I have been hearing from our clients at Wags & Wiggles, who are worried about the Quarantine Puppy Socialization Syndrome. This Syndrome happens when a puppy isn’t socialized to things that the puppy will meet once Quarantine is over.
Some puppies were pre-planned, and some clients decided to get a puppy because the coronavirus forced them to stay home. I even have clients that just finally got their unsocialized dogs used to daycare and making friends, and now coronavirus has put a hold on all that. Everyone is facing some challenges in raising puppies who will be susceptible to the Quarantine Puppy Socialization Syndrome.
How and when to socialize your puppy when the world was normal was overwhelming enough. Now you have a Quarantine Puppy. The confinement associated with the coronavirus pandemic has made me give a lot of thought to how I can help my new puppy clients.
There is one positive. In one way, the COVID-19 crisis has been a blessing. New puppy owners aren’t OVER exposing their puppies by dragging them up to every strange dog and human they see on the streets.
Socializing Your Quarantine Puppy
When I first started raising puppies, I had to convince my clients that socialization was important. Now, most people are ALL about socialization, to the point that they are flooding their puppies with experiences they aren’t ready to handle.
Socialization works best with a little distance. Your puppy has only been on this planet for a short few weeks. They will want to observe mostly before jumping into saying HI. Now, owners can finally give the puppies that distance and time they need to process what they are seeing.
If your puppy is more the exuberant demanding type, I am happy to say that social distancing will prevent you from rewarding that behavior by allowing them to pull towards other dogs and people.
Exposure to Other Dogs
I know you will feel that ticking time clock of the socialization window closing. What if I told you that you can actually start socializing while on lock down?
Do you know of a neighbor or friend with a friendly, calm dog? Carefully setup, you could use a fenced yard as a way to socialize your quarantine puppy and obey social distancing rules. Have your friend leave their dog in the yard, and they stay in the house. Slowly approach the fence from a distance of 20 feet, stopped every 2 feet to allow your puppy to air scent, and see the dog.
If you aren’t sure how to read your puppy’s emotions or another dog, check out our blog post on Canine Body Language.
Many words of caution. If your friend’s dog gets agitated and starts barking, that isn’t going to help your puppy, and you should end the session. Do not get so close to the fence that the dogs could snap at each other and get entangled. The goal is not to go nose to nose, just to see each other with interest from a safe distance.
Using barriers is a great way to socialize your puppy, and I have used them many times in puppy class. There is a reason why I do playtime at the END of puppy class. I want the puppies to spend most of their time interacting with their humans and a short time interacting with other dogs.
I use fences and xpens in a puppy class to keep puppies from being overwhelmed. They can come close and back away based on how they are feeling.
If your puppy gets a bit FIRED UP over this attempt to socialize, check out our blog post on 6 Ways To Calm Your Dog.
Quarantine Puppy Socialization can be done at home
Socializing your puppy with dogs and people is only a small part of getting your puppy ready for the world. Here is a list of ideas to get you started with things you have in the home or may encounter on a walk in the neighborhood.
Play Dress Up
If you are like me, I have already cleaned out all my closets during this quarantine and found all kinds of things I didn’t know I had. Hats, jackets, scarfs, gloves, glasses, old Halloween costumes all make for useful socialization items. You may not be able to socialize your quarantine puppy with lots of people, but you can transform yourself.
Dress up your puppy and get them ready for fun holiday photos. While you are having fun, you are actually getting them used to weird things happening to them.
Prep Your Quarantine Puppy for Socializing at the Vet
Your puppy may have been pretty good at their first vet visit but as their return appointments continue with getting shots the happy go lucky opinion may change. One way you help is by playing “doctor” at home.
I start by conditioning a mat to have a positive emotional response. This process is simple when using positive reinforcement to teach your puppy to lay down and relax on the mat. You can learn more about this in our Go To Your Mat course in the online classroom.
Find a safe elevated surface to “start your exam.” Use the mat that you have used in your training sessions. Give the puppy treats just for being in this weird place and let them sniff. If they want to get off, let them down and then try again with more treats. Don’t proceed to the next step until they like being here. Then work on the puppy being comfortable laying down on the mat on this elevated surface.
Now you can play the “fake vaccine” game. Get a pen, leave the cap on, and let your puppy investigate it. Then gently poke the puppies’ leg or side. Give the puppy treats after each poke. You are practicing what would happen when they get vaccines without pain or fear. If your puppy likes your game, you can continue your “exam” by checking their toes, ears, eyes. To end the session, play and have fun.
Socializing Your Quarantine Puppy with Strange Equipment
I usually start with a broom or vacuum. That is when I remember what it is like having a puppy. Either the puppy is scared and running away, or the puppy is trying to attack it. You can read this blog post on When Vacuums Attack.
Other items to get them used to are crutches, canes, wheelchairs, walkers, dollies, wheelbarrows. Use treats or praise for sniffing and interacting with the objects calmly. You can also teach a front foot target cue to help prepare them to do something other than chase and bite. You can learn about this in our Online Sport Dog Membership.
Let’s Make Some Noise
Many behavior problems can come from dogs that get nervous or aroused when they hear certain sounds. You don’t have to go to a lot of places to find the noise.
There are quite a few apps you can put on your phone that give you a variety of noises to desensitize. Sound Proof Puppy Training is one such app you can find in the play store. You can get creative and download a fireworks app that goes off when the screen is touched. You can teach your dog to touch the screen with their nose to make the noise happen. Being in control of the sound is essential. In our classes, I love to use Buzzers.
Other Household things that make noise are dremels (for nail grinding), hand saws, drills, leaf blower, staple gun, dragging a garbage can. Keep your dog at a safe distance and use treats and toys to make it fun.
Teaching Your Quarantine Puppy Street Smarts From Home
Street Smarts is my favorite category. I get very creative when teaching my dogs to walk in or over weird things. One of my dogs was terrified of manhole covers, and this made walking through the city a challenge. Every dog I had after that learned to walk over cookie sheets and xpens lying on the ground covered with a towel. I usually just toss some treats on and around the object and let the dog decide how brave they want to be.
One of the first things we conquer is a tunnel, and whether it be an agility tunnel or a homemade tunnel made from 2 chairs and a blanket, there is NOTHING cuter than a dog learning to run through a tunnel.
I like to play 101 kibble pickup in the bathtub. You can put down a non-slip mat at first. You can pick them up if necessary and place them in the tub filled with kibble, no water.
The last thing I conquer with my puppy is walking on things that move. Since I travel with my dogs, they will see elevators and other moving surfaces. I start when the puppy is very young by placing them in my lap and moving my legs a bit while feeding the puppy treats.
We will then move onto an air mattress or a pile of dog beds. Finally, I will teach them to walk a plank. Then I will staples a ball in a sock to the bottom of the plank, so it moves.
Things You May Forget During Quarantine to Socialize Your Puppy
Since you may not be leaving your neighborhood, don’t forget to get out the bikes and skateboards in your garage. You don’t want your puppy to be in prime adolescence before they see things with wheels.
Take your puppy for short car rides around town. Get them used to being in a crate in the car and at home. You can learn more about this in our Online Crate Training Course.
Do Your Homework To Avoid Quarantine Puppy Socialization Syndrome
It is effortless to get sucked into despair and watch endless hours of news reports. Turn off the TV and make your list of what you want to accomplish with your puppy on what day. Quarantine won’t last forever, and you are blessed to have this time to focus on your puppy.
You will have to get used to Do It Yourself Online Learning. Even the most hardened anti-technology person will need to break out of their bubble in some fashion.
All you need is a device with an internet connection and a camera (computer with webcam, tablet, phone), and you can meet with us to resolve your dog training and behavior issues.
Have a specific question? Leave a comment below!