If you got a puppy for Christmas, or maybe one a bit before or after, you suddenly found yourself in a very strange predicament. COVID-19 hit and you were no longer allowed to go places, do things, see people. No puppy classes. No romps at the dog park once they had their shots. You couldn’t even go to the vet for routine surgeries like spay or neuter. But a puppy’s first year-and-a-half is the most important. They go through two fear periods and the experiences they have during this time shape their temperament for the rest of their life. Early socialisation is key.
So, what to do if you have a COVID-19 puppy that needs socialisation? Here are a few ways you can socialise your puppy during social distancing. REMEMBER THE KEY IS TO GIVE YOUR DOG POSITIVE SOCIAL EXPERIENCES!!! You want to avoid causing stress, fear or anxiety. Sometimes, all it takes is one bad experience to cause your dog to be fearful/reactive towards that object/animal/environment for the rest of its life.
Car rides are still allowed and can help your puppy see the outside world during this important phase. Some great pros are that while in the car, your puppy cannot be approached by dogs or kids that may cause him fear or anxiety. Another great pro is that it’s easy for you to leave a situation should you decide it’s too much for your dog. You can drive to new places, park, and let your dog watch people pass by. Reward them for calm behaviour towards loud trucks, bicycles, other dogs, etc.
Cons are that your puppy is not getting to greet well-behaved people or dogs, which is an important life skill.
Important: Only do this if your puppy enjoys a car ride. If your puppy is nervous about car rides, now is a great time to work on this behaviour alone! Take short trips, just around the block or a few feet down the road might be all he can handle at first. Feeding your puppy in the car can also help him get over his nerves. Do not feed the puppy then travel. As that will make him feel sick. Always practice traveling on an empty stomach. If he gets car sick, there are natural remedies including ginger and anxiety shirts. You can also talk to your vet about giving your dog Dramamine.
If you are fortunate to have a front yard, a few ingenious puppy owners have been setting up “petting stations” to get their puppies socialised with no contact between strangers. Puppies are put in an x-pen or similar set up, with a treat bucket on the outside. Owners keep watch a bit away while neighbours on their walks come, take a treat, and give it to the puppy. Signs with rules saying things like “puppy must sit before he gets a treat” or “don’t pet him if he is jumping,” etc. are also a great thing.
If your puppy is old enough to go on a little walk somewhere open and public, an organized walk with your friends (with dogs or without) is a great way to get your puppy used to being around other dogs/people and still focusing on you. In fact, having to be 1.5m away is actually beneficial at first, as the further away the distraction is, the easier it is for your puppy to focus.
If you have pet-friendly stores and your puppy has had her shots, definitely take them out shopping when you can. Again, people won’t be able to come up and pet your puppy, but she will at least get used to seeing and hearing them, along with all the activity in the store.
Do you have a friend or family member you trust? Letting them take your puppy for an hour or two can give your puppy some amazing socialisation, especially if they have kids, a puppy or friendly older dog, or even people of the opposite sex. You can do contactless pick up by putting your puppy in a crate by the door, so all you have to do is open the door and have them take the sanitized crate with them. Just be sure the person you are trusting your puppy with knows your training methods and how to ensure your puppy has positive experiences, otherwise this could have the opposite effect. (Note: this will also help with separation anxiety, as many puppies right now are not having their owners leave as much as they normally would. For more tips, read our blog on separation anxiety and COVID-19 here.)
Although it’s a bit inconvenient to be raising a puppy during COVID-19, it’s not impossible to have one come out adjusted, friendly and well socialised. You just have to be a bit more creative with your socialising plans. But take the time, and you will have a nice dog for the next 10-15 years.