Author: Amy Holloway
So you’ve read our first article on the impact of COVID-19 on Puppy Socialisation and now you’re ready to learn how to get the best out of your puppy during this difficult time.
Remember, the key socialisation period for puppies that you are likely to experience is typically between 8 – 14 weeks of age. However, if your puppy is slightly older, and your socialisation options are reduced due to the lockdown, it’s important to take action now. Things may take a little longer and you will need a bit more patience, but persevere and it will be worth it to have your puppy grow into a calm and relaxed adult dog.
You can download our FREE Puppy eBooklet for a Checklist of the sounds and situations to introduce your new puppy to, and don’t forget to add facemasks and any other PPE you might wear in front of your puppy to the list.
You may also like this video – FREE Settle Your Puppy in 24 Hours Lesson.
Here are our 8 top tips for Puppy Socialisation during the lockdown:
Throughout each of these lessons, you should remember the following key things:
Always reward calm behaviour towards new sounds and experiences. This should be done using high-value treats (e.g. cooked chicken pieces, low-fat cheese, chopped up carrots mixed in with some of their regular kibble), and lavishing your puppy with praise. It could be your puppy’s first-time experiencing these things and it’s important to make every new experience a positive one at a young age.
Be strong and try not to cuddle and pick up your puppy if they become startled, to avoid reinforcing negative reactions. The less you acknowledge ‘negative’ reactions, the faster they will learn to behave calmly.
Keep calm and don’t flap around your puppy as they will pick up on your negative reactions and may associate them with a new experience or sound. Likewise, don’t be disappointed or annoyed if your puppy doesn’t ‘get it’ the first time, or second, or….more.
Include children in the training process (if you have them) so that every member of the household is on-board with your puppy’s learning.
Keep training sessions short and frequent, rather than one long session, as your puppy will lose interest and the training won’t be effective.
1. Daily handling:
Get your puppy used to being gently touched all over. Wipe their paws when they come in from the garden, and regularly examine their paws, eyes, ears, and mouth. Examining like this will help prepare them for their first visit to the vets.
2. Collar & Lead:
Associating the collar and lead to a positive experience is really important as early as possible. Never just put a collar and lead on your puppy and expect them to walk. Build up gradually using lots of tasty treats for positive association. Teach your puppy to walk on a loose lead in your house and garden and have lots of fun in the process. Start with frequent short sessions of 5 – 10 minutes throughout the day and gradually increase this as your puppy gains in confidence and concentration, then advance to walking near to your home once they are fully vaccinated.
3. Daily Neighbourhood Walks:
Once vaccinated, take your puppy out every day to help them experience the sights and sounds of their neighbourhood. Always check your puppy’s collar isn’t too loose beforehand so they can’t slip out of it. Sights and sounds might include road traffic of varying ‘busyness’, motorbikes, lorries, parked cars, prams, joggers, cyclists, noisy children, bin men (in high vis jackets) on bin day, and the Postie, all at a safe distance of course. Take a bag of high-value treats with you and reward your puppy every time something passes by and they remain calm.
Don’t overdo it – a ratio of 5 minutes of exercise per month of age (up to twice a day) will help protect your puppy’s growing bones and joints e.g. 15 minutes (up to twice a day) for a 3-month old, 20 minutes at 4 months, etc. As your puppy gets older, you might want to add more variety in their daily exercise. Check out our guide – Five tips for getting the most out of your dog’s walk.
4. Garden sights & sounds:
This time of year is ideal for new noises in the garden with many people out using lawnmowers, strimmers, and power tools, children shouting and playing, and you may be able to hear traffic noises too. Plus, when the weather is warm, you could introduce your puppy to water with a nice dip in the paddling pool – remember to never leave them unattended though.
5. Sights and sounds inside your home:
Appliances, boiling a kettle, music, the hoover, a crying baby if you have one, the clatter of pots being emptied from the dishwasher, the TV, a hairdryer, post arriving through your letterbox, the doorbell, your phone ringing etc.
Your TV is a fantastic sound desensitisation tool, and ideal if your puppy can’t get up close to a wide variety of things at this time, like other animals. Remember your puppy will hear sounds louder than you will, so be mindful of this when altering the volume and always start quietly.
Take a look at Sarah Heath’s Sound Therapy Training – download her Sound Scary Collection and follow the guidance in her program.
Scary Sounds Download >
6. Preventing Separation Anxiety:
Teaching your puppy how to be happy in their own company is so important, and more so during this COVID-19 experience. Many households are out of their normal routine and consequently, owners are at home 24/7, causing puppies to have constant interaction and no alone time. This could potentially be a big problem when people go back to work if puppies don’t know any different, and could lead to separation anxiety, which is very difficult to undo.
Create alone time – It’s really important that your puppy has some alone time for parts of each day. Whilst in their key learning and socialisation phase, they will come to understand that being alone is OK, there’s nothing to be scared of, and being without you is just a normal part of the day.
A safe & calm space – Use a puppy crate or a separate room to create ‘puppy’s own space’. Make sure it’s comfortable, calm, and a safe place away from loud noises and lots of stimulating activity. Include a bowl of water, some of their toys so they don’t get bored, and you might even want to put something in there that smells like you for comfort i.e. a blanket.
Be strong-minded – Unless something is medically wrong, try not to let your puppy out of their crate or open the door to the room if they’re whining as you will be reinforcing the behaviour.
You can find out more about how to teach your puppy to be happy in their own company in this FREE Settle Your Puppy in 24 Hours Lesson.
7. Mental Stimulation:
One of the most important things you can do for your growing puppy is to provide them with mental stimulation. They’re eager to learn and can get easily bored. You can replace some physical exercise with mental stimulation if you are unable to go out for walks, and remember to have fun with them!
Try and build in several short sessions to your day where you can have quality time with your puppy and work on all of their commands such as; wait, stay, come, sit, down, emergency stop, twirl, and touch. The more variety of tricks and commands the better. You could also teach your puppy the name of their toys and see if they can fetch each toy by name.
Make the training fun by playing games like puppy ping pong (a recall game where two people sit a distance apart and you call the puppy to and fro). This is a great game as it can be made more challenging as the puppy gets the hang of it by using different rooms in the house and the garden too. Recall is also one of the most important commands you will teach your puppy so this will set you up for success when you can eventually let them off-lead.
8. Car journeys:
Getting your puppy used to travelling in the car is very important for visits to the vets, friends and relatives, and to & from places to exercise. Like with any puppy training & socialisation, you should start slow and not expect success right away. It’s important to get the best crate or car seat & harness for your puppy to ensure they are safe.
Start by getting your puppy used to simply being in the car. Then you can progress to starting the engine on the drive, and then to short journies down the road and back. Take it slowly and gradually build-up your puppy’s car experience. You might not want to fill your puppy up with food before a car journey in case this makes them sick, but rewarding calm behaviour after the journey will be a must! If your puppy really struggles with the car, you can email our team for advice.
Positive Association is Key
Positive association to all new experiences is vital to your puppy’s growing confidence so have a tasty bag of yummy treats with you at all times to reward, reward, REWARD.
It is undoubtedly going to be challenging to socialise your puppy during the current Coronavirus situation, but it’s important not to give up. Do the things above and put your puppy on the right path to becoming a confident and relaxed adult dog, happy to be introduced to new situations.
If you have any questions about your puppy, you can email our team for advice.
If your puppy needs vaccinating, Connect with a Vet via our online form.