What can you do if you have a puppy but can’t go outside to socialise the puppy as you would normally do?
Socialisation might mean different things for different people. When we talk about socialisation we mean exposing puppy so it becomes comfortable to as many people, animals, environments, places and experiences as possible to create a well-balanced confident dog. The puppy needs to see and experience as many things as possible and be rewarded for calmly ignoring them or happily accepting them.
Socialisation is so critical for puppies, particularly between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks where they are starting to explore the world and learn about things around them. It is well-observed that puppies who were not exposed to the variety of things during that time often grow up more anxious and socially uncomphortable with both people and other dogs.
This is all well, but what can you practically do to socialise your puppy if you are on lock-down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus or have to stay at home for other reasons?
First, let’s think what are the 3 fundamental things we are trying to achieve during the socialisation:
1st: Establish and strengthen your puppy’s trust and confidence in you and your family
2nd: Teach puppy that unfamiliar things or people or animals are not scary
3rd: Give puppy the confidence and skills on how to explore and accept unfamiliar objects, people or environments
With those 3 objectives in mind, now let’s make our plan!
15 Practical puppy socialisation ideas:
1) Build the trust and your bond — it’s fundamental
The first thing every puppy needs is to feel safe and confident with you and your family. It needs to feel that it can fully trust you and that you are a good leader and will protect it from anything bad happening. That knowledge will give your puppy the confidence to explore the world. Make all interactions with you and your family members as positive as possible.
If you have kids at home encourage them to give the puppy some space to rest, relax and re-charge. This might be really tricky as they are bored and puppies are…well just irresistible. For your puppy’s sanity and future confidence it very important that it does not feel harassed. It should be keen and happy to initiate the interactions rather then look for the opportunity to escape.
2) Play with a wide variety of toys and objects- the more new objects your puppy learns to interact safely with the better.
If you are stuck a home introduce as many toys to your puppy as possible. The key is to make your puppy happy and relaxed when you are introducing a new object and to be keen to explore and interact with it under your supervision. Have a short fun playing sessions several times a day ending each of them positively. Try to introduce at least one new toy or an object a day.
It does not have to be an expensive dog toy. Any safe household object can become a toy under your supervision. You can put a ball into a box or sauspean and encourage puppy to get it. Make a pulling toy from your old t-shirt by cutting it into strips and braiding together. Use a cardboard box to play hiding, exploring games or as an obstacle, an empty plastic water bottle as a noisy toy particularly if you put some beans or rice inside so they make the additional noises. You can stuff your old sock with some papers, you can put some water into a shallow container and play water games etc. This is where you can channel your kids enthusiasm and energy too — so they are as involved as possible but give the puppy the required personal space.
3) Play a wide variety of games. The more different games you’ll play the better going to be your puppy’s confidence in dealing with any new situations or tasks.
Puppies just like kids learn through play. Gameplay is a good training for their brains, body and importantly for you, the gameplay also teach your puppy to be confident in dealing with different situations and challenges. It teaches that it is OK not to know things and gives them tools, confidence and enthusiasm to figure things out. Games also encourage puppy’s curiosity and build the motivation and drive.
In fact games are super important at any age, that’s why we at the Dog Talent Association put together the list of top 30 games you can play with your dog at home — please see them here. You can play many of those games with your puppy.
4) Explore the whole house together if possible
Rather than confining your puppy to a crate let it out as much as possible under your supervision. Your puppy can experience a variety of new environments and objects without leaving the home. If possible take the puppy to explore different rooms of your house as each of them will be like a “new world” with its own smells, objects, sounds etc.
If you have a garage or a shed — it is another great places to explore with your puppy under your supervision as the scents and objets will be very different there from what you have in a house. Play the games in different parts of the house.
5) Creating new and stimulating experiences at home
You can introduce some changes and new experiences to your puppy at home, even if it stays in the same room all or most of the time.
Think how you can challenge and stimulate all of the 4 main puppy’s senses:
Bring in a new lamp into the room, close the curtains or dim the light, switch on the disco or flashing lights, use the torch to draw puppy’s attention in the dark and play some games, introduce flashing toys, watch some TV together, let puppy look out of the window. Introduce objects of different colour and brightness. Dogs can seen yellow and blue colours best, but they still can differentiate between different shades and the brightness levels of objects.
Let puppy smell wide variety of objects, foods, clothes. Let it out to explore the house. If you have the garden or a balcony let the puppy out to explore the smells and sights under your supervision. Bring some new objects to the puppy from outside if you pop out. It could be a twig with some leaves, stone, paper, empty box etc. Let it sniff and explore it while keeping an eye on your puppy. Avoid letting your puppy to smell foods that are poisonous just in case as well as any toxic substances. Keep your puppy safe while letting it exploring the new word.
- Body feel/touch/movement
Stroke and brush the puppy all over, pick up its feet, open its mouth, check its ears, examine and feel its body. It needs to be related and comfortable with it, take it slowly and at puppy’s speed and make each interaction positive. Praise the puppy for tolerating well the less enjoyable tasks.
Introduce different textures to the puppy — so it is happy to step on and explore rug, noisy newspaper, shiny and slippery floor surfaces, board, bumpy surfaces. Steady and wobbly surfaces and objects. Give plenty of praise and re-assurances to the puppy if it is a bit anxious like you would do with any socialisation and make each experience as positive as you can.
Let your puppy hear variety of noises, some quiet, some loud. Switch on the radio and play different music, sing songs or play a musical instrument if you play any. Try to build up the variety of the noises and sounds your puppy is happy with. Make sure your puppy feels relaxed and happy and re-assure, take it steady if it finds some things more challenging. Perhaps make a note and introduce them again later.
6) Watch TV together
Watching TV together is a great way for the puppy to experience the world from your home, though in a bit limited way. Watch different programmes — some with people, with animals, music programmes. Adjust the amount of stimulation to fit with your puppy’s level of confidence and tolerance. Build on it in small steps and give loads of praise.
Many puppies love watching TV, so find a programme that you both a happy to watch and enjoy your snuggle time together.
7) Keep changing
Rather than wearing the same clothes everyday try to introduce as many different things to
your puppy. After all socialisation is all about accepting new things and learning how to explore them safely. Try to wear different style clothes — buggy, tight, skirts, trousers. Brush your hair in a different way. Wear different glasses, hats, accessories, cloaks, wigs etc. Play some dress-up games with your family. Try to look different everyday.
Make your puppy comfortable around you dancing, clapping, jumping, doing some exercises etc. The more different safe experiences of people doing things your puppy going to have the better is for your puppy’s socialisation and confidence.
8) Watch the world out of the window or from your porch
If possible let your puppy watch the world out of the window or do it together. Open the window if you can or sit outside in your porch so the puppy can experience the different smells, and sounds too. This way you can give a good exposure to puppy to different people, transport, sights and changing world around.
9) Take the puppy outside
You might not be able to walk far or are very restricted where you can go and for how long, but you might still be able to take the puppy out. This is important as puppies who have not left the home are going to struggle more when you finally able to take them out.
In most countries they allow short daily walks with the dog. If the puppy is fully vaccinated use the walk time to let your puppy experience and examine as many things as possible by walking on the lead. If your puppy is not vaccinated or it is not practical then you can carry the puppy either in your hands or in a puppy bag. There are some over your shoulder like this one or like a front pack so you can carry your puppy in front of you like this one. If you are carrying the puppy let it sniff and explore as many things as possible safely.
In some areas they are allowing people to walk and enjoy outdoors if they are practicing safe distancing and avoiding crowded places. Try to take your puppy to a different areas every day and let it play and run outside if at all possible.
10) Let the puppy to play in the garden
If you have a garden spend as much time as possible with your puppy in the garden. Involve or let it observe it in as many activities you are doing outside from hanging the clothes on the line, planting the seeds, harvesting and sit together on the lawn for some warm weather picnics. Put up a splash pool or use the watering can or sprinkler for some water games.
11) Teach your dog some tricks
Words, gestures, commands and tricks are that fundamental language and the way we communicate and interact with each other.
Training your puppy will allows you to communicate better with each other. Imagine if you are in a foreign country and you do not speak the language? You would probably feel quite isolated and unhappy. A puppy feels the same when it can't tell you what it wants and does not understand what you are asking either. By teaching your puppy tricks, words, commands and gestures you develop that language that you can use to communicate with each other. The more words and commands your puppy knows, the larger is your joint vocabulary and more things you can tell each other. Start with simple commands like sit, down, recognising the name, recall, no, dinner etc and progress from there.
To focus your training you can work on the Foundation Trick Dog title which is a great first step for any dog sports or to develop a happy family dog. The Foundation Trick Dog Title by Dog Talent Association can be applied for at any age, including young puppies. When you pass the title requirements you’ll receive your title, certificate and a rosette. The application is simple; by submitting your video. For more information about Trick Dog titles please check here.
12) Take your puppy on a car ride
In some places it is ok to go on some local car journeys, but obviously the situation is changing every day. So check what is allowed before taking your puppy on a car ride.
13) Introduce your puppy to other dogs or puppies
Again this might not be possible everywhere, but in many areas they do allow for two people to meet outside if they maintain the minimum safe distance. You might be able to find other people with puppies or safe adult dogs in your area and arrange individual meet-ups in some open areas or parks. Again, situation is changing so keep an eye on the changing rules. Do not touch the other dog and follow the safety rules but it is absolutely worth doing if you can. Dogs will learn a lot from playing with each other. Make each of those experiences a happy one.
14) Introduce puppy safely from the distance to other people
For socialisation your puppy does not have to physically interact with any of the people and please maintain the safe distance at all times. You are aiming for your puppy to be comfortable and relaxed around other people. You can do this safely during the isolation in many cases. Perhaps your puppy can say hello to your neighbours over the fence without them touching it, or say controlled hello to the person delivering food or post.
15) Use the extra time you have together productively
Your puppy is lucky in many ways as it can enjoy your company for more hours in the day than it might be able to do otherwise. Learn what are your puppy likes and dislikes, your puppy’s personality. Consider what your puppy would really need to compensate for any personality faults to grow into a happy dog that fits well into your family. Develop your puppy’s training plan.
These socialisation ideas are also useful for those who have recently got a dog, particularly if it is a rescue dog or dog who was not well socialised before coming to live with you.
Let us know which of those suggestions you found to be the most useful with your puppy and if you have any further ideas that will help other puppy owners.
Also feel free to share this post with anyone who have a young dog or a puppy at the moment or are getting one shortly.
Have fun and stay safe!