Written by Laure-Anne Visele
27 March 2020
We dog trainers worry about a generation of corona puppies. In these times of social distancing, how on earth do you socialise your puppy?
The socialisation period
When it comes to socialisating your puppy, you only have a limited time window (roughly 7 weeks to 3 months old). You could do it later, but it is much more laborious and, depending on your pup’s temperament, downright impossible. This leads to a pup who is scared of everything he is not familiar with: that is a lot when your pup was cooped up for weeks.
Why is this period ideal? Because, during that period:
- First impressions last
- The pup is more curious than scared
The goal of socialisation is to teach the pup who is a social partner (e.g. children, cats, and strangers, and not just those in your immediate family) and how to behave (and feel!) in the presence of these social partners:
- Appropriate social behaviour: Do not get pushy, do not try to breed with them or hunt them, do play gently, etc.
- Appropriate emotional response: Do not get scared or over-excited or tetchy.
How do you normally socialise?
Ideally, you do it:
- Often! Just meeting one child won’t do the trick.
- Positively: First impressions count, make sure it’s a good impression!
- Calmly: No pressure, over-excitement, fear.
- In the right doses: Don’t overwhelm the dog. Introduce him in gentle doses. No, a busy market day is not a great idea.
- Freely: The pup is allowed to leave the interaction as he wishes.
and (and here’s the rub in corona times)…
- Physical contact is required! Just showing your puppy distant dogs and kids from the living room window won’t do the trick. He needs to physically interact with them to practice social behaviour.
Why is physical contact an issue with corona? Dogs can’t be infected, right?
The dogs can’t be infected but their fur can temporarily be contaminated by physical contact by a person carrying the virus. As these people can already pass the virus without showing symptoms, it’s not like you have a big red flag over the head of potential at-risk people. For all you know, you are a carrier and you are touching your dog all day long.
And what happens when someone outside of your immediate quarantine circle touches your dog? The same as what would happen if they touched a surface you’re just touched. It is unclear how long the virus could survive in a dog’s fur in sufficient quantities to infect someone on contact. It could be five minutes or considerably longer. This is what we know so far:
- Cardboard = about 3 days
- Plastic or other smooth surface like stainless steel: 5-9 days
This means that these interactions aren’t a such great plan at the moment:
- Extended close dog-dog contact play
- Letting others pet your dog
So how do you go on with socialisation to people right now?
Like everything during the corona crisis, the logistics have become considerably harder, but perhaps not impossible. You would need:
- The person to pet your dog to wash / disinfect their hands beforehand, or even better: wear gloves. And of course, keep their face away from your dog.
- To keep a distance of at least 1.5 meter between you and that person.
You might be wondering whether your pup wouldn’t then exclusively trust people with gloves, and still need to be socialised to people without gloves. The chance is unlikely, as he has plenty of positive experiences with gloveless hands in your home (from his human family). If you want to play it safe, then try to have as many petting encounters without gloves (where you can ascertain that the person has thoroughly washed their hands beforehand and immediately does so afterwards).
Yes, you will feel like a crazy maniac standing handing gloves to people on the street, or insisting they wash their hands, but it’s worth it.
And remember! Socialisation is meant to be positive, so only let your dog be petted by someone if your pup wants to be petted and enjoys the encounter.
So how do you go on with socialisation to other dogs right now?
- If your dog is acquainted to taking regular baths, you could still let him play with other dogs, and then, if they have been in extensive contact with them, thoroughly wash him afterwards. Be sure to work up a good lather and rinse well. Luckily, the novel corona virus isn’t very tough against household soap.
- And of course keep your distances to the other dog’s owners.
As socialisation encounters have to happen with as many people and as many dogs as possible (not just a couple) to be effective, you’ll have your hands full getting this organised. But hey, it is worth it so you do not end up with a corona pup. And, think about it: have you ever had so much time?
- This is a suggested checklist of socialisation encounters.
- You can read more about management your dog during corona times here.
- This is our on-line puppy class, if you’d like to follow structured classes to stay on top of your pup’s socialisation and obedience schedule.
- Killion-Linquist, Jane – 19 March 2020: Socializing puppies during the corona pandemic