What a time to bring a new puppy into your life, huh? We all know research has shown puppies need to experience many situations, people, pets and objects in their world during their critical growth phase. But now – how are you supposed to do that? We’ve got some tips that will help you socialize your puppy even in this time of ‘social distancing.’
Don’t forget to dowload your Puppy Socialization Checklist to help make sure your pup doesn’t miss an opportunity for a new experience.
Who’s got a new puppy? I know with more time on my hands lately, it seems like a great time for puppy breath and sweet little cuddles. I’ve got puppy fever too… cute puppy photos to snap…new toys, new leashes, walks to take.
And yet, here we are…Stuck in our homes with no opportunity to take our puppy out to meet the world.
Experts in canine development have identified a critical timeframe between 8 – 11 weeks in your puppy’s life. During this ‘fear imprint period,’ your puppy is learning by association. Anything perceived as traumatic, whether physically or psychologically, can leave an imprint that will affect his personality and the way he relates to the world – often for life!
So crucial, yes.
This is the time when puppies need to have positive, rewarding experiences with all sorts of people, pets, places, objects, sounds, experiences.
Tip: There is a second ‘fear period’ that lasts from about 6 – 14 months of age. Your teenaged dog will also need to be managed carefully during this timeframe.
So how are you supposed to socialize your puppy while social distancing? How can you help your pup grow into a stable, confident dog? Don’t worry; with a little creativity and a desire to give your pup the best start in life, it can be done. While for the moment, we’ll need to give up puppy classes and public places, there is still so much you can do.
How to introduce your puppy to the world…
Yes, it’s important for your puppy to experience the world. But most importantly is HOW you introduce her to all these strange and potentially worrisome things. Your job is to make sure she knows all is well with the world.
- Make sure your puppy feels safe and secure with new things. Take it slow. Don’t overwhelm her with too much too soon. Too many hugs and cuddles from too many people all at once can be emotionally overwhelming.
- Treats are perfect for teaching your puppy that any new object is a good thing.
- Keep your own emotions calm and even-keeled.
- Maintaining a matter-of-fact attitude about a new noise or situation helps teach your puppy everything is okay. It’s no big deal.
- Sharpen your powers of observation. And notice body language. Step in to change up the scene if your puppy seems overwhelmed or afraid.
- Most importantly, do your best to minimize any experience that could be traumatic at this crucial developmental period.
A word on safety and health for the times…
Every individual needs to decide for themselves what constitutes a safe environment. You’ll need to look at your own health and that of your immediate family before deciding just how much interaction is okay. We’ll explain more as we go through…
Human Relationships and Interaction
Depending on how many you’ve got in your household, your puppy may have plenty of different people to interact with. But – just his own family is not enough during this stage. To socialize your puppy while social distancing, your pup is going to need to see all sorts of people; men with beards, tall ladies, people with glasses, babies, toddlers, teens, seniors. The list is exhaustive.
Normally, you would take your pup out and about to meet and greet all these different sorts of humans. Now, with six feet between ‘us’ and ‘them’ it makes for more challenges.
What to do instead:
- Simply taking your pup out to see different people, even if it’s just from the safety of a car window, will help. Observing the world go by is one way to help your pup decide different things are okay.
- Have a costume party at home! Let members of your family dress up in all sorts of things your puppy may run across in real life. Enhance your performance with perfume or cologne or even garlic breath. Walk differently, talk in a different tone of voice. But keep in mind: your goal is to let your puppy experience all this in a positive manner. Don’t try to startle you baby – that’s not what this is about.
- If you have trusted friends who are in good health and you are both comfortable with this idea, arrange to meet up at a park. You can keep your distance of 6 feet while still allowing them to pet and interact with your puppy. For safety sake, bring hand sanitizer and something to wipe down your puppy when you are finished.
- While playgrounds are out of commission, if you have family friends with large backyards and lots of kids, ask if you and your puppy can observe them playing from a distance.
Dogs and Other Pets
Carefully monitored puppy playgroups are a great way for your new best friend to learn the ins and outs of playing with other pups around his own age. But right now, these types of outlets for socialization are most likely not available.
You may not be able to check off all the different pets and animals right now, but you can meet some.
What to do instead:
- Again, a trusted friend who has a well-mannered dog is a great idea. You should be totally comfortable with the level of play and don’t forget to wipe down your doggos when finished.
- Cats may be a more difficult interaction if you don’t have one yourself. But exposure to cats is pretty important. Do you know anyone with a cat who is confident around dogs and is comfortable on harness and leash? You may be able to arrange a meetup in the same way. (Our Henry Jones will volunteer!)
- Dog parks? Even if one is still open in your location, I would not recommend taking my puppy to a dog park – especially with other unknown dogs present. Just don’t do it.
Most of these you can tackle at home. Every type of strange or unusual object you can think of should be introduced to your puppy. Even a plastic bag could be considered scary to some dogs if they weren’t introduced to it early on.
Surfaces are also super important. If you have carpeting, make sure your puppy knows how to walk on a slick wood or tile floor. Area rugs, too. Grass, sand, concrete, rocks, wobbly surfaces are all real-life things she’ll encounter. Make sure she knows how to handle them. Don’t forget to include wet surfaces because rain happens even in quarantine!
If you live in an urban setting, your puppy will become accustomed to a certain environment. Same for his puppy cousin living in the country. Make sure your pup learns both environments are okay.
While ‘stay safe at home’ is the word of the day, you may still have opportunity to get your puppy out to different environments.
What to do instead:
- Drive to the city. Park the car, roll down the windows, look and listen. Head out to a local farming area. Watch the tractors. Get out and walk about if you feel comfortable.
- Noises and sounds are critical! Who’d have known I’d end up with a dog who was afraid of the sounds owls make!! You should still be able to drive or walk past construction areas, vacuum often, watch for thunderstorms and sit on the porch, use your hair dryer, bubble wrap (you know you want to pop it!) mow the lawn.
This one is another big challenge for puppies being socialized at this time. I know you are just itching to get your puppy out with you to the pet store or your favorite outdoor café. Be patient – that time will come.
For now, focus on taking your puppy places that you can.
What to do instead:
- Curbside pickup or the drive-thru at least gives your pup exposure to new sights and sounds.
- Your veterinarian’s office may or may not be open. If they are, you could inquire to see if you can make a private appointment for a quick visit to the waiting room.
- If parks are open in your area, take your puppy for a walk. Maintain distance and enjoy the fresh air.
- Some home improvement stores are still open for essentials. If they are dog-friendly, they are a great place to experience. Remember to keep your distance from other customers. And follow local laws.
This is a perfect time to exercise your creativity in socializing your new pup!
Don’t forget – you also have some puppy training to begin working on. See our post on crate training and why it’s essential for your pup to learn.
One more thing: don’t freak out or feel like you’ve failed if you don’t check off every new object/sound/experience on the list. Your puppy will not be ruined for life. Chloe never met a horse until she was 2 years old and she did not flip out or cower in fear. Each dog is unique.
And guess what? You’ll be working on new fears that could potentially pop up at any time during your dog’s lifetime. The strong and solid base you’re giving your puppy right now will help in the future. And a solid trust in YOU.
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