How to socialise your puppy during a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen rates of pet ownership skyrocket. Since April 14th, RSPCA Victoria has received over 28,000 applications from people who want to welcome an animal into their home while living a uniquely slower-paced life.

But the same reason that makes adopting a pet right now a good idea also brings some issues, particularly for puppies who need a stimulating, constantly-changing environment full of new sights, sounds and smells to grow into a well-adjusted adult dog.

What is socialisation?

A puppy’s experiences between four and 16 weeks are critical for learning and can shape behaviour for the rest of their lives. Socialisation includes the introduction of new people, objects, experiences, and animals. It involves teaching them how to interact, play appropriately, build confidence and manage fears or anxieties. 

However, with fewer opportunities to explore the world, socialising your puppy during COVID-19 is considerably tricker. Here are some of our top tips to help socialise your dog during the pandemic.

Other people and dogs

Your new dog needs to learn to interact appropriately with other dogs and people to feel confident and comfortable in busy environments. Without puppy playschool or visiting other people’s houses this can be difficult to achieve.

However, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should be able to go out for a walk as long as your puppy is fully vaccinated. Use your daily walks as an opportunity to create positive associations with other people and dogs. Every time you come across another person or dog, reward your puppy with treats and verbal praise.

New sights, smells and sounds

Your dog will be exposed to a range of sights, smells and sounds throughout its lifetime so it’s important they can cope with unfamiliar things.  They need to learn that new doesn’t mean scary!

You can expose your dog to plenty of new things, just using items around the house. For example, try dressing up in different clothes, hats or shoes; turn on the vacuum, the hair dryer and the kettle; or try playing an audio track of ‘typical’ noises your puppy might experience in their life such as planes, trains and trucks.

Make sure you associate each new sight, sound or smell with a positive reward like a treat.

Reducing separation anxiety

Many of us are spending more time at home than ever before and it’s likely your puppy will be around you a lot. It may be scary for them when restrictions ease and you start to leave the home more frequently or go back to work or school.   

Separation anxiety can manifest in unwanted behaviours such as barking, destroying household items, digging holes or losing appetite, to name a few. Your puppy needs to learn that being alone is not a ‘bad’ experience. This will help them adjust faster when life starts to change.

A good way to prevent separation anxiety is to set your puppy up alone in a safe space with a delicious treat or an enrichment toy like a puzzle feeder, slowly increasing the time they spend alone over time. A puppy crate is an ideal secure place where your puppy can sleep safely and be left alone.

Travel and new experiences

While your next holiday might be a little while off, your puppy will need to travel in the car to go the vet, the beach or the local dog park at some point in the future. To ensure travel is a stress-free experience, we recommend you commit some time to teaching your puppy to be comfortable in a car.

Help them learn how to get in and out of the car, stay clam when you turn on the engine, and even do a few trips up and down your driveway to get them used to a bit of movement. One great way to help your puppy enjoy spending time in the car is to feed them their meals there a few times in a row.

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