more effective to clean up the mess and put it in the designated elimination spot, so the smell will help your dog recognize that this is where to go.

To clean up accidents, use an enzymatic cleaner. Urine contains pheromones, chemical markers that say essentially, “Go potty here.” Only enzymatic cleaners break down the pheromones, which keeps dogs from sniffing out and using the inappropriate potty area.

If you’re training a puppy, keep in mind that a puppy’s muscles are still developing, so he may not be able to control himself when he eliminates in an inappropriate spot. Puppies mature at different rates, and some will take longer to develop bladder and bowel control.

Finally, there’s a difference between a dog who “marks” his territory and a dog who isn’t house-trained. Early neutering will reduce a dog’s inclination to mark surfaces with his scent. But, if a dog who is already potty-trained starts having accidents, check with the foster coordinator because there may be a medical cause.

How to socialize a puppy

If a puppy is exhibiting behaviors like growling, snapping or biting, there’s a good chance those behaviors can be reversed by implementing a comprehensive positive socialization plan while the puppy is still young. An adult dog who remains fearful due to lack of socialization can be helped through systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning, but the process can be lengthy and could be a lifelong project. That’s why it’s so important to socialize dogs while they are young.

How to socialize a puppy

While socializing a puppy, watch the pup’s body language to determine if he’s feeling safe and happy during these interactions. You’ll want to let the puppy take things at his own speed; don’t force him into situations in which he appears to be uncomfortable. As you introduce the puppy to new experiences, feed him special treats and give lots of praise. Try to avoid exposing the puppy to dogs or humans who might harshly reprimand or significantly frighten him. Discovering new things should be fun for the puppy.


Introducing foster puppies to other dogs

Beginning at weeks three to seven, puppies learn to feel safe and happy around other dogs. Puppies between three and seven weeks of age should be kept with at least one other puppy and, ideally, with their mother. There are exceptions to this rule, though. For instance, a mother dog who is very aggressive toward humans is likely teaching her pups to behave fearfully toward humans, so she might not be the best role model in this regard.


Orphaned puppies should be isolated from all other puppies and adult dogs with compromised immune systems for a 14-day quarantine period, and then put in a group of puppies of similar size, age and vaccination status. During this time, maintain socialization with people as described below. Ideally, orphaned pups should be sent to a foster home that has multiple friendly (and vaccinated) adult dogs so that the puppy can socialize with other dogs.

Once they are seven weeks old and after their second set of parvo/distemper vaccinations, puppies should receive exposure to scrupulously vetted adult dogs and other puppies of the same vaccination status and ideally of similar ages, in puppy groups or classes. Orphaned puppies under 20 weeks of age will benefit significantly from daily playtime with other dogs — preferably puppies of the same age. Adult dogs can also be good playmates, but they must have a consistent history of being patient and gentle with puppies. In all cases, interrupt play if the adult dog appears to be stressed.

Protecting puppies from disease

How much “street exposure” should you give your foster puppies? Because puppies are vulnerable to certain diseases (such as parvo, distemper and hepatitis), you’ll want to avoid public places like sidewalks and parks frequented by other dogs. It is a good idea, however, to take puppies on car rides and carry them around in public, so they can experience the world while having minimal exposure to pathogens. When the puppies are eight weeks old, new people and other animals who are healthy, vaccinated and friendly can come to your home, and you can work on socializing your puppies to them. Ask all new people to wash their hands before handling puppies under 12 weeks of age.

After you have your foster coordinator's blessing to take the puppies out into the world, you can introduce them to the delights of going for walks in the neighborhood or to the park, and visiting other people’s homes.

Socializing puppies to people

Lots of positive exposure to people is the most important part of puppy socialization. There are several aspects of human exposure that must be provided:

  • Interaction with different types of people (young, old, short, tall, calm, boisterous, etc.)

  • Training to teach pups to interact with humans politely and appropriately

  • Independent interaction away from other puppies

Puppies start learning how to be independent from the other pups in their litter during their socialization period. And puppies should spend as much time as possible (ideally, most of the day) with their foster person. This interaction should include:

  • Play: Puppies should learn how to play nicely with people. They need to know what is and isn’t appropriate play behavior. They should be taught that playing with toys is fun and rewarding, while biting or mouthing people never results in an encouraging response from a human.

  • Quiet time: Puppies must learn to enjoy petting, cuddling and calm interactions. If a puppy is not able to calm down, he needs more exercise and playtime.

  • Training: Puppies can start learning at a young age how to interact politely with humans. Training puppies to sit on cue when they want something is very easy to do and teaches them how to work with people to get what they want in life. Retrieve training is also very easy to do successfully with many puppies (even before 14 weeks); it teaches pups to share and enjoy fun, positive interactions with people.

Preventing "resource guarding"

To help prevent your foster puppies from guarding food and other resources from humans, you’ll want to teach them that it’s not necessary to guard these things. To that end, practice each of these exercises several times per day with all puppies:

  • Food bowl bonus: While the puppy is eating, approach him, reach for and take the bowl, feed the puppy a high-value treat (something he enjoys more than his regular food) and give the bowl back.

  • Object exchanges: While the puppy is holding a toy, approach him, reach for and take the toy away, give the puppy a special treat, and give the toy back.

Good experiences for puppies

When puppies are between the ages of three and twenty weeks, they should be exposed to a variety of sounds, scents, surfaces and objects. The idea is to help the puppies become comfortable with typical experiences they will have in their lives as adult dogs. This is another reason that a foster home is preferable to a shelter for most puppies, since shelters don’t allow exposure to normal household stimuli.

Get a dog socialization checklist

Introduce the dog to a variety of:

  • People of various ages (newly walking toddlers, 2 year olds, teenagers, etc.)

  • Differences in people (loud people, quiet people, men/women, boys/girls, different ethnicities, people using oxygen machines / walkers / wheelchairs, groups of people, etc.

  • People doing different things (singing, dancing, clapping, jumping, hopping, whistling, jogging, cooking, etc.)

  • People wearing different things (hats, glasses, sunglasses, a helmet, coats with hood up, gloves, masks, etc.)

  • Household activity (vacuum, broom, mop, TV, radio, noise-making toys, umbrella, plastic bags, dog brush, etc.)

  • Experiences (riding in cars, walking on different flooring, using stairs, sitting at coffee shop with you, elevator, etc.)

We asked HSH Foster Mom, Lindsay Marimen for some advice:

What's your method on setting up for foster puppies?


I clear out an area on my linoleum in the corner and put my play yard there. It’s always lined with puppy pads then newspaper and then in the back corner are towels then blankets. They’re not always perfect, but giving them a separate area to sleep and potty helps. Sometimes I’ll give them a little “shade” with a blanket over the top to help them feel safe. This only lasts a couple days before they get wild and rip it down lol.

Any advice for crate training your fosters?

The moms and older dogs get crate trained. They are given soft blankets and toys in the crate. Every time they eat, it’s in the crate. Especially if someone has other dogs, feeding everyone in their crates helps with resource guarding. All dogs I have fostered have jumped my chain link fence (probably from living on the streets!) so I hook them up to a lead in my yard. Training treats for going outside, going to crate, for socializing, for tricks, etc.

Fostering when you already have dogs at home:

My dogs are used to foster dogs of all temperaments which is really cool. After it’s okay to introduce everyone, fosters learn so much by being with my dogs. No matter how friendly everyone is, I always put the foster dog in a crate when I leave so he is separated and safe from the other dogs when I am not there.

Feeding advice:

Most dogs I foster are underweight and will gobble up anything they can get to. I feed them smaller meals more often in order to help them to not overfill themselves and stay full longer.

Enclosures for Puppies