Puppy socialization is about getting your pup comfortable with his world and about letting him learn to approach strange things with his mind and not his emotions. He needs have positive experiences with as many new things as possible. Normally, you would be taking him to puppy class, and the park, and the local coffee shop and having him calmly pass or meet people on the street. Since that’s not possible during the pandemic, let’s get creative. Use items that you have around the house and take advantage of safe social distancing to help your puppy learn that novel objects, people and situations are fun and not scary.
What to do
Allow your puppy to approach or investigate the novel item at his own pace. If he doesn’t want to go up to it the first time, that’s fine. Let him check it out at a distance. Give him some yummy treats for trying. This way we will start building positive associations and your puppy will start building confidence. Try again later and/or on a different day. With continued positive experiences your pup should eventually become accustomed to the novel item or situation. If your puppy is having trouble with this, please contact us.
Try to expose your puppy to as many new things as possible. Here are some ideas:
Different Types of People
With rules about social distancing, we cannot allow our puppies to go right up to strangers. However, we can still socialize them to all sorts of different types of people from afar and with a little creativity you can become different people at home. Wear unusual/different accessories to play/feed/ treat your pup. Think hats, big sunglasses, raincoat, boots, parka. Kneepads, football gear, Halloween masks, anything out of the ordinary. Sit in the grocery store parking lot in your car, and let your pup watch the people. Go for walks and watch people from afar. Try to find as many different types of people as possible – tall people, short people, kids. Search on your computer or smart phone for sounds of children playing, people laughing, deep voices, high squeaky voices, babies crying, and other noises your puppy may be likely to encounter as part of your family.
Provide different surfaces for your pup to walk on. If you have the odd hula hoop or tarp, put it on the ground and let your pup investigate. Spare boards, bubble wrap, cookie sheets, oven racks. Lightly crumpled paper bags , bubble wrap, tin foil sheets work, too. Anything to make the flooring different. If you are out on a walk let your pup walk on grass, gravel, dirt, fallen logs, parking dividers, anything that you can find that is safe for your puppy to investigate.
Don’t forget sounds! There are a fair number of sound effect files available on Amazon, the internet, YouTube and iTunes. Play sounds of animals, vehicles, thunderstorms, anything you can think of. Play the sounds quietly at first, giving your pup a treat after he hears the sound.
Wheels and Moving Objects
Things on wheels can be scary. Haul out your old suitcase, golf clubs, kid’s wagon. Athletic equipment, especially out of season. Skis, for instance, or your backpack, roller skates, or skateboard. Get out the vacuum cleaner. How about a trash can on wheels? Roll the items over different surfaces to create different sounds. If your puppy is worried about the items let your puppy go over and investigate them while they are not moving. Have him watch the items from a distance. Remember to give a treat after your pup sees the item move or after he goes up to investigate it.
Exposure to Other Novel Objects or Situations
Sit out front with your puppy and click/treat for cars, bikes, people walking by. Explore the garage or basement. Check out the washing machine, the furnace, the giant Christmas decorations. Did we mention lots of treats? Go for short car rides to help with chronic carsickness. Set up a play tent, using sheets over chairs or the coffee table. Let your pup investigate and find goodies. Park near a gas station and watch for vehicles, particularly large and loud vehicles. If it’s windy, go outside and watch for anything blowing by.
Watch other dogs from afar and practice polite dog body language. If your puppy is jumping at the other dog, turn and go the other way. Glancing at another dog is great. Prolonged staring is seen as a threat by dogs. Distract your pup so that he doesn’t stare for more than two or three seconds.
Play vet! And groomer. Pick up your puppy’s paws, look in his ears and mouth, place a nail clipper up to his nails (without clipping), lightly brush him, explore the tub. Keep the exposure brief and positive. Stop before your pup becomes uncomfortable, then give him a treat.
Remember: Exposure needs to be positive! Any new thing in your pup’s environment should come with a treat. Anything. He doesn’t need to do more than look at it to earn that treat. Doesn’t need to interact, doesn’t need to be calm, he just needs to know it’s there.