We’re in lockdown. No hanging out with our friends. No catching a live band. No eating at your favorite restaurant.
So how the hell are you going to socialise your puppy when you’re not allowed to be social?
1. Let them watch and learn
Puppies need to watch to learn about the environment and what’s normal.
There’s a lot to socialising a puppy that doesn’t have anything to do with other people or dogs. Noises, vehicles, wildlife, where to walk – the pavement, not the road, different surfaces to walk on, odd things that are there one day and not the next (also known as wheelie bins), maybe you have livestock or horses near you too. Not one of these things is something we want our dogs to interact with.
2. The name of the game is habituation and desensitisation, not social interaction
Most of the time we actually want to get our puppy ‘used’ to things rather than build social relationships.
Your puppy doesn’t need to throw himself at every person you pass on the street. In fact most of the time we don’t want them to want to say hi to everyone.
Learning that ‘stuff’ happens and noises happen and things move but you don’t have to worry about it is the main aim. There’s a lot to sit (or lie down on a comfy mat) and watch without needing to participate in it. Let your puppy learn the art of people watching.
3. Distance is your friend
When interaction or just approach does happen it should always be on your puppy’s terms. Right now the enforced distance allows you to check how confident your puppy is and when he is ready for more.
You can practice how to approach things calmly with anything that isn’t a person or dog. A calm approach is one where your puppy is walking and not straining at the end of the lead. I’d also steer clear of approaching horses or livestock because you won’t want that when your puppy is older.
If you’re lucky enough to have a statue of a person in your neighbourhood that all the local dogs think is real you could use that to practise. Bonus is you know the person will do exactly as you ask too!
You know your puppy. Look for relaxed body language. If you see him tensing up, give him more space. It’ll make him feel safe and able to explore again. Pay close attention to your puppy as things change and move. Sudden changes can be a shock so give him a chance to take stock from a distance.
4. Build the right expectations
No one wants their puppy to interact with everyone on a walk. Instead, we want our puppies to listen and pay attention to us. We want them to walk on by, nice and relaxed.
We want them to be aware of the rest of the world but to stay with us, follow us, look to us for cues. This doesn’t come naturally to most dogs, but distancing from interesting and exciting things helps a lot. Spend time teaching your puppy how you’d like him to react and behave when things happen.
Distance gives us the space to install the behaviour we’d like our dogs to do when faced with that situation in the future. If I have to get up and got to the other room to get the chocolate it’s easier to resist than if it’s right next to me.
How to socialise your puppy during social distancing
When you’re walking and see people
- When you see people, smile and say hi. (You don’t *have* to speak, you could be like me and do an awkward introvert smile instead)
- Then give your puppy a treat by your side.
You are encouraging your puppy to remain with you when he sees people. A person is not a cue to hit the end of your lead straining to say hi, it’s a cue to walk with you by your side.
Watching the world go by
- Get a blanket, or a mat, lay it out by a bench, or if it’s big enough for both of you, join your puppy on it.
- Sit with your puppy on lead and watch the world go by.
- Watch the people, the cars, the birds, the foxes frollicking….just sit and watch.
- Every now and then drop a treat for your puppy on the mat.
- Especially do this if there’s something that he would like to be involved with but he’s staying put.
- If he wants to get involved so much that he’s straining at the end of his lead, just encourage him back with you and drop a treat or two on the mat once he is.
- If he really can’t manage that, get up and move away until you’ve got enough distance that he can watch without commenting.
There’s plenty for your puppy to see, hear, feel and experience that social distancing doesn’t affect at all. And there’s plenty that social distancing is going to actively help you with. So don’t stress, enjoy your puppy and use the time to practising people watching together.
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