Pandemic Pups Part I: Socialization

Updated: Feb 1


The isolating aspects of the pandemic have caused feelings of loneliness to intensify in many people. To combat the emotional stress, many have turned to buying or adopting a puppy. In theory, it’s a great idea! Who doesn’t want a quarantine buddy? And there’s the added bonus of having plenty of time to dedicate to potty training, teaching basic obedience skills, and addressing all the other things puppies need. Still, while I’m a huge fan of puppy breath and the joy it brings, I do have a few concerns.


My first worry is a lack of socialization. I mean, we’re not even allowed to socialize normally, so how are we supposed to teach puppies that people, other dogs, new places, and more are good things? The optimum window of socialization for puppies is in the neighborhood of four to twelve weeks of age. During that time, the things a pup is exposed to are less likely to freak him out later in life. Think how you’d feel when a plane flew overhead if you had grown up on a remote island and had never seen one before! Fortunately, it’s not that you can’t socialize a puppy past twelve weeks of age, but the further away you get, the more challenging it may be. Of course, at such a young age you need to be careful until vaccinations are complete, which generally occurs around sixteen weeks. Still, there are things you can do while avoiding places that are highly trafficked by other dogs.


There are stores that allow dogs, including some big chain hardware stores, as well as pet supply stores like PETCO and PetSmart. Even while socially distancing, your dog will become accustomed to seeing other dogs, as well as people wearing all manner of funny face coverings. And since you’ll be keeping your dog in a cart (which you’ll have wiped down, of course), there’s less chance of picking up disease from a floor where other dogs have walked.


If you have a “bubble” of people who are safe to be around, have them meet your puppy, but do it one or two at a time so as not to overwhelm him. That goes double for kids. The last thing you want is a bunch of children rushing up to your puppy at once and scaring him. Teach kids and adults how to approach your pup and what to do and not to do so as not to scare him. If you have a person in your bubble who has a dog-friendly dog, great! Introduce them on neutral ground with nice, relaxed leashes, and if they get along, set up play dates.


You can also bring your dog to places where other dogs are not likely to go. Rather than frequenting the local park where everyone walks their dog, find less traveled back trails and more remote locations in your area. Get your puppy accustomed to walking on different types of surfaces, for example, grass, hilly trails, gravel, concrete, and metal gratings. And, even if you can’t take him to very public destinations, you can still take short car rides to get him used to different scents and scenes.


At home, get your puppy accustomed to things he’ll encounter out in the big, scary world. Wear hats around the house. And sunglasses. And face masks. (Okay, maybe not all at once.) If you have other people in the house, ask them to do the same. Expose your pup to novel stimuli including sounds like hair dryers, leaf blowers, dinging of the microwave, garbage trucks, and whatever else makes noise in and around your house. Get him used to different things that incorporate movement, like the vacuum cleaner (sound and movement—a bonus!), a broom, a rake, etc. Introduce those things gradually and monitor his reactions. If he lacks confidence, start at a distance and use treats to help create a positive association.


Even if you’re planning on using a groomer once businesses open back up, take this time to get your pup used to being handled, bathed, and brushed. Peanut butter smeared on the side of the bathtub can be helpful when accustoming your pup to baths. Just take it all slow and easy, and use plenty of treats and happy talk. And don’t slack on training! Teach sit, down, stay, and come, and to walk nicely on leash, even if it’s just around your back yard. Although you may not be able to have a trainer come to your home right now, there are plenty of online resources to help you learn. And don’t forget to teach manners that will come in handy once you’re able to have visitors again, such as not jumping on people or nipping.


It’s a tough time to be socializing a puppy, and it will surely take more effort than usual. But it’s still important, and will set the tone for the rest of that puppy’s life. The effort is well worth it.


In Part II, we’ll talk about my other big concern for puppies during the pandemic: separation anxiety. ________________________________________________________________________ ©Nicole Wilde www.nicolewilde.com Subscribe to the blog to be notified of new posts!

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