Socialising Puppies During Lockdown
It is very important to socialise puppies properly between the ages of 3 to 14 weeks of age, so that they can grow up to be emotionally resilient. Unfortunately, because of Covid-19 and the lockdown restrictions we are all facing, puppy socialisation might be more of a challenge right now.
Veterinary surgeons are following Government advice, meaning their services will be restricted. Due to stretched resources, and for infection control purposes, puppy parties have been cancelled and some practices might even be unable to carry out puppy vaccinations. So, How can I socialise my puppy during lockdown? is a question many veterinary professionals and behaviourists are being asked.
The good news is, despite these constraints, it is still possible to introduce your puppy to the world safely by making some adaptations and being creative. In fact, on a positive note, there is less likelihood of a puppy being overwhelmed by too much stimuli – a common problem that can occur under normal circumstances.
The following list provides you with realistic, safe and practical advise to ensure your puppy doesn’t miss out:
Let your puppy observe things from a distance
One of the few benefits of lockdown is being able to let your puppy observe things without them being overwhelmed – a common problem in normal circumstances!
- We are still allowed an allotted time to exercise outside, so carry your puppy in your arms and take them with you.
- Vary where you go to give your puppy different experiences (but remember to keep your social-distancing).
- Where possible, let your puppy see people of all sexes, different age groups, different sights, and other animals.
- Take your puppy to the window so they can be familiarised with things such as traffic, passers-by and delivery people.
- Remember – it is important to pair what they are seeing with a treat, praise and cuddles so that they make a positive association with it.
Begin handling your puppy
- Touch your puppy gently and very briefly on all parts of its body, remembering to provide a treat and praise them as you do.
- Go slowly– we don’t want to frighten them.
- Feet can be lifted briefly in preparation for claws being clipped and feet wiped. Ears, mouths and around the eyes should be included in case you need to administer treatments to them in the future.
- As your puppy gets used to your touch, increase the length of time you handle them.
- The idea is that your puppy associates touch with positive things happening. This training will also really help for future veterinary visits.
Introduce your puppy to different noises
There are lots of sounds that your puppy needs to get used to. Now is the time to introduce them from the safety of the house, in the garden or through the window.
- The list is endless but should include:
- Vacuum cleaners,
- Gunshot/ Crow-scarers,
- Storms and thunder,
- Babies and children,
- Alarms and sirens.
- Ensure that the noises are introduced at a low volume. For example, vacuum cleaners and hair-dryers can be started in another room to muffle the sound to begin with. Gradually and slowly you can increase the intensity.
- Recordings of sound effects can help too, especially for noises that are seldom heard or only at certain times of the year, like fireworks. You can control the volume of these by playing them through a good sound system. Free downloads are available from the Dogs Trust – click here
Introduce puppies to different objects
Don’t forget to include the less common things. Think about all the things your puppy might encounter throughout its life. This might include:
- Umbrellas, Zimmer frames, walking sticks, bicycles, shopping trolleys. People in crash helmets, with beards, turbans, sun glasses, high visibility clothing, ironing boards, Halloween masks…. to name a few!
- You will have to be creative: if you haven’t got things in the house, you could order some on-line.
- You could arrange to borrow things from friends and family (but only if Items can be dropped off outside your house in line with restrictions). Make sure you handle them safely and that they have been disinfected.
- Just leave the objects around the house to begin with. You want your puppy to accept them as being a normal part of its environment.
- When your puppy is ignoring them, you can begin to pick them up from afar. Work towards letting them see them being used or worn.
- Go slowly and don’t bombard your puppy. Two or three new things every day should be enough.
- Involve all the family but make sure the puppy doesn’t get frightened or overwhelmed with too much excitement.
In the safety of the garden
If you have a safe and secure garden and can be sure that no other animals roam in it, you should be able to take them there. This will help them become used to all the outside sights, smells and sounds.
- If you have another vaccinated dog, and they are good with other dogs, let them interact together. This will help puppy to learn about canine communication.
- For safety and control, a puppy-line can be attached to both dogs. This means you can quickly but calmly react by catching hold of the end of it if things look like they might get boisterous. Puppy-lines are about 3 meters long and should only be used when dogs are under your supervision.
- For a free training guide on how to use a houseline click here
Other sensory stimuli
(You may have to be inventive for this one!)
- The idea is to let your puppy use all its other senses.
- Let your puppy get used to feeling different textures with its feet. Include different floor surfaces such as shiny ones, like tiles or laminate. Gravel or muddy and wet ground can also be introduced.
- Running water: start with a tiny trickle of tepid water from a watering can some distance away. Let them choose to approach it and be careful not to frighten them.
- Place treats in the bottom of a large clean trug or in a small empty sand-pit. Fill it with large activity play balls so your puppy can wade through it and use their noses to find the food.
Introduce puppies to being alone
- Dogs are a social species and given the choice, most of them would choose to have some company. However, to prevent stress and anxiety when owners are absent, dogs do need to be able to cope with a degree of separation and isolation.
- Because many of us are spending lots more time in the home at the moment, when we do return to some normality, it’s important that our puppies are prepared and do not develop separation anxiety.
Incorporate this training in to their every-day routines:
- Use baby-gates so that puppy does not continually follow and shadow you. To begin with make sure they can see you.
- Begin some very brief out of view departures – just for a few seconds to begin with. Always return before your puppy shows any anxiety.
- Very gradually increase the time they are alone.
- Begin some crate training. Crates are fine for short-term confinement and can act as a safe haven/ den.
- Remember that confinement, without the appropriate training, can cause distress so make sure that crate training is done sensitively and gradually.
Quick Tips on Crate Training:
- Make sure the crate is cozy and comfortable.
- Adaptil can help to create a calming environment (spray bedding or set up a diffuser nearby).
- Sit next to the crate, calmly and quietly, after they have had a play session or when they are tired and resting.
- Don’t close the crate door to begin with.
- Begin to briefly close the door – only for a few seconds. Drop a treat inside as a reward.
- Gradually increase the time that the door is close.
- Over time, you can begin moving a short distance away from the crate so they gradually get used to your absence.
- When puppy goes there by itself give it praise.
- Remember that crates are not to be used for prolonged confinement.
- Socialising your puppy can still be done during the lock down.
- Socialisation needs to be done gradually and sensitively.
- Always pair what your puppy is seeing or experiencing with treats, praise and cuddles, so they can form a positive association with it.
- If you notice any signs of fear then stop what you are doing and move your puppy away calmly. This situation can be re-visited later at a distance your puppy feels comfortable with.
- Seek the help of a professional if in doubt.
- Make sure your puppy has time to rest in between sessions and don’t overwhelm them.
- For more information and resources specifically to help with planning your puppy’s socialization, follow this link
If you have any concerns about socialising your puppy or wish to discuss any problems you may be encountering with them please contact me