It’s not an easy time for any of us right now. Some folks, for comfort and companionship (and because they've got some extra time on their hands right now), are bringing a new puppy home! That means it's an exciting time, a wonderful time, a bitey time...
If you recently brought home a new puppy, there is no better time to create positive experiences for your puppy and to curate their opinion of the world! But, you might be wondering about socialization and how to create those positive experiences while we are staying home and staying healthy in quarantine.
Under normal circumstances, socialization can be a bit of a task, requiring us to get creative and, in some cases, go out of our way to provide exposure and experiences. Since we aren't under normal circumstances at the moment and our world looks a lot different than it normally does...some of the activities, events, places, and things we'd normally go to or do are not available to puppy parents and extra creativity and brainstorming is needed. The state of the world right now absolutely does NOT mean we should wait around for the dust to settle, though. Your puppy is already growing and learning so much - and a worldwide pandemic isn't going to stop that! With your puppy's prime socialization window closing at about four months of age, it's important to take advantage of everything you can and make the most of these early weeks before they're gone!
But, if we can’t meet other people and other dogs, how do we socialize our puppies? Great question- glad you asked! Socialization, thankfully, is far more than JUST other people and dogs! The goal is to make any new experiences, anything novel or new to your puppy completely run-of-the-mill, nothing-to-see-here-folks experiences and things for your puppy. Your house, yard, and neighborhood are probably FULL of things that are perfect for socializing your puppy - even during these unusual times! Additionally, insisting that your puppy meets every dog and person they see in the name of socialization can often set the expectation for your puppy that they'll always be able to greet others; this can make social interactions SO exciting and SO desirable and SO frustrating when they can't greet others that your puppy can have a hard time responding calmly in those situations and keeping their cool.*
Keep an eye on your puppy
Any time you're working on socialization with your puppy, ensure that they're having a good time - remember that we're looking to create positive experiences for your puppy, so they leave the situation thinking, "That was AWESOME!" (we could even settle for a, "Well, that wasn't so bad at all!" type of attitude).
Ensure that your puppy has an escape route whenever you're working on socialization; if they want to leave, they should be able to easily.
Keep an eye on your puppy's body language. Are they playful and loose and wiggly? Are they exploring? Or are they avoiding? Frozen in place? If we're not having a good time, socialization isn't going well and we can come back to this later.
Whenever possible, let your puppy choose how close to get to the new experience or thing - never force your puppy to interact with a situation or thing they aren't willing to interact with on their own.
You can provide treats and toys to make it a good experience if you'd like, but, for a lot of puppies, socialization is about just letting your puppy watch, gather information (even from a distance), and try things out at their own pace.
Below is a whole list of ideas (certainly not exhaustive, though) for you to work on with your puppy during quarantine or other times!**
Happy socializing (in a safe, healthy, and compliant-with-Safer-at-Home-ordinances way)!
Introduce your puppy to a variety of different textures under their feet! You can easily spread some of the options below out on the living room floor or the patio if it's a nice day out.
Styrofoam (if your puppy won't be chewing it)
Towels and blankets
Crumbled up newspaper or junk mail
A plastic box with a bit of water
Big and fluffy dog beds
Cookie sheet on top of food bowl
A wooden board or cookie sheet balanced on a pool noodle (a mini teeter)
Play dress-up with your puppy
Try on a variety of clothes you might not regularly wear or that are seasonal clothing items!
Large or long coats
Gloves and mittens
Hats of any kind
Scarves, ski masks, or anything that obscures part of the face
Any kind of helmet
Rain ponchos (those are also great for the crinkle noises they make)
Flowing dresses or bathrobes
Teach your puppy that odd things they see aren't things to be concerned about!
Suitcases (both carrying and rolling them)
Umbrellas (both opened and closed)
A stick (as a cane)
Your bicycle (pushing it and riding it)
A broom or Swiffer
The internet offers unlimited possibilities and videos for playing any sounds you can think of for your puppy at home!
Get your puppy used to being handled by you in a variety of ways to help your home routine and future vet and grooming appointments! Read more about my thoughts on this topic in the post I wrote a while back!
Touching/handling feet, paw pads, and nails
Touching/handling hind legs
Putting the collar on and taking it off
Putting the harness on and taking it off
Putting on dog coats
Giving a bath (and all the parts involved)
Take your puppy with you to take the garbage and recycling cans to the road (on leash)
Take your puppy for car rides (to get used to the car, but also to experience a bunch through the windows)
Run the sprinkler or a hose in the yard for your puppy to run through or under
Visit parks, trails, and beaches (if open)
Stop by parking lots (with or without cars), playgrounds, tennis courts, and baseball diamonds
Walk in your neighborhood or visit other neighborhoods to get a variety of busy streets, sidewalks, and suburbs
The variety of toys you provide and play with can give your puppy a bunch of different experiences with textures, noises, and things moving
Make sure your puppy spends time alone every.single.day.
OTHER RESOURCES *I read a couple really cool articles about the differences between European dogs and dogs in the US that may interest you, too! What We Can Learn from European Dog Culture Why are European Dogs So Well Behaved?
**Ideas collected from various places, including SpiritDog Training's post!
This is a link to a blog post a colleague of mine wrote about socialization, as well! (Robin from Radiant Canines)
Worried about getting out in the world without all of your puppy's vaccinations completed? Take a gander at the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement On Puppy Socialization!