Raising your new puppy during isolation

by Dr Gretta Howard. Published 28 April 2020

Firstly, congratulations! Bringing a puppy into your family is incredibly exciting and rewarding. A new puppy will fill your home with laughter, fun and unconditional love. It’s a wonderful time, so enjoy it!

This is part 1 of a 2 part series for raising your new puppy during COVID-19. Click here to open part 2.

Part 1: How to socialise your new puppy during isolation

The significant changes you have had to face to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 also have an impact on how we socialise puppies.
While there are some challenges when it comes to raising a puppy while self-isolating, there are many benefits, including being able to spend more time with your puppy during the critical socialisation period.

Socialising a new puppy

The socialisation period in puppies is between 3 – 12 weeks of age (up to 14 weeks in some puppies) and during this time, puppies develop critical social skills such as bite inhibition and resilience to some of life’s stressors through positive exposure to experiences.

Remember that the word ‘socialisation’ doesn’t just refer to socialising your puppy to other dogs, but also to people and experiences (e.g. handling, noises, objects). The goal is that your puppy has as many positive experiences as possible (not neutral or negative ones) during this important period.

Even if traditional face-to-face puppy classes are no longer running, there are many ways you can still help to socialise your puppy:

Handling

  • Practice gentle handling of your puppy from head to toe including lifting the lips to see the teeth, stroking the ears, holding each paw and lifting the tail. This will help socialise your puppy to being groomed and examined by your vet.

Noises

  • Many sounds that we are familiar with around the house such as the vacuum, washing machine and electric mixers, or outdoors such as thunder, buses, garbage trucks, are new sounds for puppies and can be a little scary if not introduced in a positive manner. When exposing your puppies to these new sounds, reward your puppy for a relaxed response with a delicious treat or back off if your puppy shows signs of fear.

Interactions

  • Take your puppy outdoors on a leash during your daily exercise to expose him or her to see different people and other dogs while out and about. It is best to avoid close interaction with dogs that are not known to you at this stage. Some veterinary practices are offering contactless puppy play sessions in small groups where owners deliver their puppies to the premises and there is a supervised socialisation with an animal behaviourist.

Surfaces

  • It is important to let your puppy walk on different surfaces including grass, concrete, wooden floor boards, up and down stairs and across bridges so that there is no fear of these later on.

Remember to have some healthy high value food rewards handy so that your puppy receives positive reinforcement and enjoys these sessions. Examples of healthy food treats include pieces of cooked skinless chicken or dried liver treats –but don’t give too many extras, as treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s diet. Check out these VitaPet treats which are perfect for puppies.

There is an extensive puppy socialisation checklist available to download here.

While the changes we are all experiencing are challenging, the human-animal bond will be strengthened, as you will be able to more time with your puppy during this vital period of socialisation.

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