The window for socialisation is between 4-16 weeks and this is when your puppy gets the most out of learning and developing their behaviour. It is for this reason that puppies must be socialised from a young age, and this means exposing them to a variety of experiences in a safe, controlled, and positive way. This will enable them to cope with different situations and learn how to interact with other dogs, animals, and humans. Unfortunately, the current COVID-19 pandemic and the necessity for social distancing and restrictions on gatherings, means that you are unlikely to be able to socialise your puppy with other puppies, dogs, and people in the traditional way, as puppy classes and organising puppy play dates are restricted.
If you are healthy and allowed to go out for walks, what you can do is take your puppy with you. If your puppy is not fully vaccinated, you can carry them and of course, you will need to ensure that you are practising social distancing by staying two meters away from other people and dogs. So, although your puppy will not be meeting nose to nose you can still start creating positive experiences for them and you should reinforce these moments with verbal praise and a treat.
Socialisation is not just about the introduction of people and other animals, it is also about exposure to other experiences such as sights, sounds, objects, smells, and situations. They will come across a variety of surfaces like concrete, curbs, leaves, wood, metal manhole covers, railings, and so on. All these new surfaces and textures need to be investigated by your puppy. If you are unable to get out on a normal walk why not set up a ‘virtual’ walk at home. This is a fun project that you can do to get the whole family involved in, all you need is a little creativity using whatever you have around your garden and home. Wooden blocks and planks to build ramps and steps, tiles, plastic bottles, plastic bags on the washing line so that they flap in the wind — anything that will make a noise or look strange.
The ‘lockdown’ has provided an ideal opportunity for many families to have a puppy in their life, as most of us are at home and able to give the time and attention that a puppy needs. Getting them used to the sounds of ‘day-to-day’ life is a great start to their learning. Download a soundtrack of everyday noises i.e. whistles, trains, barking dogs, birds, aeroplanes, and so on. Keep the volume low and remember to reward them for ‘calm’ behaviour and ignore the reactive behaviour. Once they have got used to hearing new noises paired with positive reinforcement you can introduce potentially scary noises such as thunder, fireworks, etc. Remember, low volume so as not to startle them and positive reinforcement for non-reactive behaviour.
Another important experience to get your puppy used to is being handled by a vet or groomer. It is essential to get them comfortable being handled — start with putting their harness, collar, and lead on. Regular sessions of gentle touching of ears, mouth, eyes, feet, and tails. Short and relaxed sessions which are positive reward-based will make looking after their general health and well-being much easier in the long run. You can also start getting your puppy used to being in a harness or on a lead.
Getting your puppy used to travel in a car, does not mean you have to go anywhere. Start with getting them comfortable going in and out of the car, the sound of the engine being switched on and off, being restrained in the rear, and even do a few trips up and down the drive. Make the car a place where they are happy to be — you can even give them one or two of their meals in the car — this should enable a happy association, which is sure to mean less stress for you as well.
Setting your puppy up to succeed and be ‘rewarded’ for their ‘good’ behaviour is the key to having a happy family life with your four-legged addition. If every new experience is associated with a positive reaction i.e. praise, petting, a yummy treat, or their favourite toy, your puppy will be calm and well-adjusted. After all, we all perform better with a little positive reinforcement! The following examples will help you achieve this;
Eventually, normal life will return, and this will mean back to work and school, so it is vital to teach your puppy how to cope and be happy when they are alone.
A good way to do this is to set your puppy up alone in a safe space with a delicious treat, something to chew, and an enrichment toy like a puzzle feeder. A puppy crate is an ideal secure place where your puppy can sleep safely and be left alone. You can then leave them alone for short periods, like a minute, and slowly building up to longer periods as your puppy gets used to this.
You have a perfect opportunity to spend lots of time with your puppy and you can use this experience to build a strong relationship and bond that will make them a valuable and entertaining family member. So, enjoy teaching them basic commands and skills, involve everyone in the household with your puppy’s day-to-day care and training, and make sure you are all following the same rules. Have fun and you will have a paw-some pup.