Months on end at home, no holidays planned, for many families it provided the ideal time to fulfil their dream of adding a furry addition to their family, but there has been one major obstacle for new puppy owners….. socialising them!
Puppies need to be socialised from a young age, but with such strict restrictions in place and the need for social distancing, how can owners safely introduce them to the world in which they will soon need to adapt to?
The Fast and the Furriest can offer simple tips and advice to help you overcome this…..
READY, STEADY, SLOW
Too many new experiences can be overwhelming for a pup, so tackle each new experience one at a time. Some things they will adapt well to, other new experiences may take longer. Like humans, puppies are individuals with their own likes and dislikes.
Use pawsitive reinforcement, with each new experience, rewards tend to work well, but if using food as the reward, do remember to use very small pieces, to ensure weight is kept within a healthy range.
If your pup appears frightened of their new experience, respond calmly, and remove them from the situation, then try it again in another day or two. Slow and Steady.
TOUCH and SLOW
You need to teach your new furry friend that it’s ok for humans to touch them, and in fact it’s something to really be enjoyed. No dog would ever want to miss out on a terrific tummy rub experience! Apart from the sheer enjoyment factor of touch, it’s very important too for visits to the groomer; the vet; and those wonderful occasions when visitors are able to be in your home again, all of whom desperate to meet and cuddle your new pup.
To introduce touch, start by gently stroking the side of their head or ear, and give their reward, if this works well, repeat this a few times, pawsitive reinforcement is key. If all is well, you can then try to gently stroke their nose and mouth and offer a further reward. Remember to tell them what a good boy or girl they are.
At any point, if your pup indicates that they are not comfortable (i.e. they might try to pull away) give them a break, and try again another day. Try not to be despondent if they do, this is just your pup’s way of communicating with you, letting you know they are a bit unsure of this new step. The next time you try, touch them softer and for less time and remember the rewards.
The aim here is for your pup not to react to handling and to embrace being touched.
Continue this process with the rest of their body, using pawsitive reinforcement throughout.
Once they are confident with touch and tickles, you can then use this same technique with picking them up. Great Dane owners may decline this opportunity!
Throughout these processes, do this in short bursts. Build in time to have a break in between for your puppy to play or rest. In fact, why not have a cuppa yourself, pawsitive reinforcement works well with owners too!
COME FEEL THE NOISE
New sounds might be scary to your pup. Most common noises that cause alarm indoors: hairdryer, hoover, doorbell, children crying or screaming, washing machine. Whilst outdoors its: traffic, fireworks, aeroplanes, thunder, and lightning, other dogs barking, and children – if not used to them indoors.
Ideally, you should try to get your new furry friend used to as many of these indoor and outdoor noises sooner rather than later and demonstrate to them that there is nothing to fear. It takes patience and time though, so don’t rush it. Just like the introduction to touch, progress should be determined by your pup’s reactions, you may need to step back and leave it for another day. Slow and steady is key.
A useful way to introduce noises, is to use a sound simulators, which are readily available to use via the internet. To begin play the noises at low volume at the outset, using your rewards when they remain calm. If they are not reacting, you can gradually increase the sound, continuing to reward as you progress.
This process will take several days, as it is so important to do this very gradually, with rewards, until the noises become normal for them.
At any point, if your pup is unsettled, scared, or tries to hide, you should turn the volume back down to when they were calm and begin from the start again, slower than before.
Have plenty of breaks, and don’t try to do all the sounds in one session.
A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS
It’s great fun for your puppy to explore and investigate new objects. In fact, many will have begun this without waiting for an invite! it’s natural for them to be curious and it’s all part of their learning about their new world.
Encourage your puppy to investigate different objects with you. Use a range of objects from around the house, all varieties of sizes, shapes, and textures, and keep rewarding when they react positively.
Seasonal objects that we associate fun with, such as Halloween costumes and masks; Christmas trees and decorations, might initially provoke a reaction, just think of how many young children first burst into tears when they meet Santa!. It’s similar for puppies too, it’s all new and it’s your role to demonstrate there is nothing to fear.
Just remember to connect each new safe experience with a reward.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Caution: Please only take your puppy out of your garden environment after their vaccinations. As important as socialisation is, the risks linked to disease of them being out without this protection could be devasting.
Before a puppy can go outdoors safely, you can still introduce them to the outside world from your window. You can familiarise them to traffic noises and watching people walking by. You can take advantage of things like bin collection day and letting your pup watch the truck, see high viz jackets and hear all the noises and assure them that this is all ok. You may also have shopping deliveries that come to your home; postal deliveries; window cleaners, if they are present at fairly regular times, introduce your pup to these everyday occurrences from the earliest stage. And you guessed it, reward, reward, reward.
If your puppy has not had its vaccinations, you can still take them outdoors but carry them (again Great Dane owners may decline!) But this will your puppy experience lots of different people, the sounds of the traffic, other dogs, bikes, and buggies. Do take care to adhere to social distance of course. As tempting as it is, you are unable to let strangers touch your pup as coronavirus can be spread this way. Keep rewarding, but if your pup becomes overwhelmed do remember to respond calmly and try again another day.
For puppies who have had their vaccinations, exploring the outside world is a wonderful big step, so many new smells, noises, objects to discover. This is another great opportunity to ensure you are giving them the experience of sampling a whole range of textures too, the grass, mud, leaves, pavement, stairs, unsteady surfaces, but take it easy and go at their pace. Some will embrace these new experiences in their stride, others will be more wary, remember their response is their only way of communicating how they are feeling to you.
In a pandemic free environment, my advice would be to introduce your puppy to a vast range of different humans – all genders, ages, heights, weights, and races. It’s sensible too that your puppy meets men with beards, people wearing hats, young children in buggies, people carrying umbrellas, wheelchair users, and those who use walking sticks. That way they will become used to these as normal ‘nothing to fear’ objects.
Undoubtedly this is much more of a challenge to do fully during the pandemic but being mindful of this range of people and objects is important. However you adapt, whether its experiencing these things from more of a distance; or whilst your pup is in your arms, limited exposure is better than none.
Enjoy your new furry bairn and embracing all their new experiences together.
The Fast and the Furriest