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Tips for socializing your pup while social distancing

At the Dumb Friends League, we believe that pets are a source of comfort during these turbulent times, and they enrich our lives. These days are challenging for so many reasons, and our new reality may include things like working from home and not much social interaction. And, if your reality consists of a new puppy, you have a few more things to think about outside of what to wear on your Zoom call.

Socializing puppies is crucial to their development and will help you have a well-rounded dog as an adult. But, what does socializing mean? Well, it means introducing your pup to new situations and experiences he’ll have throughout his life but in a safe, positive and confidence-building way. When you can’t attend group puppy classes or training sessions and social interactions are discouraged now, is there anything you can do to provide your pup these much-needed experiences while practicing safe physical distancing requirements? You sure can!

League behavior technician Zoë Knox recognizes that the socialization piece is difficult when it comes to people nowadays. Still, there are plenty of other things you can focus on now, like socializing your puppy to become comfortable and familiar with different sounds, surfaces and places.

A few things to know before you begin

  • Realize that everything your pup encounters will be new and possibly stressful for him, so it’s important to allow him to adjust at his own pace.
  • Pair introductions with high-value treats to form positive emotional responses.
  • Be patient! “It’s not enough to just expose your puppy to new things, you need to make sure they actually feel good about them,” said Knox.

Ready, set, socialize

Remember to go slow, at your dog’s own pace, and take the time to reinforce with treats at each little step. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Hop in the car. Practice getting in and out and going on short drives.
  • Expose your puppy to new surfaces like concrete, tile, gravel, grass, etc. Take walks – throughout the house and in your neighborhood.
  • Make a playlist of everyday sounds, such as hairdryers, storms, vacuums, radios and sirens, and play them softly at first while your pup eats a high-value treat or a bone, so he gets used to these common noises. Gradually, increase the volume during each practice session.
  • Work on separation training and getting your dog comfortable with being alone in the house with or without your home. (This is especially important when your pup has probably gotten more than comfortable with you home more often!)
  • Practice crate training and building up your dog’s tolerance for time alone by using a baby gate or an exercise pen. Give treats to your pup for being alone in the room for a few seconds at a time, slowly building up to a few minutes, and then hours. It’s a good idea to use Kongs, puzzle toys or bones during this training as well. Try giving your pup their favorite treats stuffed in a Kong each time he’s alone.

Once it’s safe to do so, work on the people part of socialization, you can:

  • Start with giving your puppy a treat for seeing people at a distance.
  • Try to let your pup see people in uniforms, hats, sunglasses and coats, so that they become used to different types of people they may encounter.

Socialization is all about forming positive and calm associations, and maybe when you practice in the comfort of your own home now, there will be fewer distractions, and your pup learns faster!

Check out some of the League’s behavior handouts for tips and tricks and especially the Your new dog handout to help you get started!

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