Exposing your puppy to new situations amid this pandemic
I got a new puppy! We are registered for gifts at Ren’s Pets. Just kidding (I wish though). I bought my Doberman pup in early May. She was born at the end of February and thus is a total “COVID Puppy”. It’s a term. Trust me.
Although the world got flipped upside down this spring, the anticipation and the excitement of seeing litter pics as well as chatting with her wonderful breeder and finally going to pick up our puppy really got us through a challenging time.
My Doberman Pinscher puppy “Lourdes” is, as expected, a bundle of joy and absolutely gorgeous. And although the three of my dogs make quite the motley crew, she gets along great with my Standard Poodle and my Dandie Dinmont Terrier adores her.
Socializing a puppy is crucial in order to ensure they are a well-adjusted member of both your family and society. Exposing your dog to lots of different stimuli is key to the socialization process and timing is everything. There have been many studies done on the development of puppies, but most agree that experiences within the first 3 to 4 months of a puppy’s life will shape the puppy for life. Beginning safe socialization early is important and but you also must keep it going throughout puppyhood and the life of your dog.
With all that being said, the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has caused restrictions on many of the key tools, places and experiences I would normally use to socialize a puppy. This forced me to get creative, because time is on no one’s side.
If you’ve had a new puppy join your family during the pandemic, here is a list of ways I have been socializing my new puppy that might help you with yours.
*It must be mentioned that socializing my new puppy with dogs outside of my family did not start until her second set of shots. Speak with your dog’s breeder and veterinarian as to when it is safe for your puppy to meet other healthy, well behaved dogs. Although puppy socialization is necessary, I am in no way suggesting anyone break social distancing guidelines, laws or put their own or anyone else’s health at risk in order to do so.
Go for Walks
The magical W word. Depending on the size of your puppy, you can usually start to take your puppy on walks on leash, going at their own pace, starting at around the 8-week mark, gradually building up the length of the walk. The rule I have always followed is 5 minutes for every month old your puppy is. For example, a 3-month-old puppy can be out for a 15-minute walk, a 4 month old puppy can go out for 20 minutes, and so on.
Walking is fantastic on so many levels; the exercise, the training it allows for, and how it exposes your puppy to so much stimulation all while keep you socially distanced. To loosely quote a famous Dr.: “Oh the places you’ll go and oh the things your pup will see!”.
On a leashed walk your puppy can see, smell and hear other dogs walking by and barking in yards, a variety of people, including people using mobility devices, cars, trucks, buses, construction workers, children playing, laughing, crying and screaming, and the list goes on! For all these situations, I let the puppy take it all in. We can stop our walk so that they can stare, shy away, bark or growl for a bit until they start to be okay with it. If something makes them nervous, for example Lourdes recently did not like the sound of a van backing up, so I got safely out of harm’s way and then calmly assure her that all was alright with praise and treats. I’m very careful not to show too much emotion while comforting her as this can be seen by a dog as a sign that the strange thing or noise is a big deal if their human is freaking out as well. Remember your dog is always looking to you to be the leader. How you react will, in most cases, set the tone for how they react.
If busy situations aren’t happening near you – go find them. As many provinces have started Phase 2 in their reopening process, malls are getting busy again and a nice walk around the outside of a mall on leash is a way to make sure your puppy sees lots of people and action.
Some hardware stores and pet supply store are allowing dogs in their businesses again, which is another great experience for your puppy to have, either while on a leash or safely seated in a shopping cart. Just make sure you call ahead and/or check their webpage or social media pages to double check dogs are allowed in before you head over.
Take Car Rides
From traffic noises to drive thru employees talking to your puppy, grocery store parking lots to quick trips outside the city to see horses and cows, a car ride is a great way for your puppy to see the world while allowing you to keep your distance from others. On top of the socialization part of a car ride, early pleasant experiences in cars will help your puppy associate riding in the car with good things, and they’ll become a joy to travel with.
Watch Streaming Videos
Online video platforms like YouTube provide new puppy owners with a tool they can use to bring situations to them. From the comfort of your living room you can expose your dog to the sounds of a thunderstorm, a busy street, different accents, you name it! If you can think of it – there’s probably a video of it online. Start with the volume low and work up within reason. Again, your puppy will look to you for reassurance in these situations, a calm vibe from you will show them that these sounds are nothing to be worried about.
If you are working from home, a virtual meeting either via video call or conference call is a great way to expose your puppy to many different voices. Just make sure you keep the mute button on when you aren’t speaking to avoid your puppy pitching in to the conversation.
Pull out the Props
Time to put that high school drama credit to use! Pull out the props to expose your puppy to new stimuli. Hats, wigs, canes, umbrellas, high heels, scarfs, crutches and many more common household items can be used to expose your little one to many of the accessories we humans use.
Enroll in a Class
If your province is in a phase that is allowing gatherings with people not from your household, I highly recommend a puppy class. We were lucky enough to get into a great puppy class and we have really watched Lourdes shine. Apart from learning commands, she is exposed weekly to new people (wearing masks) and other dogs. Plus, she gets tons of treats!
Get to the Groomer
A huge mistake many puppy owners make is to wait until its super necessary before they let their dog have their first experience at the groomer. Your dog’s groomer is an important part of their wellness team and they should meet early on. If your area is allowing safe grooming, then make an appointment as soon as possible as they are booked weeks in advance. From the blow dryers, the nail dremel to the buzzing clippers and other dogs present, a day under the watchful eye of an experienced groomer is a great chance to explore a whole new world. Learn how to find a great groomer here: https://www.ckc.ca/en/The-Dish/March-2019/Finding-a-Great-Groomer
These are just some of the things I’ve done to help socialize my new Doberman puppy while social distancing due to COVID-19.
What are you doing to socialize your COVID Puppy? Let us know in the comments below! Be safe!