Puppy Socialisation During Social Distancing
It's naturally a worrying time for new puppy owners at the moment, they will be told by every Tom, Dick and Harry and Joe their next-door neighbour about the importance of socialising their puppy. If we weren't in lockdown then they may take that advice and rush out their door to start their socialisation journey.
From experience, I find that some owners, see socialisation solely as the job of meeting other dogs and people and I think this is because socialisation is not as well explained, it's a little misunderstood and there are too many different opinions out there on how best to socialise a puppy.
Personally I think the time that we are in right now will in some ways work in your favour when it comes to socialising your new puppy. Before COVID-19, due to the short window of time to 'Socialise' a puppy, it can feel like you're rushing through the process, deliberately stopping every person that you pass on the street so that your puppy can meet them. Saying Hi to every dog so that your puppy can start to meet other dogs who aren't from their litter. Owners have great intentions when doing this but for most puppies, all those experiences are actually too much for them and those interactions are flooding the puppy with a mix of emotions and potentially negative associations are being formed. The opposite of what we want from socialisation.
Now that we can't stop at every person, and we can't meet every dog, the puppy now gets to safely and at a distance observe and that for me is perfect socialisation. Being given a little more time to sit back and observe gives your puppy a lot of power, they can make their own mind up in their own time about what they are looking at. Rather than being forced to say hello and that is confidence-boosting.
How many dogs do you see lunging at the end of their lead, maybe barking trying to say hi to another dog or person, this potentially is due to the fact that from a young age they were allowed to meet everyone and everything and now they are full of expectation that they can continue to do so. New puppies growing up during social distancing will not be set up with the same expectations. You, their owner are now their sort of superhero, their safe place, you don't force them into situations and that will do wonders for your bond and relationship.
What Can You Do?
Training- Positive reinforcement training can start from the day you bring your new puppy home, teach them that their name is something worth listening out for, teach them that eye contact with you is reassuring and rewarding. Train fun tricks as well as all the puppy basics. Training with your dog helps to build your bond together. Also having well-rehearsed cues that you can take on the road can help you when you are introducing your puppy to novel experiences out and about.
Handling- Spend some time doing handling exercises with your puppy. We tend to over handle our puppies because they are cute and easy to pick up but we don't always think if it's best for them. Handling can be made into a fun experience pairing it with tasty treats or an interactive food toy. Sights and Sounds- During your one hour of exercise your puppy can be carried in your arms and this will allow them to see and hear lots of new things. Pair these new sights and sounds with nice treats and reward the moments of calm that you see from your new puppy. The Dog's Trust has a great page of different sounds that you can play in the home to get your puppy used to different sounds such as fireworks, busy streets, construction noise etc.
Textures-Find different textures in your home and lay them out for your puppy to explore, yoga mat, fluffy blanket, rubber garden mat, bubble wrap etc. However don't just plonk your puppy onto a new texture, allow them the choice to walk over it or investigate it themselves. Remember you are their safe place in the home as well as out of the home. People-Here is where you can get creative, dig out your fancy dress box! Doing this will help your puppy to see that not all people look the same as you, so when they finally get to meet different people they are already quite prepared. Stick on different hats, glasses, big jackets etc. I also think its a good idea to practise coming into your home through the front door as for many puppies that can be quite scary. If you have other people in your household that can help you out by ringing the doorbell and coming in just like a visitor then it's worth adding to your list.
Get in touch if you'd like any more advice on this.