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Socializing a New Puppy During a Pandemic

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Socializing a new puppy is critically important for a healthy, happy life. A well-socialized puppy will have fewer behavioral issues and be a well-adjusted and more confident adult dog. The COVID-19 pandemic has made socializing a challenge, but there are ways to still encourage your puppy to explore new people, pets, and environments. The key is to make socialization a priority, schedule regular opportunities, and be flexible and creative!

  • Start early. Puppies go through several stages of development just like human babies. It is important to start socializing them and introducing them to new things from an early age. The first three months of your puppy’s life is when proper socialization is critical. Those formative months will permanently shape their future personality. A good breeder or rescue will have started the socialization process before you bring your new puppy home.
  • Be safe. Your puppy should have received their first vaccines between 6-8 weeks of age and will continue with regular boosters every 3-4 weeks until fully vaccinated at 16 weeks old. Your puppy will not be fully protected from diseases like parvovirus and canine distemper until they have finished their full vaccine series. Until they are fully vaccinated, we recommend avoiding areas with unknown dogs like dog parks to reduce the risk of exposure to those diseases. If you have friends or family with healthy, vaccinated dogs, they are a great way to introduce and socialize your puppy with other dogs. Puppy classes are another great place to socialize your puppy.
  • Start slow and make it positive. Puppies tire easily and can get overwhelmed. A good idea is to introduce new people, animals, noises and experiences slowly and let them start building on positive experiences. Use lots of praise and treats during these situations so that there is a positive association with these new experiences. Use small training treats or break treats into small pieces so they are easy for your puppy to digest. Also, remember to stay calm yourself! Puppies can sense your emotions. If you are stressed or anxious about a situation, your puppy may become anxious as well.
  • Meet new people. Your puppy likely will bond quickly with your family members, but new people can feel like strangers. Some puppies are eager to meet everyone, while others may be shy. Try to introduce your puppy to as many people as you can. Take your puppy to places they are apt to meet people, especially children, such as walks in the neighborhood, a pet-friendly store, or a park. With social distancing, meeting people may prove challenging. You can try to overcome the distance with things like a longer leash so you can stay 6 feet apart or asking a child’s parent if they would like to pet your (leashed) puppy while you stand back. With many places shut down or in limited capacity, you may find more opportunities for your puppy to meet people outdoors.

Some experiences to look for:

  • A variety of ethnicities, genders and ages
  • People wearing hats, scarves, gloves
  • People with beards or long hair
  • People with wheelchairs, walkers or strollers, or walking their bikes
  • People carrying objects such as umbrellas, purses, backpacks, toys
  • Meet other animals. It is very important for your puppy to be socialized with other pets and animals. But this step needs to be done cautiously and slowly as a bad experience may leave your puppy traumatized or hesitant to be around other animals. Take your time. If you have other pets, start by letting them get to know each other in limited amounts of time, with a safe space provided for each of them to retreat to. Next look for other well-socialized dogs in your extended family or your neighborhood. Be sure to keep your puppy on their leash and watch carefully for signs that they are getting overwhelmed or anxious—short positive interactions are best at first. If there is a puppy daycare open near you, an hour of well-supervised daycare with other well-socialized dogs, even once a week can really help. Avoid contact with any dog that is not well-socialized. It is a good idea to also encourage your puppy to meet other animals like cats, horses, goats and sheep, as long as he has a happy, positive experience.
  • Loud, unexpected noises or even common, ordinary sounds can be frightening at first. Your puppy will have a much happier, stress-free life if they learn early on that these noises are normal and nothing to be concerned about. Try to accustom them to a variety of every day and seasonal sounds. If your puppy seems afraid or anxious with any of these noises, be calm and reassuring. Try to turn it into a positive experience with lots of attention, petting, and possibly a treat. Be careful not to overreact, as this could reinforce the idea that the noise is not normal, and maybe even scary. During this pandemic, you may have to get creative in looking for ways to expose your puppy to a large variety of noises.

Some sounds to desensitize him to:

  • Car horns
  • Sirens
  • Noisy children, or loud gatherings
  • Doorbells and other household noises
  • Fireworks
  • Thunder

The key to proper socialization is introducing your puppy to as many experiences, sights, sounds, people and other animals as you can in a positive way. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it may take more creativity and planning, but the results of a well-socialized dog will be well worth the time and effort.

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