Updated: Mar 13, 2021
How do we properly socialise a puppy when the world is in lockdown?
Anyone with a new puppy will probably be very aware of the limitations our current climate puts on effective socialisation, or at least our expectations of how socialisation should be done. I collected a foster puppy just as the UK went into total lockdown, so I too felt the pressure and added worries about getting it ‘right’.
Many of us will have been told numerous times about how we should socialise our puppies, we may have received a lot of conflicting advice, but we have probably consistently been told it’s vital that this is done in the early weeks of puppyhood and we should introduce and expose them to as much as possible.
It’s important to be careful with socialisation and not simply introduce your puppy to anyone and everyone while letting him figure it all out. However, that’s not the purpose of this blog so have a read through my previous post about socialisation for a bit of background theory … https://www.adolescentdogs.com/post/puppy-socialisation
Here I want to discuss how we can properly socialise a puppy given the restrictions in place in the UK and many other countries. We can’t follow the traditional approach of meeting new people and dogs, nor can we do numerous short trips to new environments or busy places, so we need alternative solutions to ensure our puppies still develop into stable, well-rounded adults. We need to be creative and look at it from a different perspective. This could really change how we view socialisation. What really benefits our puppies? And are there actually better ways to socialise them? Only time will tell as we watch our ‘lockdown puppies’ grow into adults.
The Importance of Trust
Trust is central to good socialisation. Socialisation should involve careful consideration of your puppy’s feelings, emotions and responses to experiences. You should interact with him and support him through each experience, there is a careful balance between being supportive while also allowing a puppy to explore and learn.
Get to know his personality, a more sensitive puppy will benefit from more support, not overbearing, anxious mothering, but for you to step in when needed. Use plenty of rewards and prioritise gentle, gradual exposure to novelty. A bolder puppy will be able to explore a little more independently, have more freedom to figure everything out but will still require a vigilant human to support them and remain interactive throughout the process.
Be your puppy’s safe place where he can return to for security if he’s unsure of a situation. Teach him basic commands to build your bond and reinforce his focus on you.
Find the Novelty
A puppy who has positive experiences in novel situations will develop a more optimistic view of life and be better able to confidently handle new things.
This can easily be done at home, gather together some household objects (e.g. pots and pans, cardboard boxes, chairs or anything else safe for your puppy to explore around), scatter them around in an open space and let your puppy explore and investigate. Support him with verbal feedback and food rewards, but make sure you don’t use these to entice him into a situation he’s unsure of. Give him plenty of time and space to make the choice to interact with the novel items, and if he chooses to move away then don’t force him to go back – teaching him that he has a choice is hugely important too!
Novelty can be created in your own home by moving your furniture around or dressing up in different clothes and accessories to change your appearance. Changing how your furniture looks will create a whole new room for your puppy to explore and essentially give him a novel environment to experience. Wearing different clothes or accessories will allow your puppy to experience things he will encounter as he grows up.
Always watch his body language and don’t push him if he’s finding the situation difficult. If he spooks at you wearing certain items (e.g. a hat) then calmly leave the room and return in your normal clothes, then introduce the new items more gradually, perhaps putting the hat on while in the same room so your puppy can see the change.
Other items you can play with at home could include riding a bike or skateboard in the garden, or showing him the hoover or lawnmower. Moving items can be scary or exciting for dogs, so carefully introduce these at a pace your puppy is comfortable with. For example, push the bike before riding it, let him explore the Hoover before it’s turned on or move it around without turning it on.
Use lots of rewards with these items, ideally tossing the treat away from the moving item so your puppy is always encouraged to stay back while building a positive association… remember you don’t want him running up to bikes or getting under the Hoover in the future so toss the reward away and teach him to keep his distance.