Behavioral scientists have identified the period from 4 to 14 weeks as the most important window of time for a puppy's social development.
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?
1. Sit with your puppy outside in an exercise pen and watch the neighbors do activities.
2. Wear different hats, sunglasses, and odd clothing (one at a time) around the house and out in the yard at different times, allowing your puppy to practice interacting with a "stranger." You can also have another person in the house do the same things.
3. Expose your puppy to different things that you may have in your garage or shed, such as shovels, rakes, skateboards, bikes, different textures of things, and things that make sound, etc. Let your puppy safely explore these things, and use treats and rewards to make sure your puppy enjoys their time around these objects.
4. Let your puppy walk over, under, and around different things. Encourage them to walk across a cookie sheet or a pillow to experience different textures. They can also walk under a coffee table, or over a pool noodle to adapt to various "obstacles."
5. Help your puppy experience slightly unstable (but still safe) surfaces. Make a slide for your puppy by placing them on one end of a cookie sheet elevating it slightly. Place a board on top of a firm ball and then have the puppy stand on it while you help stabilize it.
6. Let the puppy explore different areas of the house where they may not ordinarily be allowed.
7. Re-create the vet's office. Put your puppy on the washer or dryer with a non-skid mat. Use a lot of treats as rewards as you touch your puppy's ears, feet, back, and belly.
8. Take your puppy for car rides. If you have a puppy that gets car sick, make the trips short and enjoyable.
9. Go to an open grocery store and sit in the parking lot, giving treats as your puppy watches people walk around outside.
10. Expose your puppy to different sounds. Find different soundtracks and songs to play while your puppy rests, plays or eats.
“socialization does not mean putting a dog in a new situation and seeing what happens. Socialization means introducing new situations and making them safe, positive, confidence-building experiences.”