Socialization and Social Distancing

With puppy classes on hold, and people practicing social distancing I have had a few clients reach out and ask what they can do to keep their puppy socialized, and to expose them to new things. I did my best to put together some things to do, this is not a definitive list, it is a list of things to try, things to do, and ways to keep busy. If you think of something else, feel free to give it a try, or if something is just not for your puppy, skip it!

First though, a warning. Socialization is about quality, not quantity. It is also about creating quality experiences for your puppy. You want to go slow, at your puppy’s speed, and make sure you are not overwhelming them. Watch their body language, are their ears shifting back, are they lip licking, is their brow furroughing? If they start to worry watch and see if they can resolve it, if they cannot back them up, can they resolve it with more space? No, then go on home, or stop, and try again later. Sometimes if a puppy has already done too much they just cannot handle another thing, or, sometimes they are tired, or sometimes they are worried. Forcing them through something will not make it positive though, and in fact it may make it worse. If you want to learn more about socialization and how to help your puppy I suggest watching the seminar Mindful Socialization by Suzanne Clothier. I was involved in the production and it was incredibly helpful to me as a trainer, and a dog owner.

Second, bring treats. If your puppy can enjoy a snack as things go on around them – yay! What a great day for a puppy. The treats may also help you work through a sticky point, or be needed to manage an over-excited or worried puppy and lure them out of a situation. If you are in a spot without treats, and things get scary, and your puppy is unfocused and barking, that may be experiences we have to undo later, so, use food and make it awesome as much as possible.

Here is a list of some suggestions:

  • If you cannot get your puppy around different types of people, wearing different types of clothes, become those different people for your puppy! Start wearing hats, sunglasses, coats, wigs, Halloween costumes, masks, whatever strikes your fancy! Put on any weird thing around your puppy and make it seem totally normal.  Just please do not startle your puppy. Do not put on a Batman mask and jump out at your puppy, sit in front of her and let her see you put it on and take it off a few times. Same with the glasses, or hats. Let them see you change and realize that sometimes people look different, but they are still people.
  • Show them seasonal clothes or stuff they would not see everyday! Put on a rain coat, open an umbrella, break out your pancho, roll a suitcase around, go outside and show your pup a wheelbarrow and a hose and a rake and whatever is in your garage!
  • Break out some throw rugs, cardboard boxes, metal cookie trays, measuring cups, metal spoons, bells, balls, any weird things and put them on the floor as your puppy plays. Ask them to walk over weird stuff, to play with weird stuff and get used to different materials under their feet and in their mouth.
  • Break out toys that make sound have flashing light, let them check those out. If you have ones that move or dance, all the better!
  • Take out your lawn mower, rev it up, take out the weedwacker, rev it up. Chainsaw – sure! Let the neighbors think you are crazy (and feel free to send me video please – ha!). Inside use your coffee grinder, your blender, a food processor, vaccuum, carpet cleaner, whatever is different. You want to get really brave, put the fire alarm very, very far away and set it off and give your puppy treats while it happens.
  • Just because you have to stay apart does not mean you cannot see people. Drive to the grocery store, go to the back of the lot where there is no one close, and people watch with your dog. You can also do this with the vets office or a pet center to watch the dogs come in and out.
  • Bored neighborhood kids? Talk to their parents and ask them to ride their bikes by your house at set times so you can have your dog see them from a distance. Have them use scooters, throw footballs, bounce basketballs, ride a skateboard, make noises and be kids! Really want to go nuts? Ask them to wear costumes or hats and really give your pup some new things to see. From a distance! Don’t have kids? Go on YouTube and find some video of kids laughing, crying, screaming and being kids and at least play those sounds for your puppy, all while sharing some awesome snacks.
  • Take a drive to the country, check out cows, horses, sheep, llamas.
  • Drive your pup to a boat lock, look at the boats, walk on the weird surfaces. Go to the gas station and have them wait in your car as you pump gas. Take them to a drive through for coffee (well, coffee for you, puppies do not need caffeine!). Go to the places you hope to go when they are older, even if you cannot go near people, or you may not be able to inside, you can get them used to the ride and the area.

Remember, quality, not quantity. Use the check-lists below if they help. Make memories, create positive experiences, have fun and take pictures. Puppyhood does not last forever and while this one will be a little non-traditional, it is still going to be awesome and you will miss it when they are big (minus the house training part).