We have seen many new puppies over the last few months and we have had the same question over and over, which has led us to make a guide on how to socialise your puppy during COVID-19.
Socialisation for puppies is such an important part of their development to ensure they become happy, confident adult dogs. The most crucial time for socialisation is up to 12 weeks of age but socialisation does not stop at 12 weeks, it should be continued well into their adult life, they may just become more cautious therefore requiring more time and space to adjust.
All socialisation and training sessions need to be positive. Whilst they should not be meeting any new people from outside your home due to isolation during the pandemic, in theory, if they meet a person, this should be rewarded with a treat. If they experience something new (car, traffic, other animals etc), you should treat and reward the puppy in that situation to create a positive association. You could also play a game with the puppy as a reward.
By going for a walk from your house, think about taking your puppy with you but do remember until they have had a 2nd vaccination they should NEVER be put on the ground (outside your home/garden). If the puppy is a weight that you could realistically carry for a period of time then it could be a good idea to do so. Depending whether you live in town or more rurally, they may experience traffic, other sounds and other animals (sheep, cows, horses etc.).
Introduce your puppy to different rooms, different surfaces (slippery, carpet, gravel, grass etc) and ensure your puppy remains happy throughout. The more places your puppy positively experiences during this period, the more likely it will be to accept new experiences as it grows up.
During normal circumstances, we would advise that you expose your puppy to as many sounds as possible such as cars, buses, trains, motorcycles, sirens, machinery, thunder, fireworks, farm animal noises, horses etc. This may be harder to achieve at the moment but many of these noises will be able to be streamed online. It is important that this is a positive experience for your puppy so start these sounds off very quietly and further away from the puppy. Ensure you reward your puppy with treats and games. As it becomes used to these sounds, you can gradually increase the volume and bring them closer to the puppy. The Dogs Trust have some soundtracks available online – https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/dog-behaviour-health/sound-therapy-for-pets
Everyone in the household should handle the puppy gently, reward it, play with it and do some basic training (even if it is just a reward for coming to them). You want the puppy to enjoy everyone’s company and learn to trust them. Don’t let anyone handle the puppy roughly or play boisterous games with him – no matter how excited everyone is about the new arrival.
Start to teach them simple cues such as sit, down, step up, leave, off and recall. There is a lot of information online on to how to teach these cues but it is important that it remains fun for you and the puppy. If your puppy does not do what you want them to, they probably don’t understand what it is that you are asking. Go back to the drawing board and try a different way.
Encourage the puppy to follow you – rewarding it with a treat when it comes to you. This will simplify recall training when your puppy is older but will also build a social bond between you both.
Collar and lead training
Now is a good time to get the puppy used to wearing it’s collar and ID tag, this is a legal requirement when they are out the house. It is an alien thing to a young puppy so it is best to get them used to wearing it now – you could use meal times as a good distraction! It is always best to remove it when being left in a crate or puppy pen.
Start introducing lead exercise in the house or garden, ensure you use your voice and treats to encourage them to follow you rather than pulling on their lead. Keep feeding treats at the same side, just below the knee and your puppy will soon learn that this is the most exciting spot to walk!
Teach your puppy that part of its new life includes being left alone at times or not having constant access to you. This should be introduced as soon as the puppy is brought home. Use a dog crate (can be purchased from a pet shop and should have comfortable bedding) or a baby gate to separate the puppy from you at least once a day. Ensure it is a time of day that is positive for them e.g. dinner time, chewing a stuffed kong etc. At first, it is best if the puppy can see you to avoid them feeling deserted.
Encourage quiet time for the puppy – when the puppy is relaxed and settles down in your presence. Start these as short periods and use a crate or playpen beside you. Give your puppy something to occupy him such as an interactive toy (such as a stuffed Kong toy).
We have spoken with a local groomer who has given the following advice.
Introduce your Puppy straight away to an appropriate brush and make it a positive experience by rewarding good behaviour with treats. It is always best to groom when the puppy is tired as they are less likely to see it as a game!
Touching all different areas of the puppy such as the feet and face to get them used to being touched in those areas. Groomers usually offer specific puppy “packages” which are used to get the puppy familiar with all aspects of grooming, in a more gentle way!
We would always recommend to speak to a groomer to get advice!
It is important that the puppy learns about being calm around you and relaxing. Many people miss this in all the excitement surrounding getting a new puppy but it is vital that they learn to accept being groomed and being handled (including around its feet, face, mouth, ears etc). If they don’t learn to relax around you, everything will become a game and you will find it hard to keep them still when you need to examine them.