Everyone who has a Let’s Talk Yorkie puppy has heard me say that the most important thing to do for your puppy is to expose them to as many people, places things, sights, sounds and smells as possible at a young age so your puppy grows up to be a happy and confident adult.
Notice I said EXPOSE, not socialize. Expose means just what it says – that your pup should be exposed to a variety of novel things and experiences in a positive way. This does not mean that every stranger you meet on the street should interact with your puppy (which is a good thing right now in the age of social distancing).
Think of it from your dog’s point of view – can you imagine how you’d feel if every person you encountered reached out and touched you? I’d lose my mind!!! and many dogs react the way I would. Allowing this to happen can cause the exact opposite response of what you were trying for – shyness and aggression.
What you do want to happen is that you walk down the street with your pup and pass someone or something they’ve never seen before. Their first reaction may be fear but because you either don’t react or react positively they learn not to be afraid. Exposures like this help your puppy to get used to and form pleasant associations with the things that will be part of their environments and their lives.
I know it’s not easy for your puppy to have positive exposures during a pandemic but with a little creativity, it can be done. Here’s how …
Just because we’re stuck inside doesn’t mean you can’t teach your puppy to wear and harness and walk on a leash. You absolutely can and should do it … even if the only place you walk your pup right now is back and forth from the sofa to the refrigerator.
Take your puppy on walks in your neighborhood once they’ve had the necessary immunizations. Allowing them to interact with the world outside of your home is great for their mental health and the exercise will tire them out so you can get some work done. Just be sure to wash their paws when you get home.
Go on an occasional family walk without your puppy to get them used to being home alone which will help prevent separation anxiety when you start moving around in the world again and can’t always take your pup with you.
One of the easiest things you can do is to sit outside on your porch with your pup and watch the world go by. Taking a puppy pen outside lets your pup explore safely while you relax or chat with your neighbors (from a safe distance of course). Vary where you put the pen. Put it on grass one time and the driveway the next, so your puppy gets used to being on a variety of surfaces.
When things open up, one of the first new experiences your pup will probably have is going to the groomer. To help make sure this goes well you will want to brush and comb your puppy as often as possible (daily is ideal) being sure that you brush through their hair all the way to the skin. This will prevent your puppy from becoming matted and having to be shaved which can be traumatic for some dogs. Brushing also gets them used to being handled which will help make trips to the vet less stressful in the future too.
Speaking of going places, it’s really important to get puppies used to riding in the car at a young age so every once in a while you should go for a ride with your puppy. You don’t have to get out of the car if you’re not comfortable doing so but the change of scenery will do you both good.
And while you’re out you can park somewhere that people are still going to. The parking lot of the local grocery store is one example of a place where your pup can see new people and things and hear new sounds while staying safely in the car with you.
Many people who live in cities are in quarantine in their second homes in the country. While this is great and it gives everyone more space, it’s important to prepare your puppy for their big move back to the city. One way to make sure they’ll transition easily is to acclimate your pup to the sounds they’ll hear when they get there using a city sounds cd. Start by playing it at a very low volume for short periods of time and gradually increase both as your pup gets more comfortable.
Use what you have. Take a look in your garage and I’m sure you’ll find a bike, skateboard, shovel, golf clubs, a ladder, and more. Let your pup explore the objects and once they’re comfortable with it while it’s still, use the object. Open the ladder and let your pup walk under it or let them see you using a shovel for example.
I highly recommend that all of my pups go to puppy training classes and I still recommend that you sign up for one as soon as they start being able to have them again. Until then, many trainers are doing virtual classes, one-on-one virtual training sessions, and holding webinars for new puppy parents which means that no matter where you live you can now work with some of the best trainers there are.
There’s no question that COVID 19 is making it more challenging to give our puppies what they need to grow up to be emotionally healthy adults but with the suggestions I’ve given you and a little ingenuity it can be done. Please tell me what worked for you, what didn’t work, and any other ideas you have in the comments.