How to Socialize Your Puppy During Times of Social Distancing
Puppies have a short time window for optimal socialization, and that requires exposure to multiple different surfaces, people of all backgrounds, and various new situations. But what about the puppies who happen to be within that window now, during this time of necessary social distancing due to COVID-19? How can they be socialized so they can grow to be confident and happy dogs for the rest of their lives?
There are certain new situations to which all puppies should be exposed if possible:
Different surfaces: grass, leaves, concrete, gravel, linoleum, carpet, wood, sand, etc.
Different sounds: think of all the everyday sounds around your home, including hairdryers, phone ringtones, radios, vacuum cleaners, and more. There are even recordings of sounds like thunder and other dogs barking that you can download for your puppy to hear. Be sure to make each noise exposure a positive experience by acting happy around the sound and associating the sound with yummy treats, and watch your puppy for any signs of stress.
Other dogs: this can be done if you have other dogs in the neighborhood you know and trust to be safe and well-mannered with your puppy. It will be important for you to know the other dogs’ owners as well; the best-case scenario would be to have a trusted friend who is also a dog owner, as you could then arrange safe play dates with the other dog while maintaining a safe distance from the other owner (more on this below).
Other people: this may be the most difficult of all at this time, but there are still ways to achieve this exposure for your puppy. Certainly have your puppy socialize with all the members of your household who are healthy. You can also let your puppy look out the window of your home as other people go by, and let your puppy see you act happy about those people. Also consider all that your puppy can see and hear from the safety of your own car.
Crate Training Is Still Important
Even though you may currently be at home all day, your puppy still needs a structured schedule to reduce stress on everyone and to let the puppy know what is expected. Trainer and dog sports enthusiast Alexa Hagood, LVMT, states that this is a good opportunity to institute periods of “alone time,” like crate and nap breaks, so the puppy doesn’t develop separation anxiety when you do return to your place of work. Crate training can be an invaluable tool for your puppy at this time, just as with any other time.
Set up a puppy zone and leave your puppy there with appropriate Interactive toys and chews while you work in a separate room. While leaving home isn't as easy right now, you do still need to actually leave the premises when working on separation anxiety prevention. Going on a short midday walk without your pup or taking a drive around the block are both good options.