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Socialization in Trying Times (or Any Times)

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...

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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.*

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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).

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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)!