Puppy Socialisation During COVID-19 Restrictions
So many new puppies arriving in homes during COVID-19!
But what do we do about puppy socialisation with all the restrictions?
Puppies still need to be introduced to their “new” world, even during these challenging COVID-19 times. The puppy socialisation period is from around 6 -14 weeks of age, when we are teaching our puppies to become calm, confident dogs in our environment. This has obviously been made much more difficult with the social isolation measures during COVID-19.
What is puppy socialisation?
- Setting our puppies up to cope with the normal sights, sounds and smells in different environments and situations that they will experience in our lives. We aim to teach our puppies to be calm, confident dogs and cope with these changes by exposing them in a positive way to many different experiences.
- Helping our puppy have appropriate social skills with other dogs, people and other species.
- Creating a puppy that is comfortable, welcomed and confident in our human society with our social norms.
- Building a foundation for learning and teaching our puppy to be able to learn, think and act rationally in novel situations.
We need to expose puppies to a wide range of novel experiences and situations in a positive way. Although COVID-19 is limiting interactions with unfamiliar people, other dogs and species, there may be some positives with the isolation for our puppies. They will have fewer negative experiences with other dogs or scary people when out on walks. They may also learn better impulse control and greeting rituals. We can practice teaching them “time alone” rituals and independence, whilst we have lots of opportunity to practice!
We need to be able to speak our puppy’s language. By understanding their body language, we can gauge when your puppy is not feeling comfortable, and either remove them from the situation, or increase the distance and lessen the intensity of the scary thing. Looking at tail posture, ear position, facial and body tension can help you read your dog. Signs of discomfort include lip licking, yawning, paw lifting, tucked tail, ears back, crouched posture and weight shifting.
Dogs experience life with all of their senses, so when we are exposing them to new situations, we need to ensure we expose them using all of these senses. We want to reward our puppies when they are experiencing novel situations with interest and no concerns. Food rewards using really yummy treats (fingernail size) are usually the easiest positive reinforcer. Clicker training may also be useful.
Although it is difficult to expose your puppy to unfamiliar people, we can use costumes, beards, high viz shirts, umbrellas, crutches etc to change our appearance. If your puppy in looking uncomfortable, move further away and reward when he is watching with no worries.
We need to familiarise our dogs to both continuous and out of the blue sounds. Background sounds include the vacuum cleaner, washing machine, traffic noises – start with low volume sounds. For out of the blue noises, start with a finger click, or a balloon pop in another room. There are Apps that can play different common sounds – always start low level and gradually increase the volume while rewarding. Do not go straight to a thunderstorm at full volume.
“Sniff” walks are a great way for your dog to relax. It allows them to familiarise to the smell of unfamiliar dogs and people. Many dogs are frightened of large men – this may not just be due to their size and appearance, but also their smell. You can borrow a smelly jumper from a friend and allow you puppy to slowly sniff and familiarise.
Make sure you walk your puppy on a variety of surfaces. For example, wooden floors, wet grass, carpet, lino floors. Puppies are like toddlers and explore their worlds using mouths and feet. They need to have lots of items they are allowed to investigate – make sure you do not leave inappropriate things lying around on the floor, or they may get chewed and destroyed!
Hopefully, as restrictions ease, we will be able to resume puppy classes and socialise our puppies with other puppies again soon!
Please call us if you would like to know more about puppy socialisation or puppy classes.