Socialising a puppy is a crucial process every owner of a young dog must go through and the only way of ensuring they learn how to properly interact with the world, people and other animals.
Positive interactions are vital in helping to raise confident, enthusiastic and inquisitive dogs rather than shy and anxious ones, and thankfully introducing the process is usually relatively straightforward for owners.
This is especially the case for habituation, the part of socialisation concerned with getting puppies accustomed to everyday surroundings, leaving them unbothered by everything from noisy traffic to the vacuum cleaner!
However, as the UK continues to self-isolate to avoid the spreading of the coronavirus, classic socialisation and habituation activities like walking and puppy gathering classes have been severely impacted by a government imposed lockdown.
The optimum time to introduce a puppy to new experiences, people and dogs is between 3 and 12 weeks and how much is achieved at this time will eventually determine how confident and outgoing your pet becomes.
But with time running out to get our puppies socialised and lockdown seemingly extending, the question on every new puppy owners lips is this:
How on earth can I socialise my puppy when I can’t go anywhere?!
Socialisation & Habituation Methods For Puppies in Lockdown
Despite the restrictions placed on us by the UK government on 23rd March, there are still plenty of ways you can provide stimuli and positive habituation processes for your precious pooch.
However, it will no longer be as easy as just taking them out for a walk in the park, or bringing them along to a puppy socialisation class.
So to help you figure things out, we’ve put together a guide on how to keep your puppy safe outside, while keeping them more stimulated indoors!
How Lockdown Effects Puppies On Walks
It is still encouraged to give puppies one walk a day as part of your own government-approved daily form of exercise, but where it was once a great source for stimuli and interaction with other dogs, you now have to be far more careful and reserved.
Self-isolating and the scaling back of veterinary procedures across the UK is causing a lot of issues with scheduled puppy vaccination programmes, leaving many young dogs unvaccinated, and at risk of being unprotected from several water-borne diseases, as well as common illnesses spread by other canines.
That means wherever possible, puppy owners need to avoid their little tyke coming into contact with other dogs and waterways they might be tempted to swim in.
To protect yourself from the spread of coronavirus, you also don’t want to invite attention to yourself and so should also avoid your dog being petted and cuddled by strangers.
Given how difficult it could be to dodge any of these happenings, it’s advised that unvaccinated pups steer clear of public parks all together until they’ve received sufficient boosters.
Restricting & Managing Puppy Socialisation On Walks
If avoiding walk in the park is a bit too unrealistic for you, then ensure you take a wide walking course that avoids as many people as possible, and looks to maintain a safe distance of 2m at all times.
Try not to engage with excited onlookers either, as even in these strange times the magnetism of a puppy knows no bounds! This can be done by avoiding eye contact, or simply politely asking a stranger to take a few steps away from your puppy.
You can also encourage your cute canine to stay on the move with a stern but gentle voice command or some treats.
Because remember, this is about keeping you safe as well as your pup!
Unfortunately, your puppy will also need to keep their distance from other dogs at this time.
But while this is undoubtedly a hindrance to your canine’s socialisation skills, there are ways to still turn it into a positive.
Use the situation as an opportunity to train your dog’s behaviour when in the presence of other dogs, particularly their tendency to become over-excited and out of control.
When your pup spies another dog on a walk, try and gain their attention with a treat or toy, and do your best to remain at a fair distance from the other canine.
The whole point of socialisation with other dogs is to ensure you help your pooch build up their confidence when interacting with others and that they have no fear and anxiety about meeting new people or pups.
By associating the sight of one with positive experiences, it helps reinforce a positive association for your pup, reducing the chance of them developing anxieties when older, without risking theirs or your health through interaction.
Thankfully, ensuring your puppy goes through a sufficient amount of habituation should be slightly less complicated.
Although there is far less traffic than usual, the occasional car or sight of people in the distance is likely to still occur fairly frequently on walks, all helping to accustom puppies to an external environment.
Socialisation & Habituation At Home
Helping your pup successfully adapt to a new life with you becomes a real problem if you are unable to do any of the above.
If you or a household member is suspected ill with coronavirus, or you are a shielded or older member of society considered vulnerable – you won’t be able to take advantage of standard dog walks.
It’s therefore paramount you engage your puppy with different but still effective stimulation at home, using a little ingenuity.
Here’s a guide to the best puppy habituation and socialisation activities to be done at home:
When your pup can’t get out of the house, it might not even occur to you that something as simple as new flooring or ground type might eventually have them feeling anxious or upset once lockdown is over.
Unlike us humans, canines aren’t lucky enough to have shoes, and so their paws feel and put up with everything they come into contact with.
Therefore a handy habituation exercise can be to introduce them to different floor surfaces in your home by using various materials.
Plastic or paper sheets, bubble wrap or cardboard – anything you can find in your house can make a good walkway, and you can encourage your puppy to explore walking on these surfaces by giving them treats.
This will help them build up confidence as they face new and strange materials.
In a similar way to exploring new surfaces, it’s also a good idea to subject your new puppy to various sensory experiences he will miss out on from not exploring the outside world.
Think how much dog’s like to get lost in the park or woods and explore when out on walks – that’s the kind of environment you need to create for them at home.
Use cardboard boxes to fashion tunnels, hide treats under things in the house, create soft barriers with clothes and towels they must jump over – anything to make your home a bit more of an adventure and a place that encourages brave exploration.
Be as creative as you want with this but of course, don’t get too carried away. Keep things relatively simple so that your puppy isn’t attempting something that might hurt them and use soft items when creating obstacles.
If you think about the outside world for a second, you’ll realise it’s a very loud and disruptive place.
And while you might be accustomed to it, a new puppy is surely going to be slightly startled by the sudden influx of people and traffic once quarantine is over. Therefore it’s very important to introduce your canine to sounds and sound effects while in quarantine.
The most effective way to do this is obviously to play recorded sounds. Playlists specialising in puppy socialisation can be found easily on Spotify or you can even purchase a CD if you are not comfortable with streaming platforms.
Make sure these sounds are all played at a low level while your puppy engages with another activity and then gradually increase the recorded noises. Your canine should slowly get used to noises in and around the home this way, and so will be less confused when such things occur outside.
If this is a little complicated for you, then your best bet is to just accustom your dog to a wide range of noise that you can produce in your home.
Things like playing with metal and wooden spoons or pots and pans can certainly create some strange noises, and you can even create auditory toys such as shakers made out of toilet roll tubes and small stones.
Oh and don’t forget the vacuum, washing machine and hair dryer!
Smell is probably a dog’s most important sense and they use their nose more than anything to get by in day to day life. It is difficult to recreate the many unique and distinct scents they will pick up on in the outside world, however you can still use smell as a way of training your dog indoors and encouraging them to use their senses.
Perhaps spray their toys with different scents and let them become adjusted to the different smells of each toy – then hide them around the house and have your pup hunt them down!
This one not only helps your puppy’s socialisation skills, it’s also great fun for when you’re bored in isolation!
At this time, exposing your pup to different strangers is a definite no no, however you can still expose your canine to different people if you’re creative enough.
By disguising yourself in various costumes, with hats, glasses or even fake facial hair if you’re truly prepared for lockdown, you can get them used to figures who don’t always dress and act the same as you!
Then play a game with them or give them a treat, which will train them not to fear the unexpected and instead embrace it, meaning you’ll have little trouble with new strangers in the future.
Be sensitive with this however, as remember the aim is not to scare your puppy.
Introduce new items of clothing or characters gradually and don’t go too method! You are merely trying to surprise and reward your puppy, not make it think a burglar has broken in!