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Coronavirus – Puppy socialisation tips

8 Apr, 2020

Coronavirus has changed our lives completely. As soon as the social distancing restrictions were put in place I knew that suspending puppy training classes was going to place a huge additional burden on owners when it came to socialisation

Of course, outside of the dog world, puppy socialisation seems like such a trivial matter but the sad fact remains, undersocialised pups will have behavioural issues in later life.

Whilst we cannot seek socialisation from classes or puppy parties, there are other ways that you can help your puppy learn about the big wide world they will one day enjoy again.

Firstly, let’s look at time periods. The “socialisation” period for a puppy closes between 16 and 18 weeks of age. This is due to brain development. Given most puppies do not complete their vaccinations until around 12 weeks old, even without social distancing, the time frame is short.

Secondly, socialisation is not simply exposure to other dogs (although that is important) it’s so much more than that. It’s visiting places you wish them to frequent, meeting people of all ages, children, old people, people in wheelchairs, people in high visibility jackets. It’s introducing them to different noises – the vacuum, a passing train, a screaming baby, a fire alarm, tractor or busy marketplaces. It’s meeting and learning how to be calm around other animals, wildlife or livestock.

If your puppy is currently aged between 8 and 18 weeks, now is the time to take action.

Let’s breakdown some examples of how you can work through a “socialisation” checklist:

  1. It is currently uncertain how Coronavirus is spread. So contact with fur, leads, collars and harnesses must be avoided by anyone not included in your household group. You must have your puppy under control at all times. Keeping them on lead will ensure they cannot approach other people/dogs.
  2. Using your daily exercise to walk through a local “busier” area such as a park will help with people & dog socialisation. Your puppy does not need to greet a person or a dog, just seeing/passing them by will help with socialisation. Using a lead will help maintain the current 2 metres social distancing rules.
  3. Download a “puppy socialisation” app or find videos on You Tube that can provide recordings of everyday noises that it may be difficult to expose your puppy to currently. Examples include: road drills & sirens, seaside noises, ice cream trucks, moving trains, screaming babies etc. Begin by having the recordings on at a very low level – you must not startle your puppy. Whilst they are playing, engage with your puppy, play with them or do some training. Gradually increase the noise until the puppy notices it and then reward them with a tasty treat for listening or not responding. Keep sessions short and stop immediately if your puppy becomes uncertain/shows signs of stress. You can always try again the next day and pair it with something very enjoyable – like dinnertime!
  4. Dig out your old outfits, find those “fancy dress” wigs from your best stag/hen do, see if you have any reflective clothing or bike/motorbike helmets in your house. If you do, have a dressing up session and a handful of treats. Position yourself in the garden or another room to your puppy and allow them to approach at his or her own pace. This is very important! You should not approach your puppy if they are unsure instead remove the item of clothing and place it on the floor to see if it’s then easier for your puppy to approach and explore. Reward your puppy with treats for being brave. If in doubt, end the session and try again later.
  5. Building confidence with unusual places/noises can be done using a “noise box” (which you can make easily). Take an old cardboard box and fill it with toilet paper inners (we all have plenty of those at the moment!) packaging paper, washed and cleaned yoghurt pots/margarine tubs etc. – make sure you remove all labels/packaging rings. Turn it on its side and sprinkle some tasty treats inside. Allow your puppy to explore and find the treats but monitor them closely to ensure they do not then decide to eat the other contents afterwards!

GOLDEN RULE FOR SOCIALISATION

All exposure/interactions during the socialisation period must be positive and enjoyable for the puppy and at his or her own pace! A negative experience will have the opposite impact on your puppy and could affect them for a long time. Socialisation sessions need to be carefully planned and carried out in calm environments where puppy can investigate, as he/she feels happy to do so.

Note: Point 1 is based on a guidance issued by CFSG as of 8th April 2020 – more advice can be found on their website. http://www.cfsg.org.uk/coronavirus/_layouts/15/start.aspx#/.

The social distancing advice is based on UK Government guidelines as of 8th April 2020.

Louise Burton IMDT
Hilton Dogs Training Academy

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