Thursday, 23 Apr, 2020
Puppy Socialization During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Research by animal behaviouralists have shown that there is an important socialization window for puppies early in their life that begins to close when puppies reach the age of 14 weeks. Before and during this time it is critical that we introduce our puppies to a variety of safe situations involving other animals and people if we want to teach them to act rationally in normal social situations. Doing so will help our puppy grow in to a comfortable, welcoming and confident dog with good social skills.


But, what can you to socialize your puppy during the Covid-19 pandemic? Relax. There are plenty of ways for you to socialize your puppy, you just want to look for ways to be creative.



Inside The Home

You can expose your puppy to all sorts of unique situations inside your very own home by wearing different clothing (winter clothes, summer clothes, even costumes), introducing different smells (e.g. lotions, perfumes, soaps) and different sounds (check out the Sound Proof Puppy app). During training, watch for the earliest indicators of fearful body language (see image below) and reward, reward, reward, when your puppy doesn’t react negatively. Don’t wait for them to get fearful and then try to soothe them with treats or a click, do it before so they build confidence.



Outside The Home

Before discussing socialization outside it is important to note that thus far, there is no evidence that dogs can catch or transmit COVID-19. So while we don’t recommend puppies playing at the park (and owners having to separate leashes!), you can be in the vicinity of other dogs and be safe. If your puppy does happen to play with another dog or get petted by another person, just make sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.


You should start doing socialization outside of the home after your puppy’s first set of vaccines, usually at 8 weeks of age. It’s a great opportunity for them to explore this big beautiful world; other animals, different people, cars, bridges, birds, buses, motorcycles, and all sorts of other environmental stimulus.


Early-on, make sure that you don’t overwhelm, remember that everything is new to them and they are learning to trust you too. If you are introducing more scary stimulus like loud noises, bright lights, fast vehicles, etc., do so from a distance where they are comfortable… and remember to give them a treat or a click. :-)


On-leash socialization at a park with other dogs a greater than 6 foot distance so they can see other breeds and types of dogs. Start at a distance looking for their behaviour to be good and relaxed, and reward the good behaviour with a small treat immediately.  Be sure to take your puppy to locations that you trust to be quite clean from other dogs feces/waste so they aren’t at a greater risk of contracting a dog virus or parasite.


It is also important to practice NOT greeting every person and dog. This was important for me when I was training my Golden Retriever who wanted to say ‘hello’ to every dog and person (and squirrel!) we saw. For every person and dog that they don’t get to greet, give a reward/click when they are calm and staying still, or remain at your side when people walk by.


What about ‘puppy social breaks’ where puppies get to play together off-leash? This is a challenging question and there is not an easy answer. If you want to try puppy social breaks it must be only a few puppies in a supervised (ideally outdoor) environment and everyone is taking an abundance of caution using PPE and proper hand cleaning. Additionally, you can also look for a doggie daycare that has puppy social breaks. Make sure that they clearly detail and follow their Covid-19 procedures for you. 



Other Suggestions

Most importantly, learn puppy language (image below) and reward content, happy and social behaviour. If they are not showing that they are content/happy and social, increase the distance from whatever is causing the negative behaviour until they relax.


There are some very good virtual puppy classes available online, filled with great ideas on how to better socialize your puppy.


Some behaviourists will use stuffed animal/mock dog and cat and dogs introduction with positive introduction.  Be creative!



Some Positives of Socializing During the Pandemic

Our puppies will learn some social boundaries, teaching them not to run up to people and jump up on them. Also, with social isolation, many people have a lot of time to work on training while they’re at home. The bond with your puppy can be even greater.



Preparing our Dogs/ Puppies for Life After the Pandemic

Once this pandemic is over and life goes back to normal, we have to prepare our dogs for this change. Gone will be the days of people always around and plenty of walks, so they might get bored and that could result in some naughty behaviour. To help ease the transition, make routine-use of a play pen/crate with food enrichment, and also make alone / independence time a positive experience with puzzle and enrichment toys.


Book and Online Training Recommendations

Fear Free (website)

Social Civil And Savvy (book)

Puppy Start Right (book)


Take care and stay safe everyone!

~ Dr. Renee Ferguson



Dr. Ferguson recently attended a webinar on ‘Training Your Puppy During Covid-19’, hosted by Fear Free and featuring Rachel Lees, a Level Three Fear Free Certified Professional.