With most of the world in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I thought I’d share with you my tips on how to socialise your puppy without being sociable!
Let’s face it, we’re all being asked to live a pretty anti-social existence right now. Keeping our 2 metre distance when we’re out and about, even eye contact seems to be off the agenda in a lot of cases!
Most of us are only stepping outside our homes for essential travel or for our daily allocation of permitted exercise.
When the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, Gertie was just 15 weeks old. She was almost ready to explore the big wide world. Luckily we managed to have all her inoculations done, but how was I going to socialise my puppy when being sociable was totally out of the question?
Where it all began…..
When we made the decision to get a puppy back in January, little did I know how life was about to change.
Gertie came bounding into our lives at the start of February. We already had, as you know, a very pampered pooch living in the house, our 13 year old Parson Jack Russell/ Collie cross, Poppy.
I thought at the time my main worry would be getting the girls to live harmoniously together. After all, they are at completely different life stages, and Poppy has never been a huge fan of other dogs!
As it turns out, Poppy and Gertie soon adjusted to life together. Once Poppy had established her ranking as top dog in the household! [As if there was ever any question of her status being affected!]
All was going well and we were doing lots of training in the garden and around the house, getting her prepared for the big wide world at 16 weeks old. Except that world, or the world as we knew it, came crashing to a grinding halt overnight.
My initial thoughts were what about puppy classes? Training classes? What about meeting other dogs in general? Gertie was going to miss out on so much.
However, when I took a step back, I realised that socialisation doesn’t necessarily mean being sociable!
Puppies need a good grounding and most of that comes, not from other dogs, but from life experience.
My lovely friend Claire from Usen Behaviour Referrals has hosted a fabulous webinar all about Puppies in Lockdown. It’s well worth a watch as she is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to dog training and behavioural issues. You may even recognise a couple of the furry faces in her presentation!
The list is endless, but below, I’ve tried to cover just some of the aspects of puppy socialisation that are vital, even if we’re not living in isolation. Remember, puppies take time to discover the world around them and with the right support you will have a happy and confident canine companion for years to come.
How can you socialise your puppy without being sociable?
Socialisation is about familiarity with the world around us. Learning not to be fearful, to be exposed to a range of sights, smells and sounds that inhabit our daily existence.
Gertie is a pretty confident little terrier. I know so much more now about dogs than when we got Poppy as a pup, almost 14 years ago. Aware of the quirky, often obscure things that can spook Pops, I have been careful to expose Gertie to as many situations as possible during this profoundly influential stage of her development.
Creating a Safe Environment
In order for your puppy to be happy and confident, you need to make them feel safe, first and foremost. Years of teaching have taught me that children will learn better and adapt to new situations if they feel relaxed and supported. Puppies are no different.
Establishing clear boundaries is essential. Your puppy won’t respond nearly as well if you display unpredictable behaviour. Shouting at your puppy and loosing your temper will only make them switch off. Think about how you react if someone shouts at you!
If your expectations are clear from the start, life with your puppy will be so much easier (for you and them!) You need to be consistent in your praise, and discipline. This way your puppy will quickly learn right from wrong. They soon pick up on intonations in your voice and respond accordingly.
Gertie learned very quickly the word ‘no,’ and equally soon realised that when she did something good she would be rewarded with cuddles or treats.
Establish a routine
Establishing a routine is also key to raising a contented puppy. All of us need some sort of routine in our life. Having a framework to our daily existence contributes to us feeling safe and secure.
Regular feeding, exercise and downtime help your puppy to know what to expect from each day. Having structure also helps with toilet training which you can read all about in my blog ‘How to Toilet Train a Puppy in just a few weeks.’
Getting your puppy used to sights and sounds
Getting your puppy familiar with sights and sounds in and around the home is crucial. You don’t want fears and worries to manifest themselves at a young age.
Simple things like getting them used to the sound of the hairdryer, the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner, the lawnmower. Think of all the sounds around your home and introduce your puppy gradually and sensitively to them.
If they display signs of fear or aggression, reassure them, they are only little after all. Distract them with a toy, or play a game of ‘tug’ near to the source of the sound to let them know it’s okay and nothing to be afraid of.
During lockdown I’ve been using the rowing machine as my form of exercise, instead of going for a run. Gertie happily lies next to me whilst I sweat away! She may never have experienced the rower had it not been for our current restrictions. Now I have a life-long fitness buddy and I love it!
People Can be Scary!
Even though we are in lockdown, we are still permitted to go out for our daily exercise. [Thank goodness. I think I’d be climbing the walls if that weren’t the case!] Your puppy will still encounter people when you’re out and about, albeit not as many as usual.
Make sure those meetings are a positive experience. We shouldn’t be stroking other people’s dogs at the moment, but that’s almost a positive thing for your puppy. They will get used to walking past other people and their dogs without having to be made a fuss of.
You want your pup to be used to all sorts of people. Let’s face it, the human race comes in all shapes and sizes! Let them see people in different situations. Delivery drivers, dustbin lorries, posties, cyclists.
Gertie’s seen me in sunglasses, a sunhat, a motor cycle helmet, a high vis vest, my running gear! Think about the different sceneries they may come across in society. If they see you (the most trusted influence in their life) in these situations it will help to allay any future fears.
Life is not just about other people, your puppy needs to experience other animals too. If you have other pets in your household, now is a great opportunity to let them bond.
Gertie loves brother Bert – in fact she’s really rather infatuated with him! [We now have not one, but two Bert detectors in the household when we need to find him in the garden!]
A little travel buddy
If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to include your puppy in days out and family holidays in the future, therefore you want them to be able to travel comfortably in the car. The more you can get them used to travelling when they are little the better. I know of so many adult dogs who hate the car, mainly due to a lack of familiarisation when they were a puppy.
Before lockdown Gertie would join Pops and I on our daily adventures which would always include a car journey of differing lengths. Even as a tiny pup, she’s always loved the car.
If your pup can’t accompany you on essential visits to the supermarket, you can still get them accustomed to the car. Sitting on your driveway, getting them used to being restrained in a harness is all good practise for when we’re allowed back out.
How to introduce your puppy to grooming
Thankfully neither of my girls need professional grooming, however there are still grooming routines that you can get puppies used to from an early age. Nail clipping, brushing, checking their ears etc.
Since the age of 8 weeks Gertie has had her teeth brushed every night before bed. I use coconut oil and Plague Off powder on a child sized toothbrush and she loves it!
Dental care is not often covered on pet insurance policies. Establishing a daily routine early on, can end up saving you a fortune. Plus you really don’t want your dog developing bad breath. [Think of all those doggy snogs you’d miss out on!]
After every walk I always wash Pops’ and Gertie’s paws whether they’re muddy or not. Things like grass seeds can so easily get in between their pads. If left, they can cause huge issues and, in severe cases, the need for surgery.
A little wash off with our favourite soap from The Dog and I, leaves them with fresh smelling tootsies and ready for a night in the big bed with the humans!
Letting your puppy explore different surfaces (proprioception)
You want your puppy to be confident walking on lots of different surfaces. Our ability to sense position and movement (proprioception) is as important as our five senses when it comes to awareness of our surroundings.
On your daily dog walk you should be able to find a range of surfaces. Getting your puppy to walk over bridges, paddling in shallow water, or getting them to amble over fallen tree trunks will all help to establish confidence.
If needs be, create an obstacle course in the back garden, or in your house. Or, if the weather allows, get the paddling pool out. Pops and Gertie have whiled always many hours dipping in and out of the water over the last few weeks, whilst I’ve basked in the sunshine!
Doggy Paddling Pool from Amazon (*denotes an affiliate link, meaning that if you click through and buy, I receive a small commission. This does not affect the price you pay)
Promoting Independence in your Puppy
Promoting independence has to be one of the hardest challenges during lockdown, as realistically speaking, we’re at home 24/7! The opportunities to leave your puppy alone are few and far between.
Putting the rubbish out, weeding the garden or going for a shower can provide opportunities to leave your puppy on their own.
Leaving them for hours at a time can cause extreme boredom and distress. Something that often leads to destructive behaviour! [Take it from me! Poppy devoured her way through 3 leather sofas by the time she was 18 months old!]
Leaving them for short spells of time is an ideal way to introduce them to their own company.
Start As You Mean To Go On
When it comes to training your puppy, start as you mean to go on. Gertie is lucky as I am at home with her most of the time. There are few occasions when she will have to be left alone.
From early on, you need establish a routine that you can maintain. They don’t need lots of stimulation, puppies can sleep for up to 20 hours a day. What they need is reassurance and a safe environment in which they can discover the world.
I hope you’ve found this a useful blog. We’d love to hear from you if you have welcomed a new puppy into your life recently.
Take care and stay safe
Woofs and Wags
Kate, Pops, Gertie and Bert