Socializing Your New Dog or Puppy Without Being Social
We all know that socialization is an essential part of raising a puppy. However, with all the “self-quarantine” and shelter in place, it is difficult to socialize a puppy or new dog with other people. But there are lots of other things that a pup should be socialized with that you can work on even during “shelter in place.”
Getting Acquainted With The House:
This may seem like something that will happen naturally. Your new family member will get used to the house because that is where he will be spending most of his time. However, it never hurts to be extra thorough in your socialization. Remember you want your new family member to not just experience new things with socialization, but to have a positive experience.
You want your new dog to have positive introductions with everything in your home. Here are some examples of things to introduce your dog too. Be sure to praise him for first encounters and possibly toss him a treat for his bravery in exploring new things.
- Ceiling fans
- Room fans
- Carpets and rugs of assorted lengths
- Hardwood, tile, laminate, and other smooth floors
- Doors: screen, glass, and solid
- Furniture of assorted descriptions
- Holiday decorations
- Normal household noises like phones, tv, radio, vacuuming, sweeping, laundry, cooking, pots banging, alarms, etc.
You will also want to get your dog accustomed to riding in the car and all the fun that the car can be. It is a good idea to build a positive association with car rides. So, take your new dog places that he will like going such as the park for a walk.
Getting Acquainted With Outside:
You will also want to get your new dog used to all the outside things. Make sure he has positive experiences with grass, concrete, asphalt, mud, dirt, pebble covered walkways, mulch, decks and patios, and any other surfaces that he might find outside. Be sure that your pup is comfortable on these surfaces and knows where is and is not acceptable for him to eliminate.
It is also important to get him used to outdoor noises. Bird song, fireworks, traffic sounds, barking dogs, sirens, trains, airplanes, garbage trucks, and the like. All of these could be scary if your pup has not heard them before and had a positive experience.
It’s a good idea to get your new furry family member used to different outdoor things like birds, bugs, cats, squirrels, and other animals. Let him know what he can and cannot chase. Also, teach him if there are any plants that he shouldn’t eat or areas of the yard that he is not allowed in.
It can be more important than ever to establish some house rules for your new dog. While this is not directly a part of socialization we still want to make sure that we give the dog a positive association with the rules. Be sure to discuss house rules with the whole family so that they can be consistently enforced.
You will need to decide if you are going to allow your dog on the furniture, if he will sleep in bed with you, if you want him to sit before going outside, if there are any areas of the house he is not to go in, etc. Make sure that all those in the household are in agreement with the rules. You cannot have one person enforce them and another person disregard the rules.
Establish A Routine:
Shelter in place will not last forever and eventually, you may have to return to working outside the home. Unless you can continue to work from home, which would be great! However, if you are going to be returning to working outside the home it will be helpful to establish a routine now. You don’t want to go along being with your dog all day and then suddenly have to leave your pup when you have to return to work. A more gradual approach will be much kinder and easier for everyone involved.
Try to think about when you will need to be at work, how long of a commute you will have, and if you could return home on your lunch break. Then create a schedule for our dog around the times that you know you will need to be away. Be sure to schedule walks, feeding, potty breaks, brushings, playtime, and anything else you might want or need to do to care for your dog.
It would be a good idea to walk your dog before work, on your lunch break, if possible, and when you get home. This will help to wear your dog out before he has to be alone, encouraging him to sleep while you are away. This should help to keep him from any destructive behaviors while you are away.
If you cannot come home on your lunch break you may want to consider a doggie daycare or having a neighbor come over and let your dog out. This can be especially important if you have a young puppy that needs to go out to go potty pretty often.
Once you have an idea of what your schedule would look like, try implementing it before you actually return to work. Establish when you will go for walks and feed your dog and do those things at that time of day. Then you can start to leave your dog in his crate or a room by himself for a few minutes while you “go to work.”
This is a great time to use a stuffed Kong, perhaps with his breakfast in it. You can stuff the Kong and put it in your dog’s crate or room. Then leave him for a few minutes with his Kong. Be sure to return before he cries for you or starts barking. This is the beginning of training him that being alone is okay.
You will slowly work up to leaving him alone in a crate or in a room for the entire time that you would be away. This includes your commute and while you are at work. You want to work on this very slowly. Let your dog lead. But never return while he is crying or barking for you. This will only make him cry more and louder because it makes you return. Ideally, you will always return before he starts to cry for you.
Establishing a routine in this way will help you teach your dog that it is okay to be alone. Also, he will learn that his crate is a safe place to be or the room that you leave him in is a safe place. All of this will make him much more comfortable when you do actually have to go back to work.
People And Animals:
This is a wonderful time to work on training your puppy or new dog to be able to see people and not have to interact with them. Also, to see other dogs and animals and not intact with them. However, you will have to do this properly.
You must not react in fear when you see another dog or person coming. Your puppy will pick up on your fear and possibly develop reactivity. You also need to be careful not to tighten the leash that you are walking your dog on. This too could trigger your pup into becoming reactive.
Instead, you are going to want to redirect your dog’s attention away from the other person or dog. That way he will know that they are there, but his focus will not be on them. This will help him to learn that other people and animals can be around and that is okay even if he doesn’t get to sniff them.
But how can you redirect him? It can be pretty simple. Here is a list of a few things that you can try if you see another dog or person coming when you are out with your pup.
- Stop and play a game of tug
- Work on some training, perhaps stays, recalls, sit, heel, or fun tricks
- Point to an object of interest for your dog to sniff a bit of fur or feather (this will work better for adult dogs than it will for puppies)
- Stop and have a snuggle
- Change your pace, start jogging, walking faster, walking slower, skipping, jumping around, running
- Change your direction. You could start to go backward, turn, or cross the street
- Go off the path if you are at a park and explore the wilds
What you choose to do will depend on your dog. If you have a young dog or a dog that has no issues with other dogs you might want to always call your dog into a heel when you see someone coming. This trains him that falling in step with you it is a more valuable activity for him than giving the oncoming distraction his attention. This can be quite helpful in the long run.
If however, you are working with an older dog or pup that is already a bit reactive it might be a better idea to change pace or direction. The faster you can get your dog out of a reactive situation the better. If your dog is reactive seek out the help of a professional, positive reinforcement trainer. This will be the fastest way to help your dog recover from his reactivity.
Training With Distractions:
This is another one of those things that is not exactly socialization. However, it is a good idea to remember to add distractions to your training sessions once your dog has mastered a skill. Once things are open and you want to take your dog with you more places, it will be helpful if he will listen to you with distractions.
Only add distractions once your pup has mastered the cue. Recalls and stays are especially important to add distractions too. These two skills can be life-saving. Distractions could come in the form of people or animals nearby, a ball rolling across the floor, a squeak from a toy, a door opening, and anything else that excites your dog or is weird to your dog.
Prep for Vet/Groomer:
Your new dog should also become familiar with being elevated. When you take your dog to the groomer or to the vet he will likely be put on a table. So, it’s a wonderful idea to get your dog used to such things now.
You will want to work fairly slowly with this, in short sessions. Work up slowly and always take the dog off the table before he starts to act scared or, at least, at the very first signs he is scared. Be sure to choose surfaces that are stable and won’t wiggle a lot if you bump them, this can be very scary for a dog.
Clear off a table and get plenty of treats. Be sure to cover the table in something that is non-slip. A yoga mat works well for this. You might even want to take that mat with you to the vet in case they don’t provide your dog with a non-slip surface.
Once you have your table set up put your dog on it and give him treats. Try to have your dog stand the whole time he is on the table. This is mostly what a groomer or vet will need the dog to do. You can pretend that you are a groomer or vet by touching the dog all over. Getting your dog used to being touched everywhere (paws, belly, ears, mouth, teeth, private areas, etc.) is another important part of socialization. Be sure to give plenty of treats and make the experience pleasant for your dog.
Believe it or not, YouTube can be a great training tool. Find a variety of videos that have sounds that are similar to those that are often “problem sounds” for dogs. This would include videos with fireworks, thunderstorms, other dogs barking, heavy trucks, airplanes, cats mewing, other animal sounds, conversations, arguments, kids playing, kids crying, kids screaming, and more. Find a variety of videos for each sounds to make it a bit more real.
Play these videos anytime your dog is eating. Play them when he eats his breakfast, dinner, or chews on a bone. This will help him to develop a positive association with these sounds. If he has a positive association with the sound hopefully the real thing will be less scary. I play YouTube videos of fireworks while my dog eats a few weeks before the 4th of July. It has helped him quite a lot.
Costumes and Acting:
Part of the reason you want to introduce your dog to a variety of people is that they all wear different clothes, have different hair, and they smell different. Just because we need to social distance right now doesn’t mean we can’t still help our dogs be okay with new people. How can we do that? Costumes and acting!
Yep, you are going to have to “be” those different people for your dog. Gather together all your clothes and take inventory. You are going to want to help your dog have a positive experience with uniforms, long sleeves, short sleeves, shorts, capris, pants, dresses, skirts, baseball caps, hoodies, gloves, mittens, heavy winter coats, bucket hats, aprons, scarves, and any other kind of clothes you have or can get inexpensively. The more you can introduce your dog to the better. Even Halloween costumes are a good idea!
It might be a good idea to get your dog used to different scents, use a variety of lotions, perfumes, and laundry detergents. This will help your dog be cool with different scents instead of only knowing your scent and being scared of anyone who smells different.
It’s time to brush up on your acting skills. Not everyone acts as you do so we need to try to get your dog used to the way that different people act. You will need to role-play different people. This can be people from TV or perhaps loved ones that you eventually want your dog to meet. Try to dress like those people and then act like them for a bit. Try to talk like them and smell like them, if possible.
This is especially important if there are only men or women in the home with your dog. You don’t want a dog that is scared of a certain gender of people just because he has never met them. So, a bit of cross-dressing in the privacy of your own home is okay and could actually help your dog quite a lot once shelter in place is lifted in your area.
I know it seems a little crazy, but it can actually be a lot of fun. It can help prepare your dog for the “real world” too. So, don’t be embarrassed, no one but your dog is watching and he is going to benefit!
Putting Things On Your Dog:
This is also a good time to get your dog used to wearing a variety of clothes. Socializing your dog with sweaters, coats, collars, harnesses, cooling vests, boots, life jackets, and other things that he might wear is a great idea. Be sure to make the experience fun for your dog and give him plenty of praise and treats for being a good boy.
As with everything going on with this COVID-19, it is important to focus on what we CAN do. Socialization is still important for our dogs even if we can’t be social. Be sure you provide your new furbaby (or old fur baby) with as many new positive experiences as possible. And give them a head start on being okay with being alone and the schedule that you will have to adopt once you go back to work.
Just because things are shut down doesn’t mean you don’t need to still socialize your new puppy. Be proactive and your pup will yet come out a well-adjusted dog once all is said and done.