A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.

Ask 3LD: How do I socialize my puppy during a pandemic?

“Hi Jake,

Hope you are well and coping in these strange times!

My wife and I bought your ‘Puppy Survival school’ and ‘Focus and Come when called’ courses, we are loving the videos and readings!

We are due to pick up our Standard Poodle puppy in 6 weeks and I am just getting in touch as we are a little worried about the key socialisation phase given the current environment with coronavirus :(

The breeder we are getting her from is brilliant and so she will be well socialised with other dogs and a few people when we pick her up at 8-9 weeks. However we may have to wait longer if there are further lock-down measures here in the UK where we live.

I was just wondering if you have any advice on anything we can do to help our puppy grow up well socialised in this very odd time we find ourselves in, if we can’t socialise as usual because of social distancing?

I know it’s all new to all of us but any advice would be hugely appreciated!

Many thanks, loving your videos and can’t wait to get our puppy.

All the best,

Paul”

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Hi Paul,

Fantastic question! Very timely, thank you for asking.

As you’ve seen, we dog trainers are always going ON and ON about how important the sensitive socialization period is for puppies. To grow up well-adjusted, puppies need to meet a wide variety of dogs and humans by the time they’re about four months old. “Have strangers give your puppy treats! Go to puppy classes!”

Yeah, well. We can’t do that anymore.

To be clear, slowing the spread of COVID-19 is more important than socializing puppies. #flattenthecurve, y’all. I never thought I’d say this in a million years, but: please don’t let strangers pet your puppy. Please don’t go to puppy classes.

From what I understand, the stricter we are now, the sooner it will be over.

You said you’re getting your puppy in six weeks, and who the hell knows what the situation will be like in six weeks, but this is how things have to be right now.

So how do we help our puppies grow up well-adjusted in the age of social distancing?

Fortunately, there is still quite a lot you can do.

For anyone who hasn’t read our Beginner’s Guide to Puppy Socialization article, go check that out to learn the basic guidelines, and then come back here.

A major part of socialization is getting puppies confident with new things. The point isn’t to try to introduce Sparky to literally every situation they might ever encounter, but create positive associations with the concept of “new.”

You can do lots of new things at home. And I do suggest doing a LOT of new things at home, to make up for the lack of socialization with people and dogs.

If you get your puppy super comfortable with new and novel things now, they’ll be better prepared to meet new people and dogs later, when the quarantine is over.

Set up a playground to introduce new surfaces, textures, and weird things. Get creative with it: use stuff you have lying around, like cardboard boxes, kids’ play tunnels, wooden planks. Even roll out some aluminum foil or set out baking sheets to walk on. Flip over small Rubbermaid-style containers to climb on. Get some pots and pie tins from the cupboard. Scatter delicious treats around the playground for the puppy to find. Change up the “obstacles” in the playground every couple days.

Have everyone in the household dress up weird sometimes. Put on different hats, wear Halloween costumes, sunglasses, and/or heavy coats.

Learning about loud noises is important, too. Introduce noises gradually, in small doses, in ways that don’t scare the pup. For example, have someone turn the vacuum cleaner on, out of view in another room, while you feed the puppy treats. You can work your way up to having the vacuum on in the same room.

Play audio recordings of people talking and dogs barking. In fact, if you search Youtube for “puppy socialization sounds,” you’ll find a lot of great resources.

Expose your puppy to big moving objects in your driveway and yard. Like skateboards, garden carts, or bicycles. Roll hula hoops or bounce basketballs. If your kids have any RC cars or moving/noise-making electronic toys, let the puppy investigate those.

Most of us are not literally confined to our homes, so you can still take your puppy out on modified adventures.

Take the puppy on walks around the neighborhood (carry them if they haven’t had all their shots). Go to wide-open spaces likes parks or nature areas. Watching people and dogs from a distance without greeting is a necessary part of socialization, anyway.

Let them watch ducks, squirrels, and other wildlife. If you have access to farm animals, let your puppy watch those, too.

If you drive, go on lots of car rides. You don’t need to have a destination, just give the puppy treats and turn car rides into a happy, positive experience.

In addition to socialization stuff, do lots of play, training and enrichment. Kongs and other puzzle toys are good for puppy development. Play puppy training games. Since you have the Puppy Survival School program, there are a lot of activities in the included Foundation, Puppy Life Skills, and Baby Obedience courses to keep you busy during quarantine. Activities that will teach good habits, develop your puppy’s brain, and get them confident with the concept of new.

You can use this as an opportunity to teach good manners, like Sit and Come, that will help when your puppy finally gets to make new friends.

I know this isn’t the ideal puppy-raising environment. It’s just one of many things this pesky pandemic has ruined for everyone. But puppy-raising is never perfect, anyway; there’s almost always some unexpected challenges involved. It’s all about doing the best you can with what you have. Which is even more true now.

Be well. Take care of yourself, do the best you can with your puppy, and we’ll all get through this very odd time together (but separately. At least six feet apart at all times).