Dogs Trust

Lockdown Advice: Introduction to puppy socialisation

Lockdown Advice: Introduction to puppy socialisation

If you’ve recently got a new puppy, you may wonder how to give them the best start to life during these times.

The first four months of a puppy’s life are vital. It’s when they learn about ‘normal life’ and work out what to make of all the new people and things they experience.

It's important that they learn about everyday life in a positive way.

Problems can arise where these early experiences don’t match what happens as they get older. Dogs are more likely to worry about things that they didn't come across when they were young.

And this might be a problem for puppies arriving in new homes during this time.

Because, once the lockdown ends, what we'll think of as a return to 'normal' life could be new and confusing for your pup.

It's a good idea to do some work now to prepare your pup for life after lockdown.

Here are some tips to help.

People

A big part of everyday life for dogs is meeting new people, when out on walks or when visitors come to their home.

You can recreate this for your puppy now, with a bit of imagination.

This is the ideal time to introduce your puppy to the doorbell. Teach them to go to their bed or another room when the bell rings. This will be helpful when visitors arrive in the future.

You can have great fun introducing them to how different people might appear. Try on different outfits around the home. Get into a big hat or a wig. Introduce things like walking sticks or high-vis clothing if you have them.

This will broaden your puppy’s experiences and get them used to items they might see when they do go out.

Make sure this is a positive experience for your puppy by giving them something enjoyable to do. As long as they are relaxed and happy, give them a treat or a toy for them to chase.

It’s very important not to scare your puppy, so take things slowly. Stop if your puppy starts to look worried or moves away.

Other dogs

Early life is an important time for puppies to learn how to communicate with other dogs. This is tricky right now, but you can start introducing the sight, sound and smell of other dogs at a distance.

If your pup has had their full vaccination course, you can take them out of the house as part of your daily exercise.

Reward your pup for keeping their attention on you and walking on a loose lead.

Once they're calmly walking on the lead you can start to walk at a distance from other dogs. Keep far enough away that your pup doesn’t get excited or worried and keeps their focus on you.

Over time, you can start to walk a bit closer to other dogs.

If your puppy has not had all their vaccinations, you can carry them to introduce them to the outside world.

Speak to your vet too. They may arrange a vaccination appointment if they consider it essential.

Otherwise they'll advise you on the risks and benefits of taking your puppy out.

It's important that your puppy meets with other dogs as soon as possible after the lockdown to catch up on this part of their early learning.

Handling

People do a lot of different things when handling dogs. We pick them up, clean paws, examine ears, cut nails and groom coats.

Puppies need to learn that all these are OK.

Start by gently handling your puppy on parts of their body they’re comfortable with.

Only touch your puppy for a few moments to begin with. Increase the length of time you spend holding or stroking them. Stop if your puppy shows any sign of worry.

Move on to handling other parts of their body, such as their ears, tail and paws. If they’re calm and relaxed, give them a treat after removing your hand.

You want to be able to handle different parts of your puppy’s body without worrying them. Watch your puppy’s body language to look for signs that they aren’t comfortable.

Once you can touch them all over, you might want to introduce grooming equipment to your puppy.

Start by placing the brush onto your puppy’s body for a moment, removing it and giving them a treat if they are calm and relaxed. If they’re worried, stop and go back to touching just with a hand.

Continue with the process as you did when introducing handling.

Remember to practise touching your puppy’s collar. Again, gradually increase the time you can hold it while giving your puppy a treat.

Help your puppy get used to having their collar taken off and on, associating it with play or treats. You can also introduce a harness very gradually once they are happy being handled around the head, neck and chest.

Routine

Try and develop a routine of mealtimes, exercise, play, and training sessions, but make sure it’s not too rigid so your puppy is used to some flexibility – important when we go back to work . It’s also important to get your puppy used to being left alone.

It's essential to give your puppy plenty of time to rest throughout the day. No matter how tempting it is to play with them all the time while the family are at home.

Make sure your puppy has a cosy bed or den area of their own, where they can rest undisturbed. Check that children know to not approach the puppy when in their own space.

Puppies also need to learn to play with their toys by themselves. Make sure you reward them with attention and praise when they pick up their own toys to chew or play with.

Teaching your puppy to ‘settle’ is also an important skill, so they know to relax when people are busy.

Training

You can do some basic training with your puppy at home by following our training videos.

Remember to keep sessions short and fun.

Now is a good time to introduce your pup to walking on a loose lead around the house or garden.

The same goes for training them to come back when called – starting at home means there is no distraction and you’re setting your pup up to succeed.

Good puppy prep starts at home. Have fun.