Welcome to “Ask the Pet Experts,” where you can find helpful pet advice from HSMO’s Behavior Manager, Linda Campbell (CPDT-KA, RVT, VTS). Need advice? Click here to submit your question!
I have a new puppy and know that socialization is very important. How can I do this while practicing social distancing?
Puppy owners may need to think outside the box to achieve socialization while social distancing. Luckily there are a variety of ways to satisfy the need to provide life experiences during your pet’s formative stages. Some can be done inside at home, others while outside on short walks. You can even involve your children in the process. Remember, socialization for your puppy is not limited to interactions with people, but also with novel sights, sounds, smells, and textures.
If your pet exhibits any fearful behavior (attempting to escape, cowering, tucked tail, wide open eyes) in response to something you are doing, reduce the level of exposure until he is comfortable. Be careful not to overdo it! Ten to fifteen minutes twice a day is fine. The goal is to help your puppy make a positive associations with their environment. Utilize lots of special tasty treats and favorite toys.
- Pull out Halloween costumes, funny hats, boots, rain coats, etc.
- Use socks, doll or children’s clothes to play dress up. This is a fun way to teach body handling.
- Pretend you are performing a medical exam for your puppy and hold/touch his feet, open his mouth, look in his ears, lift his tail, grab and hold his collar, and lift him on and off an imaginary exam table. If you have a stethoscope add that to the exercise.
- Open/close umbrellas, bring out crutches, walkers, sports gear, brooms, vacuum cleaner, plastic bags, grocery bags, etc.
- Introduce your pet to grooming tools (brushes, clippers, nail clippers, hair dryer, being swaddled in a towel)
- Download Sound Apps that are available free on your phone (cars, trucks, horns, planes, baby crying, fireworks, thunderstorms, music, sirens, alarms, and other sounds you may not have access to). Always begin at a low, whisper, level and increase volume only as your puppy is comfortable.
- Hide treats around the house and encourage your puppy to find them.
Outside (Ensure you maintain an appropriate, safe distance at all times)
- Walk your puppy down the street and allow them to observe activity and objects in the neighborhood (cars, bikes, mailboxes, etc.). Carry very small puppies.
- Let your puppy watch and observe neighbors or people walking their dogs from a safe distance.
- If your yard is fenced, allow the puppy outside while the neighbors toss treats to him over the fence. This can be a fun activity for the neighbor’s children.
- Walk past yards where children are playing and let your pet sit and watch from a distance while you feed him treats.
These are just a few of the ways you can teach your puppy the world is not a scary place while staying safe!
Special thanks to Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB and Amy Pike DVM, DACVB for their contributions.