Do you have a new puppy and are worried that you can’t socialise them during lockdown?
Fear not – it is still possible!
Dogs are naturally wary of novel things – it is a survival technique. This is why we need to get them used to novel things whilst they are still small so that they are not fearful of them when they are older. Have you ever walked down the street and your dog starts acting strange at a bollard that is in the road that wasn’t there yesterday? Well, that’s why – it is novel and they are naturally cautious of it. Some dogs that have been well socialised and are more optimistic won’t have much of a problem but some dogs may even refuse to go near it because they are really fearful.
Socialising a puppy is not about trying to force them to be exposed to absolutely everything or to be cuddled by hundreds of different people. Socialising should be centred on exposing the puppy to the world and all that they may encounter in their lives, such as different environments, people, dogs and noises, in order to build their confidence, resilience and to create positive associations to these things.
Although there is a window of opportunity where most socialising and habituating should be done (ideally by around 14 weeks of age), this needs to be done gradually and safely and always positively. Socialising should also continue throughout a dog’s life.
If you try to go too fast or do too much, you risk overwhelming the puppy and this can have the reverse effect, making them fearful or anxious. As most of us are finding ourselves with more time on our hands at the moment, it is actually perfect for socialising pups as you can take your time.
So, you are able to take your puppy out each day to experience the world (carry them if they haven’t yet been vaccinated) but you will just need to remain a safe distance from people and other dogs and of course, you won’t be able to take your puppy to the pub or cafe! You can socialise your puppy in the vicinity of other people – you don’t need to get very close to them or have them touch your puppy.
You can start to habituate your puppy to different noises, many of which you will find recordings of with a quick search of the Internet. When exposing your puppy to new noises, always start off at very low level and gradually increase the volume over time. Each time you expose the puppy to something new, pair the experience with something nice, like some food or a game. The puppy will then associate what he is experiencing – the dog on the other side of the road for example, with something nice – a tasty piece of chicken!
You can expose your puppy in the same gradual way, to other things that they may encounter in their lives such as umbrellas, walking sticks, people in hats, scarves, face masks, prams etc., just be creative! It is a good idea to introduce novel objects whilst you are either playing with or training your puppy.
Get your puppy used to handling so that this isn’t something to be afraid of when they go to the vets – this can be done at home. This again should be done very gradually and always paired with something nice.
Put in the work now and your puppy will grow up to be a confident, optimistic and well-rounded dog.
Have fun! 💗