By Erin Britton:
April 13th Update:
After reading this article, go check out our Pandemic Puppy page for newer information including our “10 Genius Hacks to Socialize Your Puppy Safely During Covid-19”.
COVID19 is disrupting more than just our human interaction; our dogs are affected too! Some puppies may be isolated during a critical socialization period. How can we continue to give our dogs adequate physical and mental stimulation, as well as positive socialization experiences during this time?
Socialization Done Right
Many people think of a pile of puppies running, wrestling, and playing when they think of socialization. In reality, teaching dogs to mind their social manners is only one part of proper socialization.
Socialization done right teaches the puppy that the world they live in is safe and fun, through positive experiences with new sights, smells, noises, feelings, and environments.
If you are not currently affected by COVID-19, you MUST still bring your puppy out for socialization experiences:
- Continue to bring your puppy on walks, exploring new areas, and seeing new dogs. Always supervise interactions closely, and be picky about which dogs your puppy will meet (do you know their vaccination and health status?)
- Taking your puppy out for walks or outings each and every day still lets you expose them to other dogs in the following way:
- Sight – Seeing various dogs, how they move, what they look like
- Sounds – Hearing other dogs bark and make noises
- Smell – Air scenting as they follow the trail of a dog that was by a few minutes ago
- On-Leash Greetings – Best advice at this time from health officials would suggest this is not safe, as leashes could quickly get tangled, and then owner(s) would have to break social distancing guidelines to untangle leashes and dogs
- As soon as permitted to by health authorities: Current Students and Alumni of When Hounds Fly can use our Facebook Group to set up play dates with other puppies from unaffected homes. Similarly, as soon as permitted, we will be hosting Puppy Parties for our students for supervised socialization sessions.
- Puppies that have not completed their vaccinations can still observe other dogs at a safe distance. They should not be going into the dog park (which are closed at this time), but can be carried nearby to these environments and allowed to observe the sights, sounds, and smells of adult dogs.
From the American Veterinary Medicine Association:
- If you are not ill with COVID-19, you can interact with your pet as you normally would, including walking, feeding, and playing. You should continue to practice good hygiene during those interactions (e.g., wash hands before and after interacting with your pet; ensure your pet is kept well-groomed; regularly clean your pet’s food and water bowls, bedding material, and toys).
- Out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. Have another member of your household take care of walking, feeding, and playing with your pet. If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.
Continue to use safety precautions when out with your puppy:
- Stay at a distance from people. Let the dogs interact on leash, if your puppy has sufficient vaccinations. Do not shake hands with other dog owners.
- Do not touch the other dog, unless necessary.
- Do not touch your face with unwashed hands (after coming close to other dogs and owners). Wearing gloves is a good physical reminder to not touch your face (even with gloves on!)
- Wash your hands thoroughly after walks.
Every new puppy owner, whether affected by COVID19 or not, should practice a multitude of other socialization exercises that can be done in your home! The key is to expose your puppy to something new. It could be anything from a new surface (the bathroom floor) to your vacuum cleaner noise, from checking teeth and ears, to you wearing hats/scarves. In each case, the idea is for the puppy to be comfortable in that situation.
Set Up for Success:
- Know how to read puppy body language! If we don’t know what our puppy is telling us (I’m afraid vs. I’m fine), we run the risk of accidentally having a negative experience.
- Need some help decoding your puppy’s body language? Check out this awesome website: ispeakdog.org
- Allow your puppy to explore new things by choice. Do not force a puppy to go closer to things they are afraid of or unsure of. Allow them to back away if they want to.
- Make the experience even MORE positive by giving your puppy treats and playing with them when they explore the new thing, hear the new thing, feel the new thing, etc.
- To avoid creating fear, anxiety, and aggression problems, if your puppy is reacting with extreme fear with the new thing/situation, stop the exposure.
Methods to Use
New sights, smells, and surfaces
Present a strange object such as a skateboard to the dog. At first, the dog may be scared of it, but when it musters enough courage to go closer to take a bit of a sniff, click, and then treat the dog for approaching it.
Repeat this many times with this object, and many other objects, so that the dog’s confidence to explore increases. The same should be done for exploring surfaces and spaces, such as the bathroom floor, the stairs, crawling under chairs, etc. For people-shy dogs, this exercise can even be extended to being brave to go up and sniff strangers.
Here’s a great look at creating a positive experience with the vacuum cleaner:
Sound Sensitivity is another key area to work on. Anxiety around thunderstorms and fireworks can be crippling. Use YouTube sound clips to socialize your puppy to scary sounds. Play the sound at a low volume, and feed, play, and engage with your puppy. When the sound stops, stop feeding!
We love the Sound Proof Puppy Training App! It has a great variety of sound clips to help you create positive experiences for your puppy. https://www.facebook.com/SoundProofPuppyTraining/
Grooming and Handling
Touch your dog or restrain your dog. If your dog remains calm, click, and then feed a
treat. If your dog flinches, pulls away, or generally seems uncomfortable, stop, and try again but
using a milder, gentler version of what you did previously.
Looking for inspiration?
Check out this puppy socialization checklist, from Dr. Sophia Yin.
In brief, during this period where Puppy Socialization group classes are suspended, you still have a lot of work to do. Puppies running around and playing with each other only represents a portion of the important work you are responsible for doing. You should still be teaching basic foundation behaviours, and you’ll want some advice on topics like nipping and biting, so that’s what our Virtual Classes, Phone Consultations, and 1-on-1 Lessons (Both in-person and virtual) are for. Take advantage of your free time and get to work!