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The Rule of Threes: The Puppy Socialization Rule You Need to Know

By TinaSpring. | Dog Info

At a seminar last year, I heard about a wonderful rule of thumb for socializing puppies. We all know we need to socialize our puppies and of course, I advocate systematic socialization in our group and online courses.

I also see issues on the flip side of socialization. Just as a puppy can be under socialized I think we are seeing what I have taken to calling “over socialization.” This seems to manifest in puppies who get aroused and over excited and even frustrated when prevented from being allowed to immediately and wholeheartedly greet other dogs or people. This becomes a problem because the puppies are being rude. They jump on other dogs and people and often will end up getting a big negative response which can result in the puppy then showing aggression and/or timidity.

Jo-rosie Haffenden & Nando Brown have provided a wonderful plan for helping families called the Rule of Threes. I have been using it with families since the fall and very much like the simplicity and efficacy.

So basically, the rule of threes is this: For every 3 people or dogs your pup meets:

  • 1 out of 3 your pup must ignore
  • 1 out of 3 your pup can politely greet
  • 1 out of 3 your pup can have greater interaction with including potential play 

Sounds simple enough. Of course, easier to communicate than to do. For example, if your puppy has been allowed to run up and greet every single person or dog that he or she sees you may have to spend a week not allowing your pup to greet ANYONE.  We use an exercise called Park & Pay to help relax the pup and get them over the “but, but, but, I absolutely must greet everyone all the time” mindset we may have accidentally taught them. (If you would like more info on that exercise feel free to email me at

I am a huge advocate for polite socialization and the rule of threes seems to be just the ticket to get that done. Happy Socializing!

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Tina M Spring - headshotTina M. Spring

Tina M. Spring is the owner of Sit Happens Dog Training & Behavior, LLC in Athens, GA. She is the creator of the Hounds for the Holidays program to help prepare dogs for the stress of the holiday season and prevent dog bites. She is also the author of 90 Days to the Perfect Puppy which is available as an onlinecourse.


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