Our beloved WOOFS! puppies and puppy parents,
We miss you. We miss our Saturday puppy parties and we miss our Puppy Kindergarten classes. We miss snuggling on all of the adorable little puppies we usually get to work with. Since we can’t get together, let’s talk about what you can do if you have a puppy.
What’s all the fuss about socialization to begin with? Well, it is one of the only things you need to do with a puppy that has a time limit. That’s right. A time limit. A puppy’s critical socialization period is from 3 weeks to 14 weeks of age. After 14 weeks old, socialization is not happening. Dogs, of course, are still social and it is important for them to continue to socialize after 14 weeks.
So why are these few weeks so critical? It is because this is the time in your puppy’s life when their brains are wired to easily accept new experiences. Simply put, this is when your pup is deciding which experiences in life are classified as fun and which experiences are classified as scary. So all the things we want and need our pups to be okay with need to be introduced, in a positive way, before 14 weeks. If you bring your pup home at 10 weeks old, you only have 4 weeks to get this done.
So rush, but don’t rush. In order for experiences to be classified as “good”, your puppy must enjoy the experience. If every time your puppy meets a new person they receive treats and get to play, they are likely to classify meeting strangers as fun. If every time they meet a new person they get scared, then the opposite will happen and meeting strangers will be classified as bad. This is why socialization needs a plan.
Here is the good news. While we think of socializing a puppy as getting them together with other puppies, this is actually not the most important part of socialization. The most important part of socialization is that your puppy have new and fun experiences.
For example, when you come to puppy class your pup has a lot of different experiences. They get a car ride, they get to smell a new outside location, and hear new sounds. Then they go inside and are in a new building with new acoustics and new smells. All of this is socialization. You can re-create all of this while maintaining social distance.
Don’t forget that these have to be positive experiences. That means that the pup must enjoy what you are doing. Bring treats, bring toys, run and play. If your pup is showing signs of fear or anxiety, you should pause. Do not force your pup to do something they think is scary! If you can turn the experience around in a minute or two great. If not, abort the effort and try something different at a later time.
Here are some ideas of how to socialize your puppy without getting together in large groups.
- Go for a walk. But don’t just walk in your neighborhood. Take your puppy in the car, drive to a new neighborhood and go for a walk there. Walk on sidewalks, and grass, and gravel, and bridges etc. The more surfaces the better. But remember, don’t force a puppy if they are scared. Just try again another time.
- Let your puppy take the lead. When out and about, let your puppy decide where to go. They are going to follow their noses and explore the things that are interesting to them. Let them! Try not to coax them in directions they don’t want to go.
- Let your puppy meet healthy people. The average leash is 6 ft. long. This means that your puppy can meet new people and you can still maintain a safe physical distance. Current information suggests that dogs are unlikely to spread coronavirus by contact.
- Send your puppy for a sleepover! Have friend who is healthy and bored and needs some work from home company? Send your puppy away for the day or a weekend. Going to someone else’s house is major socialization event. Everything is new and different and your pup will have a blast. This is one of the best things you can do. New people, new places. Check.
- Have a friend with a yard? Take your pup to their house and let your pup explore their yard while they stay inside. Even better if they have a NICE dog for your pup to interact with.
- Know someone else with a puppy? Get them together for a play date. Alternate between homes and do your best at no-touch drop offs. We can do it for take out, we can do it with puppies.
- Give your puppy one new thing to interact with every day. Okay, well, aim for every day. This is easier than you think. A new thing can be walking on tin foil or a wobbly wood plank. Let your pup walk on downed trees in the woods. Can you walk near a stream? Let your pup get their feet wet. Walk in the rain if its warm enough.
We would love to hear your suggestions! Tell us what you have been doing. Ask us questions you may have. Looking forward to connecting! Virtually.
Want to learn more? Join us on Zoom each Tuesday at 6:00pm for FREE Puppy Chat. WOOFS! owner and puppy socialization pioneer, Laura Sharkey, talks about socialization and answers your other puppy quetions.
Register at https://woofsdogtraining.as.me.