Socialization, Socializing, and Sociability: What's the Difference?


What is the #1 reason we hear for why people want to enroll their dog in doggy daycare?


The trouble is: most people don’t understand what “Socialization” really is, and are using it as a blanket term to mean “getting my dog exposed to other dogs in a social environment”.

So we, the dog professionals, are here to set the record straight and help define what some of the dog-world lingo you hear really means and maybe even blow your mind!

The top three terms that tend to be interchanged most often are “Socialization,” “Socializing,” and “Sociability.” Below are the definitions of each term and examples of how they might be misused when talking about dogs.



Definition: Popularized by J.P. Scott and John L. Fuller’s publication Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog (1965) [1] wherein they classified the development of dogs and other species into stages: neonatal, transition, socialization, and juvenile. The American Veterinary Association states, “The socialization period occurs between 3 and 12 weeks of age and it is a sensitive period for the development of long-lasting social attachments and foundation memories. It may be considered as the most influential learning period for a dog with regards to living within the domestic human household.”[2] This means that after about 16 weeks of age, the puppy has outgrown their socialization period and exposure to new experiences has little or no effect to their long-term sociability. In fact, due to a secondary fear period that sometimes occurs in young adolescents, forcing exposure in an attempt to socialize a fearful dog may be detrimental to their overall well-being!
What people say: “My newly adopted dog is nervous around new things. I’m planning on bringing him to the dog park for some socialization.”
What people should say: “My newly adopted dog is nervous around new things because he wasn’t exposed to much during his socialization period as a puppy. I’m planning on working with a trainer to teach him how to be less nervous in his new home.”
Common pitfalls: Literally using the term “Socialization” when talking about any dog older than 16 weeks.



Definition: The natural interest and comfort levels of dogs to socialize with either humans and/or other dogs. Some dogs do great with other dogs and yet lack human sociability, making handling for grooming or veterinary practice challenging. Other dogs love their people but really don’t enjoy other dogs’ company, which is fine for most home pets and several types of working dogs. Bringing your dog to doggy daycare, dog parks, or other dog social events require a certain amount of dog-dog sociability that not every dog has. Most common are dogs who “age out” of high sociability as puppies and juveniles into being more selectively social as adults.[3]
What people say: “My dog wasn’t socialized as a puppy, so he doesn’t like other dogs.”
What people mean: “My dog wasn’t socialized as a puppy, so he isn’t dog social. He is very sociable with people, though!”
Common pitfalls: Assuming all dogs are sociable - with people or other dogs. There are several working breed types that are genetically chosen to not be sociable, as it would otherwise interfere with their job!



Definition: The activity and time spent with others in a social setting. This is most commonly what people mean when they say “socialization.” Because dogs older than 16 weeks are outside of their socialization period, exposing dogs to other dogs, places, and people and expecting them to socialize requires a certain amount of sociability to start.
What people say: “My dog sits at home all day and I think he needs some socialization.”
What people mean: “My dog sits at home all day and I would like him to socialize more.
Common pitfalls: Assuming dogs enjoy socializing as much as humans do. Even humans have introverted personalities versus those extroverted socialites! It’s okay if your dog isn’t terribly social. As dog professionals who often prefer socializing with dogs instead of people: we get it!

The bottom line is: not all dogs are lovely social butterflies who secretly wish to be running wild with everyone they meet. And that’s okay! Especially when it comes to older dogs or those who were undersocialized as puppies (such as many international shelter pulls or puppymill rescues). We have to manage our expectations for our dogs and accept that they might be happy just being your best friend. You wouldn’t take a bookworm to a loud house party and expect them to enjoy every moment! Why have that same expectation for your dog?

For those with the exuberant well-traveled pups who just love to live life with anyone who will share it with them: it is important to remember that not all dogs (or people) are as social as your pupper. Allow everyone a proper and polite amount of distance to say, “No thanks; I’d rather not be social with you.”

The best way to socialize a puppy and help them grow into a sociable dog who enjoys socializing is by ensuring multiple and varied positive interactions with other dogs. This includes being told, “No thanks!” and learning to be okay with it. That’s why we created our puppy headstart program: Puppy Kindergarten Click the link to find out more!