Socialising a new puppy or young dog during Alert Level 4

Socialising your puppy at a young age is vital for their overall social development. Successful socialisation involves exposing puppies to a wide range of different experiences and pairing that with something positive for them. 

But with the whole country in lockdown and restrictions on travel, walking your dog, and having visitors you might be wondering how to go about socialising your new puppy.

Below are some in-home ways you can still socialise your dog

Inside the house

Handling

It is really important to teach your puppy that it is okay for people to touch them and that touch is GOOD. This will make trips to the vet or groomers less stressful to your pet, and is a great way for you to both bond with your dog and perform a simple health check.

To start, you will need lots of yummy treats. You want to touch your dog’s ears and follow that up with a reward. The same with their nose and mouth. Run your hands along their body, down each leg and especially their paws. Practice picking their paws up, turning them over to check their pads and nails. Touch the whole length of their tail, their belly and everywhere else. As you do each of these things make sure you are pairing it with rewards.

Sounds

Noise phobia is very common in dogs, especially for noises they do not hear very often e.g. thunder and fireworks.

You want to get your dog used to these sounds early in life and to teach them that they are not scary. Youtube is a fantastic resource for noise desensitisation! Search for the sound you want, play it at a low volume and pair this with something fun for your dog e.g. a training session, eating a meal, a pigs ear, or a kong smeared with peanut butter and treats. Slowly increase the volume of the sound at a rate that your dog is comfortable with. If at any point your dog becomes scared, anxious, or hides while they can hear the noise you want to decrease the volume until they calm down and follow that up with lots of treats and comfort for your puppy. This process may take several days but in the long run it will be worth it. 

Examples of noises to socialise your dog with: storms/thunder, fireworks, construction noises, traffic noises, and sirens.  

New Objects

As the owner of a dog who can be suspicious of new objects he comes across, this is vital for a young dog. It is important to let your dog investigate new objects – umbrellas, bikes, sunglasses, hats, large coats etc. Choose objects of different shapes, textures, sizes and reward your dog for being calm but also investigating the object. 

Outside the home

The garden 

If your yard is fully enclosed then it is a great place to let your puppy explore and play. It is also a great way to give them exposure to outside noises, especially if you live in suburbia. 

Beyond the Backyard

Depending on where your dog is at with their vaccinations you may not be able to take them for walks yet however you can walk while carrying them in your arms. Even viewing the world from this vantage point will still give your dog socialization with other people, dogs, moving traffic, environments, and more. Ensure you stick to social distancing rules though as puppies are people magnets!

Additionally think of ways you can recreate scenarios at home that your dog may experience when life returns to normal.

Examples:

  • Have someone within your isolation bubble pretend to come for a visit and knock on the front door and/or ring the doorbell
  • Let them watch the rubbish collection! Strange people, hi vis clothing, and loud noises all rolled into one scenario. Arm yourself for treats with this one
  • Fill a small tub or a clam shell paddling with a few inches of water to give your dog exposure to water. 

A word of warning

While it may seem a lifetime away, life will slowly return to a normal (or a new normal at least). We will no longer be in lockdown and will be able to take our dogs to parks and beaches and so on. A word of warning though, every dog takes to new situations and experiences differently so please do not rush out and expose your dog to a whole lot of new things at once. This may overwhelm your dog and that can have a lasting effect for them. Do it at THEIR pace!