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Socialization in the Time of Coronavirus

How to properly socialize your puppy while social distancing

8 minute read

Introduction

So you have a puppy and you’ve been told it’s extremely important, vital even, that your puppy be “socialized” with other people, dogs, things, sights, sounds, etc. This is so he learns to like people and dogs and things rather than be scared of or, in the worse case scenario, aggressive towards them.

You’ve also been told this is something that can’t wait until later because there’s a short window, from 3-20 weeks of age, where socialization is easy and after that it becomes much harder.

With America and most of the world taking necessary precautions against novel Coronavirus by specifically avoiding other people, how are you supposed to socialize your puppy? How are you supposed to apply advice like “make sure your puppy meets 100 people” in this age of social distancing, sheltering in place, and staying home?

The truth is it will be a little bit harder than socializing your puppy during normal times, but the good news is it’s not impossible, and the great news is by being forced to put more thought into how you’re socializing your puppy you might even end up with a better socialized puppy. As the saying goes, it’s the pressure that turns coal into diamonds.

Without further delay, here’s the Harper game plan for socializing your quarantine puppy.

Game Plan

Teach a Dog to Fish Meet New Things

While socialization works best when you can expose your puppy to the exact thing you’d like them to be comfortable with (you know, "give them a fish"), it’s also a general skill that once learned can be applied to any new thing (that is, "teach them to fish"). In other words, once your puppy learns to meet your noisy Vitamix blender, it’ll be easier for him to meet the Rottweiler across the street.

Know the Goals of Socialization

Socialization advice quickly spirals into a list of all the things you want your dog to be comfortable with. (Hey, we do it too. Our list is below.) so to avoid feeling overwhelmed, keep these simple goals in mind:

  1. Comfortable with people
  2. Comfortable with dogs and other animals
  3. Comfortable with their normal world

Each of these has a bunch of sub topics to think about, like being good with people means being comfortable with a groomer touching their ears. Or another example, being comfortable with dogs means not growling if another dog goes near their food bowl.

Deliberately Plan Socialization

In a normal world, you can get a lot of socialization opportunities without much effort. Just going about your normal life will naturally expose your pup to much of what they’re going to encounter in their day to day adult lives a year from now.

Since that’s not the case at present, one of the biggest adjustments you’ll need to make is being purposeful and rigorous about what socialization opportunities you’re giving your pup.

Be Extreme with Socializing at Home

This is the cornerstone of your socialization strategy for your quarantine puppy. Make a crazy goal to introduce your puppy to every little thing you can think of that’s already in your home. If you're demonstrating the use of a toilet bowl brush to your puppy you're probably doing it right.

Socialize from a Distance

In many places, it’s still considered safe to take your puppy on walks and to visit outdoor spaces as long as you keep 6 feet of distance between yourself and anyone else (anyone else you’re not already quarantined with, that is).

Assuming that’s true for where you live, you should seek out opportunities to let your pup observe other people and dogs from a distance. Go to the park, take a seat in the grass, and watch whatever or whomever comes by.

Get Help from Trusted Friends

This is a controversial idea so skip it if it makes you uncomfortable or you can’t pull it off while staying safe.

If you have a neighbor or friend whom you trust and who is good with dogs, let that neighbor take your puppy into their home to socialize with them. Another option, assuming you have a leash that’s 6+ feet long, is to let them interact with your pup while he’s on leash.

Similarly, if you have a neighbor or a friend with a dog that is well behaved and very good with other dogs, you may consider inviting just the dog over and letting your pup have a puppy playdate.

Harper Socialization Games

Now that you have a plan, here are the Harper Games to help you execute it:

Things in the House

This Harper game gives you the recipe for introducing your dog to anything new. This particular training game focuses on introducing your pup to the vacuum but it can be applied to anything or anyone.

Our First Meals and Half & Half

These two games teach your dog not to be overly protective with her food. If you have other people in your house, like a spouse or kids, this is a great game to have them play too.

Bath Time

Now is a great time to get your dog used to baths. This game has a bunch of socialization wrapped up in a single activity - new surfaces, new sounds, water, towels - which makes it challenging but also extremely valuable when your socialization options are limited.

Take a Hike

Getting outside while social distancing usually means getting out into nature. This game will give you a quick run down of how to take a spring or summertime hike with your new pup.

Meeting People and Meeting Dogs

If you are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to introduce your pup to new people or new dogs while maintaining social distancing then these games will show you how to do it.

The #StayHome Socialization Checklist

Here are some things you can expose your pup to without ever leaving your house.

Things

  • Vacuum
  • Hair Dryer (even better if they'll let you use it on them)
  • Blender
  • Coffee Grinder
  • Washing Machine and Dryer
  • Broom

Places

  • Rooms in your house
  • Inside of the car
  • Basement
  • Garage
  • Barn or Shed

Surfaces

  • Stairs
  • Tile
  • Marble
  • Asphalt
  • Concrete
  • Grass
  • Sand
  • Carpet
  • Wood
  • Water

Human Accessories

These work best if you use them how they're normally supposed to be used so get ready to play a game of "dress up."

  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Big coat
  • Cane
  • Umbrella
  • Baseball glove
  • Helmet
  • Jewelry
  • Scarf
  • Drinking straw
  • Wheelchair
  • Stroller

People Sounds

  • Laughing
  • Sneezing
  • Shouting
  • Talking loudly
  • Children playing

Being Handled

  • Being held
  • Paws
  • Muzzle
  • Ears
  • Tail
  • Hugging
  • Touching collar
  • Checking teeth
  • Brushing teeth
  • Checking between pads
  • Touching rear legs
  • Touching front legs
  • Bath

Sounds

You can find these sounds on the internet just in case you don't have things like "thunder" readily available.

  • Sirens
  • Fireworks
  • Car Horns
  • Thunder
  • Skateboards
  • Motorbikes
  • Knocking on doors
  • Doorbells
  • Radios
  • Helicopters

The #SocialDistancing Socialization Checklist

Here are some things you can expose your pup to while maintaining a safe social distance.

Places

While actually going into these places is not a good idea right now, driving to the place and taking a stroll around the parking lot can get your pup used to the location and give you a headstart on getting comfortable with going in.

  • Vet
  • Groomer
  • Pet shop
  • Boarding Facility

People

Try to find a place where your pup can safely observe people from a distance. That could be a park or if you live in a busy neighborhood, even your balcony or front porch.

  • Men
  • Women
  • Children of all ages
  • Elderly people
  • Tall people

Animals

You might not be able to easily encounter all of these animals, but this list might inspire some ideas.

  • Other Dogs
  • Cats
  • Squirrels
  • Ducks
  • Birds
  • Cows
  • Horses
  • Chickens