Puppy Socialisation in COVID-19

New puppy owners know about the importance of a thorough socialisation process for their new pup.  They know that they need to expose their new puppy to lots of different events and experiences in a positive manner.

How can you do this during COVID-19 when you can’t visit friends, you can’t have play sessions, nor can you let strangers pat your puppy?

The key message your pup needs to learn is that new things, strange or novel things prompt treats and praise to rain down from the sky. Yippee! That way they understand that “new things” = something good for the pup.

Let’s pull it apart.

First of all, what is “socialisation”?  It’s the process whereby the puppy takes on information about events, stimuli, noises, smells and experiences in the wider world.  When a pup is between the ages of 3 weeks to 12 weeks, they are in a very strong phase of emotional learning.  During this time, their response to new and novel events can imprint on them with lifelong effects.

A puppy should be introduced to as many new positive experiences as possible.  Scary or negative experiences should be kept to a minimum. Good, positive exposure to a variety of stimuli gives a pup the tools to grow into a confident and curious adult dog. Even exposure from a distance is helpful in the socialisation process.  For example, if your puppy is sitting with you in a car and watching a dog play in the park, they are receiving valuable exposure to big dogs running around.

Here are some very important safety messages for you and your pup:

1) Medical safety.  If your puppy is not fully vaccinated, ensure you only take them to safe areas where they will not be exposed to diseases such as Parvo Virus.  That means avoiding grassy areas outside your property or parks, or any area where other dogs toilet.  Don’t let your puppy run up to dogs whose vaccination status and health you don’t know.

2) Physical Safety: If introducing your puppy to new environments, e.g. letting them explore your garage, ensure there is nothing within reach that your pup could swallow. If a puppy (or dog) swallows foreign objects, the object can become lodged in their intestine, often requiring surgery to remove.

3) In the time of COVID-19, social distancing is paramount for your safety as well.  Always follow the government recommendations and guidelines for social distancing.  Keep abreast of the changes to these guidelines which are regularly updated by the state and federal authorities. If you are taking your puppy in the car to sit in a carpark and watch people walk by, or carrying your puppy around the block, remember that puppies are people-magnets and it can be difficult to stop people coming up to pat your pup.  During this time of social restrictions, you should remind people to remain the appropriate distance from you and your pup.

Here is a list of activities you can do safely to socialise your pup. When your pup is brave or shows confidence, sprinkle treats and lavish them with praise.

Important Note: When doing socialisation exercises your pup should not be frightened.  If your pup is showing fear, you should dial back the experience to a level where they are calm.  Provide additional distance, reduce the volume of noises, or lessen the intensity of the experience.

The message is:

Something new appears, treats appear.  The sequence of events is important.  New thing happens, followed by something good for your pup (treats).

Barriers – climb over pool noodles, or over soft low barriers such as cushions

Explore a different surface like a tarpaulin


Wheel barrel – bring out and wheel around

Bring out the vacuum cleaner, move around

Walk a bike past your pup, if they are OK, ride past them

If you have crutches or a cane in the house, use them to walk near the puppy

Play dress ups! Wear different hats, a false beard, get out the kids’ dress up box, walk around in high heels, rubber boots etc

Different surfaces – sprinkle odd surfaces with kibble to encourage your pup to walk across rubber mats with different textures.

Encourage your pup to walk under a coffee table or dining table.  When they are comfortable with that, drape a sheet or towel over the edge to create an extra sensation.

Take your puppy in the car to a shop, wind down the window and let them observe people from a distance, trollies, trucks.  Or drive to the park and watch the big dogs playing from the car.

Garages are full of strange items, smells and shapes.  After making sure that the area is safe, and you’re sure there is nothing your puppy could swallow, let your puppy explore the garage.   Stay with your pup and shower him with praise or treats for being brave.

Place your puppy on lead and spend time together in front yard.  Whenever a car or truck or person walking a dog passes your house, practice calling your puppy to you, reward them with treats, play and praise.

Any time your puppy notices or registers something in the front or back yard, call them to you and reward.  This teaches your puppy that when they see something new or something that might be concerning or alarming, come back to the human to be reinforced. This is a great lesson.

Introducing new Sounds

You can purchase the Soundproof Puppy App and introduce your pup to a range of new sounds. Commence playing the sounds at low volume, while you sprinkle treats. Only increase the volume in very small increments.

Sniffing!  Here is something interesting about your dog’s nose from an article published on NOVA (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/  ) where they noted, “Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, writes in her book Inside of a Dog, that while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth.”

Your puppy’s sense of smell has been estimated to be between 10,000 – 100,000 times more sensitive than ours. Letting your puppy sniff his environment is a great way for him to explore the world and further the socialisation process.

Let him sniff new things, sniff your car tyres, the curb side near your house, other safe areas close to home so that he can use his wonderful nose to explore and investigate his immediate world.

The exercise of sitting in car with the window down in a mall carpark also let’s your pup smell that experience as well as see it.

We are all having to find new ways to do the things we need to do. If you get creative about ways to provide your puppy with exposure to a range of new experiences in a positive manner, then you are providing the socialisation process he needs.  And my prediction is that even during this time of social restrictions, we can find creative solutions for socialisation and the puppies will be just fine.

For more information on puppy-essentials, click here