This week a huge number of vet colleagues and friends have contacted me for advice. We all know the importance of socialising our puppies – but now Coronavirus lock down has come along and put a stop to our best made plans. What should we be doing in these strange and worrying times to help our puppies have the best chance of developing into well balanced adults?
When reading this list – please remember to ensure your puppy is comfortable with what we are doing. Their body language should be loose and wiggly! Puppies should be allowed to move away from anything they find worrying and not lured towards something frightening with a treat. You can of course use food to reward calm behaviour.
Make being alone normal
It is important we start leaving them for short periods in the first week. These sessions should be short and positive. Consider using a Kong or similar chew proof puzzle feeder in the periods they are left. As we are on lock down, use a room where they can’t see or hear you! A top tip I give clients is to monitor them using a camera to start with (webcam / ipad / smart phone) to make sure the puppy is doing ok.
Similarly, during the day – ensure your puppy is having some rest periods. With kids at home, it is tempting to let them entertain each other constantly. But puppies do need rest. And they need to learn it’s not normal to have fun stuff happen all day every day.
Introduce ‘new’ people
Ok so this is going to be a tricky one! You should not be letting anyone not in your household to come within 2 metres of your puppy. When out on the street – reward them for walking past people calmly. Inside you are going to have to get creative and try to recreate different types of people! Raid the kid’s dressing up box and get them used to helmets, walking sticks, hats, backpacks, heavy boots, fluoro vests etc. Walk strangely, clap, laugh, dance, hug!
Make handling fun
Your puppy is going to need to be handled by lots of different people in their lives. Start now pairing handling of face / feet / tummy etc with something yummy for them. If you have nail clippers and hair clippers – you should be introducing puppies to these now.
Sounds don’t need to be scary
Mix up textures
We expect our puppies to be fine walking on drain covers, slippery floors, tiles, concrete, grass etc. So look for these surfaces on your daily walk, or see what you have in your house already and use these to create fun obstacle courses for your pup in the garden to walk on.
‘Introduce’ other dogs.
This is a hard one as play with others is going to be really restricted for the foreseeable future. If you have another dog in the house who is behaviourally appropriate – then let them have some play time each day (although make sure the adult dog can escape for periods too!) We can also reward your puppy for walking calmly past another dog when on your daily walk. We can introduce the sound of dogs via apps and online noises and the smells by letting your puppy sniff around on walks.
In my next blog I’ll be covering some ways we can keep our dogs entertained during this time of lock down – so watch this space.
If anyone would like some 1 : 1 advice, I am offer 30 minute new puppy virtual behaviour consults for £50, or 60 minute ones for £90, contact me for more info.
And most importantly – stay safe everyone and look after each other 🙂
Dr Julie Ashton, BSc, BVSc, MANZCVs (Vet Behaviour) MRCVS
Behaviour Vet – Life on Four Legs