Puppy Development during COVID-19

Are you wondering how to safely socialise your new puppy during the coronavirus lockdown? We’ve put together a few tips for all new puppy parents.

As we all do our best to stay safe and comply with the government’s lockdown restrictions, puppies are likely to have their primary vaccination course later than usual. This delay means they’ll need to wait a bit longer before they can safely go out and explore the world. The good news is there are many ways you can help your puppy get used to new experiences without even leaving your house!

Normal puppy development

Puppies are the most receptive to new experiences between 3 and 18 weeks of age. During this time their brains effectively process any new sounds, smells and situations they encounter. The memories of these experiences, good or bad, are stored away for future reference. As puppies mature, they rely on these memories to help them ‘risk-assess’ new situations so they can react accordingly. Adult dogs, who lack a memory bank of positive experiences, are more likely to react inappropriately in a new situation by showing nervous or aggressive behaviour.

Separation and bonding

One positive aspect of lockdown is the extra time available to get to know and bond with your puppy. It’s extremely rewarding to watch their personality emerge. However, spending so much time with your puppy might make it harder for them to adjust to being alone when normal life resumes. If puppies are fearful of being alone, they could later develop separation anxiety. You could try the following to help your puppy adjust:

  • Spend increasingly longer periods of time in different rooms so your puppy learns to feel safe alone and knows you’ll always return
  • Encourage independence- as your puppy gains in confidence, allow them to explore areas of the home alone, such as an enclosed garden
  • Provide interactive, interesting toys for your puppy to play with while you’re apart

Noise

  • Gradually introduce your puppy to different noises around the house so they begin to accept, and not be scared of, a range of sounds. Make the experience positive for your puppy by rewarding them with a small treat each time you introduce a new noise. You could try dropping items, banging doors, singing and shouting.
  • Sitting with your puppy near an open window or door is a good way to introduce them to traffic noise.
  • If your puppy is happy to be carried, you could both enjoy short walks together (while observing social distancing measures!)


Dress-up

What better time to raid the dressing up box and try a new look? No one will see you and it will get your puppy used to the different things people wear, such as hats, sunglasses and veils. Allow your puppy to approach you in their own time and reward them when they do.

Handling and grooming

It’s a great idea to help your puppy get used to being handled at a young age. Introduce a gentle grooming brush and spend a few minutes each day examining your puppy’s mouth, ears and paws.

Play

Puppies learn a lot about social interactions through play. Short periods of energetic play are a good way for puppies to learn the basics such as ‘fetch’ and ‘hide and seek’. You could introduce your puppy to walking on a lead and practise in the garden in preparation for when you can venture further afield.

Children

If your puppy lives with children, this is a great opportunity for everyone to be involved in your pup’s socialisation and training. It’s helpful to teach children how to recognise when your puppy is tired. Tired puppies can become grumpy; they need a safe, quiet, space for uninterrupted rest.

Cars

Although it’s important to get puppies used to going out in the car at an early age, it isn’t possible to do this under the current circumstances and restrictions. If you have a travel crate in the boot now’s a good time to introduce them to it. You could sit the puppy in the crate in your car whilst stationary on your drive or outside your house, to get them used to being in the car. Alternatively, you could bring the crate indoors so that the puppy could get used to it by using it as their den. Gradually spend longer periods of time with your puppy in the car and give plenty of praise and treats each time. Feeding meals in the car is a good way for your puppy to develop a positive association with your car.