Socialising your Puppy Successfully through Covid-19 Lockdown.
Many people are understandably concerned as to how to continue or begin socialising new puppies through this period of national lockdown. It is less than ideal but don’t despair just yet, we have some fantastic tips to help you get the best out of your puppy during this time.
Importance of Socialisation
The period of time up to 12/13 weeks of age is known as the socialisation period, where the puppy’s brain is like a sponge soaking up every new experience. The puppy’s brain develops at such a fast rate it is vital to expose your puppy to and form positive associations with as many every day things as possible that you want your dog to be relaxed and confident with when they are an adult dog.
In an ideal world, exposure to things such as traffic, children, trains, farm animals, different sounds and loud noises in a positive way are fundamental in setting your new puppy up for success and will ensure your puppy grows up to be confident, bold and relaxed in all situations. Unfortunately with social distancing rules, some of these situations are not going to be possible but there is plenty to do in your house and garden that will help you as much as possible.
The Impact of Covid-19
With social distancing rules and full lockdown for many, socialising a puppy is going to be challenging and many aspects are going to be impossible right now. We want to walk you through some of the fantastic ways you can ensure you make the best of this situation and expose your puppy to as much as possible during this time whilst following government guidelines.
7 Important Ways to Socialise your Puppy During Lockdown:
1. Daily handling: getting them used to being gently touched all over, wiping their paws when they come in from the garden and regularly examining their paws, eyes, ears and mouth examined will all help prepare them well for their first visit to the vets. Make sure to reward your puppy with tasty treats to reinforce them for standing still and letting you examine them.
2. Introduction to the Collar and Lead: associating the collar and lead to a positive experience is really important as early as possible. Even before you can go out for walks, teach your puppy to walk on a loose lead in and around your home and garden and have lots of fun in the process. Never just put a collar and lead on your puppy and expect them to walk, build up gradually using lots of tasty treats for positive association. Frequent short sessions of 5/10 minutes throughout the day is enough to begin with. Gradually increase as your puppy gains confidence and concentration then advance to walking near to your home once they are fully vaccinated. Learn more about teaching your puppy to walk to heel on our Welcome Home Puppy Course.
3. Daily Walks around the Neighbourhood: get out and about each day with your puppy. The roads are quieter than normal so choose times when more traffic is likely to be passing. If your puppy is not yet fully vaccinated it is still important to get them out and about regularly but carry them or push them in a doggy pram if they are too heavy to carry. Always take a bag of high value treats with you (chicken, cheese, hotdogs etc) and reward them with a treat every time something passes and they remain calm. Every car, bike, motorbike, lorry, pram, jogger, cyclist, noisy child could be the first time your puppy has been exposed to that particular thing and it is so important at young age to make every experience a positive one. Bin day is another great opportunity to get outside with your puppy to expose them to some louder noises. Observe puppy for signs they may be worried or overwhelmed (trembling, hiding), and remove them from the situation. Over doing it is easy so next time start at a further distance to the scary thing or on a quieter road etc… then build up slowly rewarding calm, positive behaviour.
4. Garden sounds desensitisation: you should find an abundance of new noises in the garden at this time with many people out in the garden with lawn mowers, strimmers, power tools, children shouting and playing and you may be able to hear traffic noises too. Remember to approach any new thing carefully and try not to overwhelm puppy. If they seem scared, reassure them it’s OK and take them to a distance where they feel safer. When you try again, make it easier for puppy to cope with and build up slowly.
5. Sounds inside the home: there is an abundance of sounds inside the home to get them used to including appliances, boiling kettle, music, hoover, crying baby if you have one, the clatter of pots being emptied from the dishwasher. Remember to take it slow and do not overwhelm them. Reward them for being inquisitive with objects and for ignoring noises. Take a look at Sarah Heaths Sound Therapy Training by downloading her Sound Scary Collection and following the guidance in her program.
Also take advantage of the TV and try and expose your puppy to the sights and sounds of other dogs and animals at every opportunity. This may be the closest they will get to other dogs for the time being.
6. Preventing Separation Anxiety: teaching your puppy how to be happy in their own company is so important during this Covid lockdown. Many households are out of their normal routine and consequently owners are at home 247 causing the puppy to have constant interaction and no alone time. This could potentially be a big problem when every one does go back to work if all your puppy has known is to have you around the house all the time. This could lead to separation anxiety which is very difficult to undo once they have started with it.
It is therefore really important that for parts of each day, the puppy is left in the crate on their own or in a separate room for short periods, slowly increasing the time. Make sure they are happy with the crate though and if not then this needs to be taught separately. They will then realise that being alone is OK and there is nothing to be scared of and it is a normal part of the day being on their own without you
Remember to build the time up slowly – by doing this your puppy should not work themselves up into a panic. Should they whine a little, wait until they stop, then return to them casually with a little praise. You can find out more on how to teach your puppy to be happy in their own company in our FREE Settle Your Puppy in 24 Hours Lesson.
7. Mental Stimulation for your Puppy: One of the hardest things about being at home during lockdown and not being able to get your puppy out to exercise them is keeping them occupied so they don’t get bored. The best way to do this is through mental stimulation.
Try and build in several short sessions to your day where you can have quality time with your puppy and work on all of their commands such as; wait, stay, come, sit, down, emergency stop, touch, twizzle and twirl. The more variety of tricks and commands the better. Make the training fun by playing games like puppy ping pong (a recall game where two people sit a distance apart and you call the puppy to and fro). This is a great game as it can be made more challenging as the puppy gets the hang of it by using different rooms in the house and garden too. Recall is also one of the most important commands you will teach your puppy so this will set you up for success when you can eventually let them off lead.
Positive Association is the Key
As you will have gathered, positive association to all new experiences is vital to your puppy’s growing confidence so have a tasty bag of yummy treats with you at all times such as chicken, cheese, hotdogs all chopped up and mixed in with some of their daily kibble.
This isn’t the easiest time to be socialising your puppy but if you do the 7 things listed above you will have made the best out of the current situation and be well on the way to helping your puppy to grow into a confident and relaxed adult dog happy to be introduced to new situations.