When we brought our adorable dachshund puppy home in late 2015, we (Mike and Steph) socialized Django as much as possible once he was fully vaccinated. We let him meet and greet strangers on the sidewalk and introduced him to neighborhood dogs in the small, grassy park next to our Brooklyn apartment building. We also took Django to a puppy obedience program at Empire of the Dog in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In addition to providing great training for puppies, the obedience class allowed Django to meet and play with other puppies in a safe environment.
Whether you are social distancing because of COVID-19 or prefer staying at home, you can introduce your dog to people, animals, objects, sounds, smells, and surfaces. We teamed up with Empire of the Dog's founder, Denise Harmon, to come up with more than 100 ways to socialize your puppy at home.
Puppies need to be socialized between 3 and 16 weeks old. Socialization is not the same thing as exposure. Simply introducing your pup to new people, animals, objects, and places does not mean he will feel safe around them in the future.
If you take your puppy to preschool show-and-tell, for example, it does not guarantee that he will always be great with kids. In fact, it could backfire. He might learn that young children are annoying, noisy, and grabby. Because each puppy learns differently, you should work toward building his self-confidence, rather than exposing him to 100 people in 100 days.
If you have family members or friends who have well-mannered, completely vaccinated dogs, invite them to meet your puppy at your place. Ask them to take off their shoes before coming inside because they can carry canine parvovirus. If you are visiting someone else’s home, carry your unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated puppy in a dog carrier bag. Only allow off-leash play with dogs that you know and trust. You can also reward your pup for looking at these different types of dogs, and then looking back at you.
While it can be difficult to introduce your dog to people who look, sound, and smell differently than you do at home, you or a family member can wear different types of clothing. You can also stream YouTube or Netflix videos that feature all sorts of people, such as:
If your puppy barks at or chases objects with wheels, he might be trying to play. He has not figured out that it is inappropriate to try to play with cars or bicycles. Introduce your puppy to these wheeled objects in your home, so he realizes they are nothing unusual.
When your puppy sees you with a man-made object, he may aggressively chew, excessively bark, or heavily pant. He might also display “whale eye”, a sidelong glance where you can see the whites of his eyes. Teach your puppy that there is nothing to be afraid of by walking around your house with:
According to Scientific Reports, 23.5 percent of dogs are highly fearful of various surfaces and heights. Django, for instance, still walks around drains and subway grates. Let your puppy walk on, under, and around these natural and man-made surfaces.
If your puppy does not want to walk on an unstable surface, place treats on it. He should be able to reach one or two while standing beside it. Then he should voluntarily step on it to reach the other treats. Stay with your puppy in case he loses his balance. Here are common unstable surfaces you can introduce him to.
Nearly 40 percent of dogs have noise anxiety, according to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. Dogs with high noise sensitivity are twice as likely to be afraid of strangers and new situations.
Thunder and fireworks are the most common causes of noise anxiety, but your puppy can develop a fear of any sound: the rustling of a plastic store bag, the jingle of car keys, or the squeaking of a door hinge. For instance, Django absolutely hates the vacuum. While many dogs dislike subway noise, he was riding it with me from an early age, so he has never had any issues with it.
Harmon recommends playing YouTube videos or noise desensitization CDs of stressful sounds at very low volumes. She suggests using your home stereo or wireless Bluetooth speakers to make sure that scary sounds come from unexpected locations during nap time or meals. Every time your puppy notices a stressful sound and then looks at you, give him a high-value treat or bring out a special plush, interactive, or tough dog toy.
Here are other common noises that may frighten him:
NOISES OF OTHER ANIMALS
Whether you live in the concrete jungle or homestead in the backwoods, you may want to introduce your dog to the sound of these barnyard animals and common household pets.
Your puppy’s sense of smell is at least 10,000 times better than yours. He also has 60 times more olfactory receptors in his nose. Use these indoor scent exercises to help him “see” the world with his nose.
If you handle your puppy from an early age, he will accept different parts of his body being touched. This will make trips to your veterinarian or groomer a lot easier. You should practice:
Score each item, every time your dog encounters it, from 1 to 3:
1: Needs serious work. Your puppy runs away, hides, growls, lunges, or struggles (if you are handling him). He may not eat food.
2: Re-visit with more distance. Your puppy jumps, barks, pulls, or freezes. He may also act sleepy when he should not be tired. You may be able to refocus his attention with treats.
3: Going well. Your pup is relaxed and calm. He playfully engages with a person, animal, or object without food.
If your puppy reacts poorly to a stimulus, back up to a distance where he can watch it without feeling threatened. Reward him with praise and treats when he looks at you or takes a step toward it. If he is still anxious or fearful, remove him from the situation. Use a calm tone of voice. Then give him 24 to 72 hours to relax before you introduce him to a smaller or slower-moving stimulus. For example, if he does not respond well to a toddler, consider introducing him to a crawling baby.
If you have any questions about socializing your dog at home or you want to share one of your own puppy experiences, please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!
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