Puppy Socialization During a Pandemic

What Is Socialization?

Socialization is a term that is used for exposing puppies to different people, places and experiences so that they learn to not be frightened of these things later on in life.

If socialization is done properly, dogs can meet new people and go to strange places while behaving in a relaxed and confident manner. If a puppy has not been properly socialized, they may develop behaviour problems later on in life such as lunging, barking and biting at new people or develop intense fears to things like car rides and loud noises.

The period between 3-16 weeks of age is a critical period known as the socialization period. Proper socialization must be done during and continue after this timeframe in order to prevent future behaviour problems. In some cases, puppies that are not properly socialized in this critical period can develop severe behaviour problems that can make them unsuitable as pets as adults.

How Do We Socialize Puppies?

By exposing your puppy to different people, animals and situations such as going to the veterinary clinic or hearing a vacuum or fireworks for the first time, we can teach puppies to not fear novel situations as they get older. This is done by introducing them to these experiences in a way that makes them feel safe and rewarding them when they react to these scenarios in a calm and relaxed manner. Many people will socialize their puppies by taking them to puppy classes, to friends or family’s houses, allowing them to meet the neighbourhood kids and going to dog friendly stores.

Socialization During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Necessary social isolation and quarantine measures to prevent transmission of COVID-19 means that puppies whose socialization period falls during this time may be at a disadvantage. This does not mean that it is impossible to socialize puppies during this time, but we need to do things a bit differently.

Socialization at Home:

  • Allow your puppy to walk across many different types of surfaces such as carpet, linoleum, the empty bathtub, plastic, gravel and even strange surfaces such as tin foil. You may hide treats and set up obstacles to make it a fun game as the puppy explores the area.
  • Introduce your puppy to many different types of sounds such as the vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, doorbell, power tools and the radio to acclimatize them to the real world. You may play sounds such as fireworks or sirens on your computer or phone. Remember to reward them handsomely for calm and relaxed behaviour.
  • Play dress-up. Put on different hats, coats, boots, sunglasses and even the mask you wear to protect yourself from COVID-19. Have fun with it! Put on your old Halloween costumes to teach puppies that different appearances are nothing to fear.

Socialization Around Town:

  • Go for a drive. Taking a drive around town can help to reduce anxiety associated with car rides.  Going through a drive-through can help expose your puppy to new people.
  • Go outside. Allow your puppy to observe new people by sitting with your puppy at a safe social distance and rewarding them for calm and confident behaviour. Try to sit with your puppy in one new location everyday so that they can observe the world around them.

***Please be aware that until your puppy has had its full set of immunizations, your puppy is susceptible to diseases such as parvo virus. It is important to avoid high-dog traffic areas and avoid contact with the ground where other dogs may have been.

Many people are working at home right now, but remember that when you do go back to work the puppy will need to learn how to be comfortable when left alone. Make sure to provide some alone time for your puppy in a crate or a small room so that they can learn how to be confident on their own. This will help to reduce separation anxiety.

Getting a new puppy is a fun and exciting time. The time that you put into training and socialization now will pay off enormously in the future!