Few of us could have predicted this situation we now find ourselves in. It's scary, unnerving, new and confusing, and we are ALL struggling to know how best to cope and navigate the isolation we have been thrust into. However, if you have a young puppy (or dog), this will be doubly worrying as you are likely concerned about that all important 'critical period of socialisation' we hear so much about. Don't panic!!!!
The good news is, socialisation, whilst it is absolutely essential to build a well-rounded and confident dog, is NOT limited simply to 'throwing your puppy into groups of people and dogs'. It is SO much more than that. Whilst appropriate dog interaction, and indeed human interaction, is important, it isn't everything by any means. Socialisation encompasses a huge range of environments, situations, circumstance and stimuli, which your pup will likely encounter throughout life. Building confidence and a calm, relaxed emotional response to various environments and situations is crucial. Some of this, can still be done at home in isolation! Hurrah!!!
So, how can we do this 'socialising' business at home?? How do we continue to socially distance ourselves, go out once a day, and still ensure our pups are physically, psychologically and emotionally enriched?? Here's a few ideas to get you started:
1. Go for a walk! - Sounds so simple, but we ARE allowed out once a day to exercise. If it is safe to do so, there is nothing wrong with a walk around with your pup, all the while maintaining the official government guildlines relating to social distancing (2 metres). Take a handful of treats, and go and have a nice stroll with you pup. Let your pup take their time, let them watch things, smell things, explore things, don't rush it. Your pup needs at least 15 mins to aquire, process, and store information gained from any given stimuli, so give them a minute to take it all in!
2. Noises/sounds/objects - Why not try introducing novel and unusual sounds, for example the lawn mower or the hoover. Why not get some pots and pans out in the kitchen, let your pup explore them, move them about, make some (appropriate!) noise with them, lots of praise for your pup having a calm and inquisitive attitude toward such things will really help to build confidence in the future. Get your bike out, skateboard, rollerblakes, anything you have. Calm introductions to these things will hugely benefit your pup long term. Get your pup looking out the window when the dusbin men come (if they come, are they coming?! Who knows!). You don't need to be in close proximity, a handful of treats and a little gentle encouragement, all this will help habituate your pup to a variety of sensory stimuli.
3. Surfaces - Why not introduce some different flooring and surfaces for your pup to walk on, encouraging a wide range of different sensations underfoot. Try some plastic bags, bubble wrap, cardboard, water, wooden flooring, stones, anything you have in and around your house. Get a ladder out, lay it flat, encourage your pup with a treat to walk over the rungs of the ladder. This will help your pup with spatial awareness moving forward, and increase confidence around strange footing. As a dog grows, it will start to gain understanding about the environment around them, including information relating to smell, shape and the size of varying objects surrounding them. They will start to recognise themselves in relation to the environment, and their own placement and positioning within it.
4. Download an app - You could consider downloading an app for your phone which will play lots of novel and new sounds ie. thunder, fireworks etc. Also, for the technophobes, simply playing different ring tones! Strange noises can be extremely alarming to a pup if they are not accustomed to such things. All will help build confidence with sudden and strange sounds. Really thinking about all the senses and how best to positively expose them to varying things!
5. Hang things! - Hang some washing out to flap about, randomly put some plastic bags around outside to flap in the wind, all of these can seem unnerving to a dog who has not encountered them before. The sooner we introduce our pups positively to strange and unusual objects moving about, the better. Be imaginative, use anything, hang bits anywhere and everywhere. Think of a baby 'mobile', work along those lines!
6. Dress up! - Consider hats, umbrellas, masks, anything you can think of. Practice some fun and basic training whilst wearing all manner of different attire! You may feel silly, but it will benefit your pup in the long run, and no one will see!
7. Move furniture - A great idea to help introduce your pup to sudden and unpredictable changes. Put your pup in another room, move a few chairs about, let your pup back in, and voila! The room has suddenly changed! Your pup will start to become used to such random and unexplainable changes which is perfect!
8. Utlise the social distancing - When out with your pup (on your one lowly walk a day!), you'll need to maintain the government guidelines of 2 metres. This will of course mean people won't be able to approach your pup as they normally would. People do tend to rush up to a puppy at the speed of light to cuddle puppies! This is ok, we can work with this and use it to our advantage, by encouraging our pups to sit calmly, simply not jump and leap, or at the very least, ignore the person. It is certainly not always advised to allow your pup to say hello to every single person you come across, so this could really be beneficial for your basic training.
9. Handling - Take the time you have to really solidly introduce and keep your puppy calm and comfortable with handling and grooming equipment. With all of this time on your hands over the coming weeks, it is SO important to habituate your pup to grooming, veterinary handling, nail clipping etc. I can NOT stress enough how important this is!!
10. Play 'find it' games - Use toys, treats, anything you can think of, anything to get your pup moving and get exploring! You may not be able to pop off into town to investigate shops, cafes and parks, but you CAN still encourage that explorative and investigative behaviour!
11. Training - Simple! Start a puppy training plan! Write down some key things you're hoping your pup will be able to achieve over the months ahead, and get to work! If you need advice with this, do get in touch, there are SO many exercises to get started on.
12. Obstacle course - Make a fun little obstacle course! Use various household objects and items to create a fun little obstacle course for your puppy. Use plant pots, water bottles, bedding, throws, small canes, cones, anything! Your pup will enjoy exploring the different items presented and you can encourage calm and positive introductions to different shapes, sights and sounds.
Most importantly, have fun!!!!! Enjoy your puppy!!! It's not ideal, it's not what you expected, and yes you are more limited now as to where you can go and who you can see. BUT that doesn't mean you have to limit your socialisation and it doesn't mean your pup can't still grow into a well rounded and confident dog. Stay calm, and enjoy the early weeks, they go by too fast!!
I will continue to help with the socialisation aspect of puppy ownership as much as I can over the coming weeks. I know for most owners, this is THE key area they will be most worried about. Please don't worry though, I promise it is NOT as bad as you are imagining. I will try to include information, videos and articles which offer ideas to help you through this time. Please don't panic though, you and your pup will be just fine :)
For more information, advice or guidance, get in touch! :)