Puppies that have been acquired by new owners during this “covid era” have been subject to some unusual and difficult challenges. Perhaps the biggest challenge and the most influential on the puppy’s future behaviour being their socialisation and how to safely and effectively carry this out during lockdown measures and restrictions.

Socialisation is the gradual process of getting puppies used to meeting other dogs, people and other animals, as well as introducing them to different environments and stimuli such as novel noises and surfaces. Socialisation should be carried out very carefully and at the individual puppy’s own pace. It is easy for puppies to become overwhelmed or nervous around “new stuff” and a bad experience or practicing inappropriate behaviours could contribute to problems later on.

There are a number of developmental stages that puppies go through. Perhaps the two most important are the first and second fear impact stages. The first occurs approximately at 2-3 months of age and the second at approximately 6-8 months of age however different breeds develop and mature at different rates and these are not fixed.

These fear impact stages are essentially periods where our dogs are extremely sensitive to bad experiences and sometimes bad experiences that occur during these stages can impact them for life.

Although there are still restrictions in place and the world hasn’t yet returned to normal. There are still lots of things you can do to socialise your puppy and allow them to experience new and novel things.

A few things to try include:

  • Dressing up in clothes you might not normally wear such as wearing a large hat, coat or any fancy dress you might have!
  • Playing recordings of novel sounds at a low volume while your puppy has their food or a chew.
  • Practice wearing a mask at home
  • Sitting on a bench by a road and letting your puppy look at and listen to traffic and people
  • Inviting friends or family to meet your puppy outside in the garden
  • Allow your puppy to play in a safe enclosed area with a calm, sociable and vaccinated dog owned by a friend or neighbour

Always ensure that your puppy is not overwhelmed and keep any socialisation or training sessions short. It is very important that your puppy is neither put in a situation they are uncomfortable with and become fearful, or allowed to become over aroused and able to practice inappropriate behaviours such as mouthing people’s hands or over excited play with other dogs.

Tom Bysouth BSc (CBT)

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