February 10, 2021
When we brought our adorable dachshund puppy home in late 2015, we (Mike and Steph) socialized Django as much as possible once he was fully vaccinated. We let him meet and greet strangers on the sidewalk and introduced him to neighborhood dogs in the small, grassy park next to our Brooklyn apartment building. We also took Django to a puppy obedience program at Empire of the Dog in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In addition to providing great training for puppies, the obedience class allowed Django to meet and play with other puppies in a safe environment.
Whether you are social distancing because of COVID-19 or prefer staying at home, you can introduce your dog to people, animals, objects, sounds, smells, and surfaces. We teamed up with Empire of the Dog’s founder, Denise Harmon, to come up with more than 100 ways to socialize your puppy at home.
THE GOALS OF SOCIALIZATION
Puppies need to be socialized between 3 and 16 weeks old. Socialization is not the same thing as exposure. Simply introducing your pup to new people, animals, objects, and places does not mean he will feel safe around them in the future.
If you take your puppy to preschool show-and-tell, for example, it does not guarantee that he will always be great with kids. In fact, it could backfire. He might learn that young children are annoying, noisy, and grabby. Because each puppy learns differently, you should work toward building his self-confidence, rather than exposing him to 100 people in 100 days.
If you have family members or friends who have well-mannered, completely vaccinated dogs, invite them to meet your puppy at your place. Ask them to take off their shoes before coming inside because they can carry canine parvovirus. If you are visiting someone else’s home, carry your unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated puppy in a dog carrier bag. Only allow off-leash play with dogs that you know and trust. You can also reward your pup for looking at these different types of dogs, and then looking back at you.
- Large dogs
- Small dogs
- Fluffy dog breeds (e.g., chow chows, Great Pyrenees, and Pomeranians)
- Dogs without tails
- Dogs with cropped ears
- Dogs that use mobility devices (e.g., wheelchairs, rear harnesses, and carpal splints)
- Blind or deaf dogs
- Adult dogs that will gently correct your puppy
- Puppies that play well and do not get overly aroused
While it can be difficult to introduce your dog to people who look, sound, and smell differently than you do at home, you or a family member can wear different types of clothing. You can also stream YouTube or Netflix videos that feature all sorts of people, such as:
- People of different races and ethnicities
- Babies (under 2 years old) and toddlers (2 to 4 years old)
- Children (5 to 8 years old) and tweens (9 to 12 years old)
- Teenagers (13 to 18 years old)
- Bearded or tall men
- Men with deep voices
- People wearing flowy dresses, bathrobes, or overalls
- People wearing baseball caps, helmets, or sunglasses
- People in rain or winter gear (rubber boots, umbrella, and jacket with hood up)
- People wearing costumes, masks, or wigs
- People carrying grocery bags or cardboard boxes
- People with canes, hiking poles, or walkers
- People lying down
- People that limp or shuffle
- People that are jogging or running
OBJECTS WITH WHEELS
If your puppy barks at or chases objects with wheels, he might be trying to play. He has not figured out that it is inappropriate to try to play with cars or bicycles. Introduce your puppy to these wheeled objects in your home, so he realizes they are nothing unusual.
- Baby or pet strollers
- Home care beds
- Overbed tables
- Mail Trucks
- School Buses
When your puppy sees you with a man-made object, he may aggressively chew, excessively bark, or heavily pant. He might also display “whale eye”, a sidelong glance where you can see the whites of his eyes. Teach your puppy that there is nothing to be afraid of by walking around your house with:
- Brooms, mops, rakes, and shovels
- Open or closed umbrellas
- Plastic bags
- Blanket and rugs being shaken out
- Garbage cans
- Reflective objects, such as sidewalk signs and traffic cones
- Pots and pans
According to Scientific Reports, 23.5 percent of dogs are highly fearful of various surfaces and heights. Django, for instance, still walks around drains and subway grates. Let your puppy walk on, under, and around these natural and man-made surfaces.
- Bubble wrap
- Wax paper
- Plastic wrap
- Aluminum foil
- Copy, fine art, or tissue paper
- Slippery floors, such as hardwood, linoleum, or marble
- Metal baking trays, which are like veterinary hospital scales
- Wooden, metal, or concrete stairs
- Dog crate or playpen, which is similar to drain and subway grates
- Dirt, grass, or Astroturf
If your puppy does not want to walk on an unstable surface, place treats on it. He should be able to reach one or two while standing beside it. Then he should voluntarily step on it to reach the other treats. Stay with your puppy in case he loses his balance. Here are common unstable surfaces you can introduce him to.
- Mud and sand
- A water slide
- A trampoline
- A kiddy pool filled with plastic balls
- Air mattresses
- Bean bag chairs
- Exercise balls
- Balance boards
- A pile of blankets or towels
- A cookie tray on top of a food bowl
- A wooden board on top of a pool noodle
Nearly 40 percent of dogs have noise anxiety, according to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. Dogs with high noise sensitivity are twice as likely to be afraid of strangers and new situations.
Thunder and fireworks are the most common causes of noise anxiety, but your puppy can develop a fear of any sound: the rustling of a plastic store bag, the jingle of car keys, or the squeaking of a door hinge. For instance, Django absolutely hates the vacuum. While many dogs dislike subway noise, he was riding it with me from an early age, so he has never had any issues with it.
Harmon recommends playing YouTube videos or noise desensitization CDs of stressful sounds at very low volumes. She suggests using your home stereo or wireless Bluetooth speakers to make sure that scary sounds come from unexpected locations during nap time or meals. Every time your puppy notices a stressful sound and then looks at you, give him a high-value treat or bring out a special plush, interactive, or tough dog toy.
Here are other common noises that may frighten him:
- Construction noises
- Ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars
- Lawn care equipment, such as lawnmowers, snowblowers, and hedge trimmers
- Air conditioners or furnaces
- Celebrations, such as parties or family gatherings
- Beeping noises from electronics, such as doorbells, smoke alarms, or kitchen timers
- Crying babies
- Kids playing
- Car traffic
- Low-flying airplanes
NOISES OF OTHER ANIMALS
Whether you live in the concrete jungle or homestead in the backwoods, you may want to introduce your dog to the sound of these barnyard animals and common household pets.
- Rodents (e.g., mice, hamsters, chinchilla, and guinea pigs)
- Domesticated birds (e.g., cockatiels, finches, ring-necked doves)
- Chickens and Roosters
- Ducks and geese
- Livestock, such as cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, horses, and donkeys
Your puppy’s sense of smell is at least 10,000 times better than yours. He also has 60 times more olfactory receptors in his nose. Use these indoor scent exercises to help him “see” the world with his nose.
- Dilute a dog-friendly essential oil in water, and then spray it on a rag or blanket.
- Scatter organic, all-natural, or grain-free dog kibble in your yard to encourage sniffing.
- Sprinkle a yoga mat or towel with tiny, high-value dog treats and roll it up. Have your dog unroll it to find the treats.
- Play a scent game with your dog. Place dehydrated cod skins (Django’s personal favorite) or 100 percent organic beef sticks in an empty muffin tin. Then cover each hole with a tennis ball. Give the “puzzle” to your puppy and let him remove the balls to find the hidden treats.
- Introduce your puppy to the smell of other animals. Gently wipe other household pets with a cloth or cotton ball. Then let him smell it.
- Set up an indoor scavenger hunt by hiding 1-ounce cups of dog-friendly peanut butter, spray cheese, or cream cheese. Then help your puppy sniff them out.
If you handle your puppy from an early age, he will accept different parts of his body being touched. This will make trips to your veterinarian or groomer a lot easier. You should practice:
- Picking up your puppy
- Gently lifting his ears, paws, or tail
- Touching his tummy
- Looking at his mouth and gums
- Extending each of his legs
- Trimming his nails
- Lifting his skin and gently poking (as if vaccinating)
- Putting on a dog hoodie or dog coat
- Touching and squeezing his nose
- Holding him in your lap
- Hugging your puppy
- Holding him back by the harness or collar
- Drying him with a towel
- Blow drying him
SCORE YOUR DOG’S SOCIAL SKILLS
Score each item, every time your dog encounters it, from 1 to 3:
1: Needs serious work. Your puppy runs away, hides, growls, lunges, or struggles (if you are handling him). He may not eat food.
2: Re-visit with more distance. Your puppy jumps, barks, pulls, or freezes. He may also act sleepy when he should not be tired. You may be able to refocus his attention with treats.
3: Going well. Your pup is relaxed and calm. He playfully engages with a person, animal, or object without food.
If your puppy reacts poorly to a stimulus, back up to a distance where he can watch it without feeling threatened. Reward him with praise and treats when he looks at you or takes a step toward it. If he is still anxious or fearful, remove him from the situation. Use a calm tone of voice. Then give him 24 to 72 hours to relax before you introduce him to a smaller or slower-moving stimulus. For example, if he does not respond well to a toddler, consider introducing him to a crawling baby.
BEFORE YOU GO
If you have any questions about socializing your dog at home or you want to share one of your own puppy experiences, please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!
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