Puppy Socialization during COVID-19…What to do?!!

Dr. Claire McPhee

Socialization is the exciting stage of life when a puppy is open to new experiences. This crucial time period from roughly 3 – 14 weeks will set the stage for how your puppy reacts to the people, places, and things in the world around her for the rest of her life. Raising a young puppy during a socially distant pandemic creates some challenges, though there are many creative ways to provide valuable experiences.
  • Set up a “novel room” – this is a room that a puppy can go into each day and discover new sights, sounds (could have music or white noise playing), new smells (candles, lotion, food) so that the puppy becomes more comfortable entering new spaces.
  • Costumes – find hats, coats, and other odd clothing that isn’t what your pup is used to and reward him for observing, and investigating.
  • Stuffed dogs – dogs are fairly near-sighted. From 50 – 75 feet away, they cannot distinguish a stuffed dog from a real dog. You can have a stuffed dog outside the window or across the street and use positive rewards to create positive associations.
  • Leave puppy home alone. The pandemic will not last forever (we hope) and we will return to jobs, school and social activities that will require puppy to be home alone. Even 1 – 2 hours will help her get used to the reality that she will sometimes be left behind. Leave toys to provide enrichment and keep puppy in a safe place (puppy proof room, pen, or crate).
  • Socialization with other puppies – several trainers are still running puppy drop off play times, which is a great way to give that exposure.
  • Encountering other people – avoiding people rushing up to greet your puppy can be a good thing – for some puppies it is overwhelming and they may become afraid of strangers or think that everyone wants to be greeted. Observing other people from a distance gives us the opportunity to train that being around other people is positive, (give rewards for noticing the people), but that the puppy doesn’t have to greet them.
  • Role play – even if visitors are not coming to the house, a family member can go to the front door and knock and have pretend interaction. Bonus points if this person wears a costume!
Have fun and enjoy this special time with your puppy, and reach out to your veterinarian with questions!
Here is a great Puppy Bingo game our own Veterinary Assistant and licensed trainer, McKenna, designed for her clients…give it a go with your new best friend.
References:
– Fear Free: Pandemic Puppies: Puppy Socialization During a Disease Outbreak – Rachel Lees RVT VTS (Behavior)
– Podcast “Drinking from the Toilet”, Hannah Branigan: “Raising a Puppy in a Pandemic” with Debbie Martin