Supporting puppies as lockdown eases

As we resume a new normal, how can we help those puppies who have missed puppy socialisation due to the pandemic and lockdown restrictions?

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How do we support puppies that have missed puppy socialisation as lockdown eases?

As we resume a new normal, how can we help those puppies who have missed puppy socialisation due to the pandemic and lockdown restrictions? 

If like myself you have bought a puppy during the pandemic and they have missed their early socialisation window at the age of 3-4 months hope is not lost.  

I have created this article to give everyone who has a puppy or indeed a timid older dog the advice and support needed to help their dog overcome any socialisation issues or fears. 

In a normal situation, early life socialisation of puppies is key, this generally starts before they are 16 weeks old and once they have had their injections. It is very important for a dog’s wellbeing and development and, if you’ve missed their critical early socialisation window, you’re definitely starting behind the proverbial normal. 

However, all is not lost and I have listed below some helpful tips and information to help you.  

Setting yourself real expectations - dont set the bar too high!

Although your puppy may be confident around his own home, and in his own surrounding or indeed with the dogs also living in your home, prepare yourself for the fact this will not be mirrored in the outside world. 

Each puppy or dog is very different and each will take differing times to become comfortable and confident. For certain you will not have a puppy that will be as comfortable around and accepting of all the people, animals, sights, sounds, and other things that they’re likely to encounter in their everyday life and environment as they would have been with proper early socialisation. 

However, that’s ok as a puppy or a dog only needs to be comfortable enough with enough things to feel safe, secure, and happy in their new world to start with a little and often approach to the new outdoors life you will find your puppy or your dog becoming more equipped and confident to deal with what lies ahead.  

The key with this is time and patience, this won’t happen overnight, but praise, rewards and encouragement and a good experience will be sure to help your puppy or your dog feel like a social butterfly. 

Over time they will have the confidence and become a happy and functional dog.  In some cases, if a bad experience during this learning period does occur – and you have a dog that is clearly distressed and unable to cope I would recommend you seek expert training and support guidance immediately. 

Take small steps each day, and don’t overwhelm your puppy or your dog with too much going on to start with, introduce something new one at a time, but try and do something every day with your dog to help them get used to their new environment.  For example, Jive joined me in November and he has had very little social interaction – he has been walked in numerous different places each day but never really bumped into other dogs just because as a family we have chosen to isolate as much as we can.  

Therefore, as we start to come out of the lockdown situation I have been walking Jive along with his pack mates around the local community, taking him to different areas and walks where I know more is happening and ongoing.  I’ve taken him on his own for walks and if he has coped well I have introduced something new each day.  If something hasn’t gone to plan and he has been fearful I’ve gently encouraged and rewarded him with play and praise.  Jive is a very very confident puppy but I have seen him shy away, as we have approached other dogs off the lead.  

What has worked for Jive and this may not suit all other dogs and owners, is that I have encouraged off the lead fun where safe and possible.  So that if Jive does see another dog he is off the lead he doesn’t feel constraint and can back off if he needs to – again as an experienced dog owner I am able to judge the other dog and see if they are friendly and of course would only do this in a safe environment where if he does run in fear he can’t run into any danger or out of sight.  

We have been doing this more so in the last couple of weeks and have found that he is now starting to build the confidence to approach the other dog quite confidently and even initiate play and have a run with other dogs.  He is now gaining confidence to be able to approach dogs who are in packs of 2 or 3 on his own and in a friendly and confident manner along with approaching people and not being scared in any way. 

One thing I have been very mindful of is not to make the mistake of trying to get Jive comfortable with the whole wide world or “all the things” at once. Think baby steps and build upon successive wins.

Have a little patience

When it comes to trying to help a previously under- or unsocialized puppy or dog, having patience is key.  Really focus and understand what your puppies comfort level is and proceed at a pace that works for them. 

Don’t put any timeline on your puppy’s progress and don’t put too much pressure on your puppy or yourself. With the right guidance and plenty of patience and understanding, your puppy will get there.

Make it rewarding and fun!

Encouragement is key and uses what your puppy really loves to give a positive vibe to the learning experience. Is your dog food motivated? Or perhaps your dog is more motivated by play? In which case perhaps rewarding progress with a treat or a nice game of fetch will help them find joy and associate something great with expanding their horizons.  It’s about rewarding them for making progress and overcoming their fears. Just be sure that, whatever rewards and reinforcers you use, that they’re not so distracting as to take their mind completely off their learnings and surroundings – as they do need to be aware of their surroundings, to some degree, to become more comfortable with them.

You will have setbacks...

There will be setbacks in your puppy’s progress. That’s fine, and don’t get frustrated.  Try re-evaluating your approach or indeed increase the value of the rewards you’re providing. As highlighted above you may also like to consider professional support should it become too overwhelming, but don’t forget this is all for long term gain. You will encounter short term setbacks and not every approach is going to be the right one – but one key element is to remain calm and keep the approach of little and often. Some short-term setbacks shouldn’t derail your long-term goals.

Every breed of dog is different

Each breed of dog is different, and each puppy will have been brought up differently when still with their mum, therefore each puppy will appreciate differing methods and time. 

As mentioned above we have started to take Jive on more adventurous walks where we will meet other dogs and allow him to socialise in a safe environment – we have walked past new sights and sounds and animals and he has coped very well as we have introduced new things little and often – if you are like me and have a pack of dogs, maybe only let your puppy off the lead with one of the others or indeed on his own to start with – Whippets like to run, they are sighthounds and I know if one of my adults runs so will the puppy and he may find himself running out of sign and becoming overwhelmed finding himself on his own, so we have tried to keep the ‘carnage’ to a minimum to start with and build up to where Jive feels he has the confidence and is trained sufficiently to recall as well as the others.

Try some new and exciting walks each day

With the lighter days and nights approaching we are out walking more often throughout the day and taking Jive on walks on his own at times throughout the day – just small walks as he is still young.  This is giving him the confidence to become confident on his own.  If like Jive he is used to his pack mates being with him, that alone time is a great way to not only allow your puppy to build confidence but also allows someone on one time to practice recall and other training initiatives. 

As we come out of the pandemic and lockdown, we will be delivering articles and blogs along with expert advice and training through our events programme.  No one needs to feel alone as they enter their puppy in a non-lockdown world and K9 Nation is here to support. 

The best way to stay up-to-date is to download the K9 Nation app! Click the buttons below to download the app on your device.

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