Proper socialization during puppyhood is crucial for raising a happy, confident, well-mannered dog. But how do you socialize a dog in the age of social distancing? The COVID-19 pandemic creates unique challenges for puppy owners. Fortunately, Dr. Rachel Lees of Fear Free Pets is here to help! Our walker Marianne S. explains how in Dr. Rachel Lees webinar “Pandemic Puppies,” she outlines ways to socialize your pup without compromising your safety. Learn more about what you can do to make sure your puppy receives proper socialization.
The first piece of advice Dr. Lees gives is to stay positive. Believe it or not, there are some advantages to training a puppy during the pandemic. Social distancing creates strong boundaries, which are good for developing impulse control. Additionally, owners now have a lot more free time to devote to their pups.
Training During Shelter in Place
It’s important for puppies to be exposed to as many sights, sounds, and smells as possible so that they learn not to fear them. With a little creativity, you can do this from the comfort and safety of your own home. Put on a silly costume, wear unusual perfumes or scented lotions, play sound effects on your computer, and so on. You can even set up a “novel room” in your house: an entire room that’s different every day. For more advanced training, practice entering the home in costume.
Most Chicago parks are still open. Take your pup for a walk, and have them practice not approaching strangers. For a shy dog, it might actually be less stressful to encounter new people at a distance.
Puppy to Puppy Socialization
It’s important for puppies to learn that other dogs are not a threat. You can start this process in your own home with a stuffed animal. Be sure to move the toy around a little for realism!
If you think your puppy is ready to play with another flesh-and-blood canine, see if a friend or family member with a dog can meet you at the park. With both dogs on 6-8 foot leashes, you can introduce them while still maintaining a safe distance from their human companion. Only try this if your pup is very good about coming when you call them! Otherwise, if something goes wrong, you may have to get too close to pull them away.
Finally, some vets and other pet-related businesses are now offering puppy socialization parties! These are puppy-only events; owners can watch via Zoom. Employees wear protective gear when picking up and dropping off pups.
One of the biggest dangers of raising a puppy during the pandemic is creating what Dr. Lees calls “Velcro puppies.” It’s hard to learn independence when your owner is home all the time. To avoid this, isolate your pup for a little while each day. Start by putting them in a crate or pen and staying in the room. Give them treats to make it a positive experience. Once they’re comfortable with this arrangement, try leaving the house entirely. A consistent routine will make things less scary and confusing.
Some General Advice
Always keep an eye on your puppy’s body language. Common signs of stress include shifting weight away from a stimulus, ears back, tail between legs, lip licking, freezing, yawning, and crouching.
It may feel overwhelming, but with patience, care, and creativity, you can raise a healthy puppy, even during a pandemic!
Dr. Lees recommends Social, Civil, and Savvy by Laura Vanarendonk Baugh and Puppy Start Right by Debbie and Kenneth M. Martin.
Thank you Dr. Lee for your insight on puppy socialization during a disease outbreak. We appreciate your hard work in making sure that every pet has the best life possible.
Windy City Paws is a Fear Free Chicago dog walker and petsitter committed to providing helpful information to Chicago dog owners through its blog.
Written for Windy City Paws by Marianne Stine