Socially Distant Socialization? You can do it!

Allison Hartlage, CTC, KPA-CTP, CBCC-KA, CNWI
Manager of Animal Training & Behavior

This is an equally fun and challenging time to have a puppy (mostly fun, right?!).  I can’t think of a better quarantine buddy to spend these seemingly “groundhog days” with than a puppy (perhaps a kitten…! 🙂 ).  And yet, for those of you with puppies under the age of 16 weeks, exposure to novelty in a positive or neutral way can feel challenging right now but remains extremely important.  Since well-run, off-leash puppy socialization classes aren’t an option at this time (more on that later on), you may be wondering how to best set your puppy up for a lifetime of success during this pandemic.  Here are a few tips on what you can do today; we hope you have your clicker ready and lots of treats in hand! 😎

  1. Focus on objects, surfaces, grooming, veterinary prep, and sounds –  remember, it’s all brand new to them! Imagine learning all of this at 2 months old (and remembering it) – there’s so much to see, smell, hear, and feel! You can still safely expose your puppy to the vacuum cleaner, street grates, stairs, skateboards, bicycles, nail trimming, recordings of children talking, thunderstorms, sirens, car rides and more. Don’t forget to show them to your face mask, too. Check out Dr. Sophia Yin’s helpful comprehensive checklist for socialization here.  Remember to go slow – we are looking for positive experiences, not fast and furious (or scary)! Here is a helpful illustration of what we mean by “go slow.”
  2. Practice “Look at that” from a distance to positively expose them to novel sounds and things, from a distance. Go outside with a clicker and high-value treats like chicken, cheese or hot dogs.  Each time your dog looks at a person, child, biker, car, trash truck, other dog, etc., “click” and feed them a treat. Repeat. If they are displaying any body language consistent with fear, stop immediately and move further away. If there is no distance at which their body language looks comfortable, stop altogether and call us for help! To learn more about how to have a successful “Look at that” game, check out ClickerTraining.com’s resources! We also recommend Sarah Kalnajs’ DVD “The Language of Dogs” to learn more about your puppy’s (and eventually full-grown dog’s) signals and body language.
  3. Find creative and safe ways to facilitate your puppy’s exposure to other dogs – even if it’s from a distance! Is there a way for you to keep adequate social distance from others while allowing your puppies to interact on long-leashes? This might look like: people are 50 feet apart (with each puppy on a 25 foot leash), you are outside and all parties are wearing masks (and the other dogs are not in households with sick guardians). Or maybe distanced parallel walks are possible! Please be sure any dog that your pup is meeting is current on vaccinations, demonstrates healthy play, and that you are abiding by all local and federal laws and health recommendations. Visit the HSBV website to learn more about healthy play and what it looks like!
  4. Give yourselves a break!  Even though we may be home a lot right now, it is critical to encourage and reinforce moments of alone time for your puppy. Now is the perfect time to introduce them to their crate in small doses so they find comfort in their safe space! Refer to our post on thoughtfulness around possible prevention of separation anxiety and plan to regularly leave your puppy by themselves for short periods of time.

With all of these wonderful training opportunities we are excited to see the incredible relationship you will develop with your puppy, and the amazing adventures you will share with them in their lifetime! We look forward to our Puppy Club day-training and comprehensive socialization program reopening and hope to see you there soon! Check out our calendar to learn more about upcoming Puppy Club and other training opportunities! If you need immediate support or guidance, we can support you through our virtual Puppy Prep group classes or our one-on-one virtual consultations.

Give those puppies a treat from us and enjoy this sweet time together!