In addition to baking bread and playing backgammon, being quarantined has inspired many people to get a puppy. While the reasoning behind bringing a dog into your home while practicing social-distancing makes sense—the pup can provide companionship, and it helps to be at home most of the time during the training stage—rearing one is often a lot more work than owners initially expected. For those who have taken the plunge and are wondering how to appropriately socialize and train their puppy during this challenging time, we reached out to three experts for advice. Here are their recommendations.
Remember that socialization isn’t just about being social. It’s important to recognize that the term “socialization” is not limited to interaction with humans and other dogs, Mark Shaver, owner of the pet care services company Buckhead Paws in Atlanta, Georgia, says. Rather, it includes everyday life experiences in general—traffic noise, weather changes, clothing changes, even walking on different surfaces. He recommends exposing your pup from an early age to all of these things so they’ll become accustomed to them and take them in stride.
Incorporate common objects into your training routine. Dr. Meghan Herron, senior director of behavioral medicine education at Gigi’s, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the lives of shelter dogs, based in Columbus, Ohio, suggests making your backyard or living room an activity course using household items, including things that are big, shiny, move (including large objects with wheels, such as skateboards, bikes, wagons, strollers, and wheelchairs), and make noise. She recommends sprinkling small treats around the objects to encourage your pup to explore the course, swapping out items daily for a new experience. Here are some specific socialization tips from Herron and Shaver that should hopefully help puppies get used to certain situations:
- Socialize with sound. Loud noises are often a source of fear for puppies, so exposing them to a wide variety early on is important. Shaver shares that some of the biggest triggers are lawn mowers and leaf blowers, while Herron recommends exposure to birds, barking dogs, honking horns, and the sounds of children laughing, playing, and crying. If that’s challenging because of social distancing, she says you can find recorded noises online, or search for YouTube clips. Be sure to give your pup treats during the loudest times.
- Socialize with people and dogs. This one is a little trickier during quarantine, but as restrictions begin to lift, it will likely get easier to facilitate these interactions. Since you can’t easily introduce your dog to lots of different people at this time, Shaver recommends dressing up in different clothing, from various hats to bulky winter clothing, or even Halloween costumes if you have them on hand. For exposure to other dogs, Herron recommends seeking out a friend with a calm, puppy-friendly, fully vaccinated dog. Have your friend hold his dog fairly close to him while allowing your puppy to approach at his own pace on a six- to eight-foot leash so you can maintain your physical distance. If this is successful, you can proceed to play dates in a fenced yard with distancing protocols in place.
- Socialize with body movement and handling. “Get your pup accustomed to different forms of touch by lifting their paws and tail, extending their legs, and grasping their nails,” Herron says, adding that you should sweeten the handling with treats or letting the pup eat cheese or lick peanut butter from a spoon. She also encourages providing novel textures for your puppy’s paws to feel, such as rocks, grass, dirt, and carpet.
Know that a tired dog is a happy dog. “Most behavioral issues are due to lack of exercise,” says Travis Brorsen, pet expert and celebrity dog trainer at Puppy Paws Hotel & Spa in Edmond, Oklahoma. Your puppy may need two to three hours of solid activity per day in order to release adequate energy. This includes walks, but also playing fetch and obedience games. If that’s not realistic for you, most doggie daycares are now open, which are perfect for providing plenty of stimulation and exercise. As an added bonus, daycares can help with socialization, separation anxiety, and curbing unwanted behavioral issues.
Be sure to take breaks. Just because you’re probably spending more time at home than ever, it doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking moment with your puppy—nor is it necessarily good for their development. “When things get back to normal, you will want that transition to be as smooth as possible,” Brorsen says. “Set your pet up for success by getting back into the routine you see yourself having as soon as possible.” Herron recommends that if you will be returning to work, stick to your leaving-for-work routine, such as crating your pet, even if it’s not for a full eight hours. Also, leave the pup at home when you leave the house. When home, separate yourself for a few working hours by shutting the door of your office or bedroom.
Be prepared, and seek help when you need it. This is an unprecedented time, as shelters across the country are being cleared out. But according to Brorsen, many of these pets will likely be returned due to the cost of vet bills and behavioral problems. Know that there is no shame in reaching out to puppy training professionals to help guide you through the process; many experts are offering virtual sessions to help prepare you and your pets for success. According to Brorsen, sometimes knowing you are doing the right thing, even if you aren’t getting immediate results, can bring you the peace of mind you need. And setting rules, boundaries, and clear expectations for your new pup is exactly what they need to feel truly loved.
TSG Tip 369 from Mark Shaver of Buckhead Paws in Atlanta, Georgia; Dr. Meghan Harron of Gigi’s in Columbus, Ohio; and Travis Brorsen of Puppy Paws Hotel & Spa in Edmond, Oklahoma. Buckhead Paws is featured in The Scout Guide Atlanta; Gigi’s is featured in The Scout Guide Columbus; Puppy Paws Hotel & Spa is featured in The Scout Guide Edmond.