So you got a puppy. You were told to stay home, stay safe, with nothing more than internet access and extra time on your hands. Puppies are wonderful things and bring much joy with them — But they also bring work and a list of things for them to learn. These things could be hard enough before the pandemic, but now are doubly so. Even now as the world is opening up and people are interacting more, there is still a level of caution being taken to keep people safe. So how do we socialize puppies, and why is it so important?
Puppies are the most susceptible to learning, for better or worse, from 3 weeks to 3 months, also known as “the sensitive period for socialization.” We also happen to get puppies right in the middle of this period, meaning a large portion of their learning skills that will benefit them their entire life are shifted to us to teach to them. They will learn how to interact with other dogs, people, species, situations, and environments. It is important these interactions are positive and rewarding, as a bad experience could result in a lifelong fear. It also serves to give them confidence that will follow throughout their lives.
The list below has just a few ways we can help our puppies grow and develop into happy and confident adults when social interaction is limited.
- Teach them their name and that coming when called by their name results in affection and food
- Use a variety of toys and games to play with them
- Walk them on different surfaces (wood, gravel, concrete, etc)
- Walk them on safe trails where they will be exposed to other people, animals, sights, and sounds
- See children playing from a distance and making noise
- See or meet an adult dog who is friendly and relaxed, and also different breeds and sizes
- Hear different sounds (such as trucks, planes, fireworks, thunder, etc), starting at a low level and increasing the sound over time. These should always be paired with something positive. Seek help if your pup seems overly afraid of these
- Go for short car rides
- Visit the veterinary hospital for a fun visit
- Practice grooming requirements, such as brushing, ear cleaning, and nail trims
- See other types of animals (cats, horses, cows, etc) from a distance
- See someone carrying something in their hands (umbrella, bags, boxes, etc)
- Hear and see household appliances
- Explore new objects
- Walk, play, or swim in water
- Join a puppy class to interact with other puppies and people and gain new skills
This list could go on indefinitely. If there is something your puppy will be exposed to often throughout the course of their life, be sure to introduce them to it. Puppies that are used to being introduced to a variety of new things are more likely to be relaxed, confident, and curious dogs even as they age.
Written by Rachel Cerutti, CVT, Fear Free and Low Stress Handling Certified
(For a more complete check-off list of things to introduce your puppy to or how to troubleshoot when things aren’t going well, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org)