• Kelsen Depp, CVPM

Socializing Your Puppy at Home

With coronavirus requiring social distancing between humans, new puppy owners are finding it harder to make sure their puppy learns about the great big world. But it is possible to provide your puppy with much-needed experiences even while you're social distancing — and have fun while doing it!

During this coronavirus pandemic, you can take advantage of extra time at home and help your puppy grow into a well-adjusted and well-trained adult. Social distancing with your dog might actually mean better behaved dogs when life gets back to normal.

Don't Wait Until It's Too Late to Socialize Your Puppy

Introducing your puppy to the world in a positive way while they're young is crucial for a happy, well-rounded dog in the future. Lack of socialization during the critical "imprint period" can lead to a higher chance of behavioral issues when the puppy becomes an adult, such as separation anxiety, noise phobia, or leash reactivity and fear aggression.

The imprint period lasts from about 7 weeks to about 16 weeks of age, so it's important to get lots of proactive exposure training done during this time.

For all socialization and proactive exposure training, take everything slow and follow your puppy's lead. Keep socialization practice short and sweet and start new exposure low and slow.

Tips for Puppy Socialization During COVID19

Socialization Isn't Just About Other Dogs and People

While you won't be able to attend group puppy classes like usual, there are other things to focus on besides dog-dog interactions. Socialization includes common experiences that your dog will have throughout their life, such as handling at the vet or groomer, getting their nails trimmed, the sound of thunderstorms or the vacuum, and different kinds of surfaces they'll need to walk on (like the bathtub). Luckily, you can practice most of these things from the comfort of your own home. Working on these things at home means less distractions, which will help your puppy learn better and faster!

"Non-Social" Puppy Socialization Ideas

Introducing your puppy to different surfaces can be easy to do at home, on a walk, or in a yard.

Here are some ideas:

  • A flat baking sheet they can sniff at or walk over

  • An empty plastic water bottle to chew on and toss around

  • The bathtub (without the actual bath)

  • Outside surfaces such as gravel, bark, dirt, garden stepping stones, grass or turf

  • A kiddie pool filled with balls

  • Different flooring such as wood, linoleum, and carpet

Play different sounds in the background

If you live on a normally busy street, you want your puppy to be used to the sound of traffic or other car noises when life gets back to normal. Introduce audio recordings of different things at low volume to create neutral or positive associations with these things. You can find many free audio recordings on at https://www.preventivevet.com/puppy-socialization-resources, or download the Sound Proof Puppy Training app.

Introduce different scents to your puppy

Dogs brains dedicate a lot of space and energy to their sense of smell, so working your puppy's nose provides great enrichment and helps burn off energy. Studies have also shown that certain scents help calm dogs and reduce stress behaviors. Make sure any scents you use aren't irritating or toxic to dogs

  • Dilute essential oil in water (such as lavender) and spray a small amount on a blanket or bedding

  • Scatter kibble throughout the yard to encourage sniffing

  • Use a snuffle mat for feeding meals

  • Play nose work games to teach your puppy to find the "right" smell

  • Introduce the smell of other types of animals (gently wipe other animals in your home, such as cats, hamsters, birds, horses etc. with a cloth and let your puppy smell it)

  • Set up a scavenger hunt throughout your home by hiding treats and helping your dog sniff them out

Play Dress Up!

Since your puppy can't meet lots of different people right now, that doesn't mean you can't expose them to different types of clothing or various ways people move. You or a family member can dress up and practice your acting skills. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Wearing a hat or sunglasses (or both at the same time!)

  • Walking with a cane or walker

  • Wigs of different hair colors and styles

  • Delivery person carrying a box or package

  • Bundled up in rain or winter gear (rubber boots, umbrella, jacket with hood up)

  • Riding a bicycle, scooter, or skateboard and wearing a helmet

  • Carrying lots of grocery bags

  • Wheeling around a suitcase

  • Wearing last year's Halloween costume

Socialize From a Distance

Getting outside is important, not just for your mental health, but also for your puppy to experience the great outdoors. For puppies younger than 16 weeks that shouldn't be exploring far and wide quite yet, I recommend just sitting in your driveway or on your porch with them to watch the world go by. Have your puppy on a leash for safety and set out a nice mat for them to settle on if they choose.

Any time they notice something new, like a loud truck driving by, a cat walking across the street, or your neighbor heading out for a walk, praise calmly and give them a treat. It's all about creating positive associations with different things.