Written by Hilarie Erb for AKC
Socializing puppies from an early age is critical, but with COVID-19 social distancing requirements, it might seem like it can’t be done. Even though you cannot have new people into your home to meet them, there are plenty of ways to safely expose your litters to new experiences before they go to their permanent homes.
Household Experiences: Puppies must get comfortable with handling of their bodies, feet, ears, and mouths. When they are past the whelping box stage, they should be moved to a part of the house where they’ll see the daily comings and goings of a busy home. The sky is the limit when it comes to exposing puppies to non-human things like vacuum cleaners, dropped pans, slamming doors, etc.
Surfaces: They should have different surfaces to walk on such as crinkly tarps, carpet pieces with different textures, wood planks, vinyl squares, grass, and rough surfaces like gravel and concrete. A foundation agility obstacle that moves, like a wobble board or just a piece of plywood with a half-ball secured under the middle, is a good item for the list.
Exposure to People & Outdoors: Don’t worry that your pups won’t be able to have face-to-face contact with new people; you and the others in your household will just need to get creative. When they are old enough to be outdoors on your property, the puppies can watch people go by from the safety of a pen in the front yard (under close supervision, of course). Stage these socially distanced interactions by asking neighbors to walk by, ride bikes and skateboards, pull wagons, and push strollers.
Ask the neighbors to wear hats, coats with hoods, and any other unusual clothing they might have – even Halloween costumes! These helpers should behave in a cheerful manner, simply letting the puppies observe with no forced interaction. They should see you responding calmly and cheerfully to the distractions.
Get Creative: But what if you don’t live in a busy neighborhood? Use your own and your household members’ acting skills to help those puppies think that they’re seeing someone new. Nobody but the pups will know if you run the vacuum while wearing crazy hats, sunglasses, or a wig! Other things you can add to your collection of props include crutches, a cane, a wheelchair, brooms, scooters, toys that make noises, a tricycle – the possibilities are endless.
Trips to the Vet & Other Outings: Going to the vet is a different challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, with most practices meeting patients outside and taking them in while owners wait in their cars. Taking a litter of puppies for vaccines and exams is a bigger job. As a breeder, you have a good relationship with your vet and may be able to make special arrangements for handling these necessary appointments safely.
Be sure to take puppies for a few car rides that do not conclude with a visit to the vet; tell your puppy buyers to do the same. Puppies can take turns riding along when you go to pick up meals or things from stores; most restaurants and stores are offering curbside pick-up during this time. In addition to giving them a chance to see someone new, this is a chance for puppies to be apart from each other for a while.
New experiences for puppies must be positive, thought out so that good things happen to them in the presence of new people, objects, and noises. Everything you do will go toward building a good base for confident, well-adjusted adult dogs.