Socializing In A Time Of Social Distancing
THE COVID-19 CRISIS
The COVID-19 Crisis has turned our lives upside down, and the effects of the pandemic are reaching our pets. Changes ranging from their veterinary care (and our new drive-in services), to their routines, to the way they get exercise with while avoiding parks and public spaces, and to their humans being home more often than they’re used to can all have big impacts on pets.
While most adult pets are going to handle these developments with as much grace as they can, there is a growing concern in the veterinary and behavioral communities that while we humans are social distancing, our dogs (especially young dogs and puppies) are also missing out on crucial socialization and confidence-building exercises. The biggest concerns in discussion right now are the development of dog aggression, fearfulness, and separation anxiety.
PUPPIES DURING QUARANTINE
A quarantine puppy can be a great addition to your family during this stressful time. They can provide a much-needed distraction, and with more time on your hands than usual, you can be more available to invest the time and effort into the training and bonding that your new addition needs.
Keeping that in mind that dogs have a very important socialization window, when they are aged 4-14 weeks old. This is a critical time to introduce your puppy to positive experiences with a range of different environmental events. We want to be able to set our pets up for success, once we can move on from current restrictions, so introducing them to these things as early as possible is imperative.
These important experiences and environmental events include:
- New Noises: Construction, rain, fireworks, sirens, alarms, car engines
- Different People: Kids, people in hats, costumes, wheelchairs, walkers, bicyclists
- Other Animals: House cats, birds, other dogs
- Physical Manipulation: Toenail trims, ear cleaning, teeth brushing
- Abstract Ideas: Being alone, patio dining, new people entering the home
Here are some tips on addressing those experiences and events:
- New Noises: Utilize YouTube videos for introducing novel noises. Start with the videos on at a low volume, reward a non-reaction, and then slowly and over time, increase the volume. Return to a lower volume if your puppy begins reacting negatively.
- Different People: Play dress up! Wear hats, costume wings, wigs. Let your puppy investigate the items and reward them when they interact positively with you and/or the items.
- Other Animals: Please keep the safety of all animals in mind during an introduction. Introduce animals slowly. Keep pets, especially cats, separate for a short time and introduce them by smell first. Feed pets separately to avoid any resource guarding behavior. Slowly, over time and with diligent monitoring, allow pets to spend more time together if they are getting along. Continue reading for information about puppy socialization classes.
- Physical Manipulation: Practice touching your puppy! Play with their toes, ears, teeth, and tail. Give them a gentle massage all over. Let them lick peanut butter off a toy while you practice nail trims.
- Abstract Ideas: Practice crate training and leaving your puppy alone for small increments of time. Continue reading for a detailed guide on practicing these ideas.
Puppy socialization classes are still running! These are super important for your puppy’s development. Puppy specific classes usually only require the first distemper vaccine, which most puppies will have received as early as 6 weeks of age. The other puppies will be of similar vaccine status, so play is safe.
Most of the places below are still offering puppy socialization and are manned by certified trainers and behaviorists to make sure your puppy develops good dog-to-dog communication skills:
- Ahimsa Dog Training - Puppy Camp
- Seattle Puppyworks - Puppy Daycare
- Dog’s Day Out - Puppy Drop-off Daycare
Another problem to address early on is separation anxiety. While we are currently able to spend more time with our pets, this unfortunately can backfire later. Pets who have grown used to us being with them most of the time can become stressed when they find themselves alone. We can prevent this by building confidence early. (Note that some breeds are more inclined to separation anxiety than others. Research breeds carefully before choosing a new puppy.)
Crate training can be a useful tool for this. When we crate train, we are building a safe space for our dogs that they can use to get away from stressors. Make sure they have an appropriately sized kennel, that is kept covered, and has some special long-lasting treats that are ONLY given inside the kennel – such as frozen peanut-butter-filled Kong, or other puzzle toys.
It is important to also establish what behavior gets them out of the crate. If you let them out because they are howling/barking/screaming/digging, they learn that is the behavior that gets them out, causing them to continue those undesirable habits. Waiting for your dog to become calm and quiet while in the crate is important. It is normal to see an escalation in the undesirable behavior before they cease the behavior completely.
Another way to build your dog’s confidence when left alone is to practice placing them in a puppy-proof room and stepping outside of your home. When starting out, going on a walk or to the grocery store can be effective in getting them used to being alone for short amounts of time. It is important to vary both the amount of time you are gone, and the times of day you go. Try to not build a routine around leaving. Deviate from your normal habits by putting on your jacket and grabbing your keys, and then returning to your sofa to relax or to do something else. This will help your pet to not associate your jacket or keys with you leaving and will limit household stressors for your pet.
Some key points for building your pup’s confidence with being alone are:
- Crate train. Give them delicious treats that only happen in the crate.
- Practice alone time! Vary intervals and lengths of time.
- Give them something to do that is self-entertaining such as a puzzle toy.
- Take them to drop-off puppy socialization classes.
- Have different family members within your household spend alternating times as the primary care giver.
- As hard as it is to look away from their cute faces, be sure to practice not giving them 100% of your attention.
- Tire them out! A well-exercised dog is a well-behaved dog. Mental and physical exercise are important for development.
Addressing these issues early and with an educated approach can help curtail potential future problems. Please know that there is a whole community here at Lien Animal Clinic to help support you and your new family members.
Remember, it is still better to be introduced positively to something at a later date, than to have a negative experience early on.
Below are some great resources for socializing, crate training, and preventative measures for separation anxiety: