Dog and Puppy Socialization during COVID-19
Socializing a puppy with both people and animals, as well as introducing them to a wide range of events, environments and situations is an important part of your puppy’s growth. For puppies, there is a window at about six to 14 weeks of age when it is optimal to introduce them to new things, so they are not afraid of them later in life. After this window closes, unfamiliar people, objects and experiences may be approached with caution and fear. Shelter Health Pro says the most common cause of fear and aggression in dogs is lack of socialization.
The best way to help your puppy feel safe and have a positive experience when introducing them to new things is to pair each encounter (handling, meeting new people, or trying new things) with something the puppy likes, such as treats, verbal or physical praise, or play time with their favourite toy.
For example, if you distract your puppy with a treat when a stranger approaches, the puppy learns that when a strange person is near it means something good will happen for them, so there’s no need to be anxious or fearful.
Try to keep these interactions short and frequent so you don’t overwhelm or fatigue the puppy, and always end each session on a good note (bonus treats!)
Here are some more things Shelter Health Pro suggests you can do to help socialize your puppy:
- Touching head, ears, mouth, neck area, tail, paws and legs.
- Grooming for one minute with a soft brush.
- Placing and removing a collar and lead.
- Restraining gently for a few seconds, try to release before the puppy struggles.
- Using food rewards and praise to positively reinforce the puppy’s acceptance of the handling.
- People of all ages, as well as loud, confident people.
- People wearing hats, helmets or glasses.
- People in uniform and men with beards/facial hair.
- Use play with a toy, such as a ball or squeaky toy, to encourage a positive encounter.
- Use food rewards and praise the puppy.
- Stop the encounter if the puppy displays anxiety or fear.
Meeting other animals
- Adult dogs that are tolerant to puppies.
- Cats, rabbits and other pets.
- Allow play if supervised and safe.
Objects to play with under supervision, such as:
- Cardboard box, a small plastic bucket or sand pail or a treat ball.
- Large stuffed toy or an empty plastic bottle
Objects to chew under supervision, such as:
- Nylon bones, rawhide chews and strong toys (e.g. something like a KONG toy).
- Hard biscuits and ice cubes.
Surfaces to walk on:
- Clean grass, and slippery surfaces such as linoleum or tiles.
- Steps or staircase.
- Variety of floor surfaces such as a carpet and concrete.
- Irregular surfaces like gravel, stones and pebbles.
- Television or radio, thunder.
- Loud voices and noises, such as baby crying.
- Vehicular sounds such as cars, motorcycles, sirens, horns.
- Small engine sounds such as lawnmowers, leaf blowers etc.
- Household appliances such as a vacuum cleaner or blender.
- Play audio CD of life sounds.
- Introduce your puppy to a range of experiences. For example, go for a car ride, visit the park, walk on a busy street, have them taste a variety of foods (make sure they’re healthy choices for dogs!), spend time alone, and spend time in a crate.
Dog and Puppy Socialization During COVID-19
While we have to maintain social distancing from each other, there are safe ways to introduce your dog or puppy to other people and animals during this unprecedented time:
- Take your dog or puppy for a walk in an area where other people walk (out on the street, a park, a trail). In the beginning, keep your distance at least 15-25ft away from others, and gradually decrease the distance over time as your pup becomes more confident and comfortable, while still maintaining mandatory six-feet physical distancing rules.
- Avoid close encounters when first learning (or re-learning) socialization skills, especially when meeting new dogs. You want your dog to have consistent, and pleasant associations with other dogs from a distance first. Provide treats to your dog when a new person or dog comes into view, and continue treating until the person is out of sight (you may need to use your yummiest treats!). Once the person has left, stop the treats. Treats start again when another person comes into view, and so on. Include lots of verbal praise such as “good job,” and “well done.”
- Pay close attention to your dog or puppy’s body language – if they seem anxious, fearful, or over exuberant, you may have to take things a little slower. Start at a greater distance from the new experience, such as sitting at the far end of a park, further away from the action, and complete the above exercise.
- You can also enlist the help of a close family member or friend from your social bubble to help with socializing your puppy. Have them start out of sight (around the corner), and head towards you. Just before they pass you and your dog, have them toss a treat a few feet from the dog, then keep walking by. Allow your dog to get the treat.
A great tip for this exercise is to give your friend/helper a handful of the best treats you have such as cheese cubes, cut up hotdogs, freeze dried liver (or your dog’s favourite), so the best stuff comes from the “stranger.” Then you can change up your treats for something that is still super yummy, but different, and slightly less valuable from what you gave your helper.
Visit ShelterHealthPro.com to read more helpful tips!
Hats off to you
To all kind-hearted and hard-working people at SPCA: hats off to you. I love animals and admire the work you do.