COVID-19 has changed the social landscape for nearly everyone. With people staying at home more, many have made the decision to get a new dog. But now you may be looking for ways to socialize your new dog during social distancing. Socializing a dog during a time of social distancing can be challenging. Here are some suggestions to make the transition easier.
Hire a Pet Sitter or Dog Walker
Hire a pet sitter or a dog walker who will come to your home on a regular schedule to take the dog out for exercise, play, and stimulation. This can help your dog learn to get familiar with new people, and explore new environments. Your dog will get used to someone coming to your home. Your dog walker can even do simple activities like sitting outside with your dog so they can experience the usual neighborhood happenings. Some dog walkers are available to take your dog to a dog park, or just a regular park where they can be exposed to children, other new dogs, and learn to handle “normal” unfamiliar situations.
Take Your Dog For A Drive
In fact, just taking your dog for a drive can help to socialize them. Regular drives will ease any travel anxiety they may have, and will also allow your dog to observe new activities. Try parking in a parking lot, and stay a distance away from a store. They can watch unfamiliar people coming and going, listen to new noises, and experience new smells. When they notice things without reacting negatively, reward them with praise, pets, or a treat.
Provide New Experiences
Expose them to situations where people, vehicles, or other dogs may suddenly appear, such as in a neighborhood or on a walk. Large trucks may drive past, strange dogs may bark, or unfamiliar people may come from around a corner. All of these things can help to teach your dog that being startled does not equal a fight-or-flight reaction. You can comfort them when these things happen when an “It’s OK!” and small pat on the head to help teach them how to calm down quickly. Just be aware that you don’t over coddle them, or they will learn to take the opportunity to get extra attention from mom or dad.
If something does startle them, do not force them to interact, but give them enough distance to back away and observe the event while you briefly comfort them. That positive reinforcement will teach them that they can watch things happen without feeling threatened by it. If your dog moves towards an unfamiliar sight (safely) reward them even more with extra pets, an excited voice, or a treat.
“Socializing” your dog isn’t just about teaching them to interact with others. It can also be about teaching them to generally tolerate everyday occurrences like new sights, smells, sounds, and experiences. You can do this by performing activities with them inside like providing different play toys with different textures like cardboard boxes or plastic water bottles (supervised). You can play different sounds for them on a stereo like city traffic, park sounds, or thunderstorms. Even just giving your dog a bath can help them learn that just because something is new to them, does not mean that it will be a negative experience.
Hire a Virtual Dog Trainer
Many dog trainers are now providing virtual training sessions where they can work with you and your dog over video, and teach you how to better communicate with your new dog, and help to teach them. They may even be able to provide additional suggestions for socializing your dog in a world where socializing is being discouraged.
Do Not Avoid Socializing Your New Dog
The worst thing that you could do, is avoid socializing your dog altogether. This will teach your dog that the only safe place is in your home with the people they see everyday. They may grow to be afraid of new people, other dogs, sudden events, traveling, and a wide variety of other experiences that will occur throughout their lifetime.
If you’re too busy to help your new dog become acclimated with life in your home, reach out and schedule your free consultation. We can come to your home, answer all your questions, and create a custom care plan that will address the socialization needs of your dog, and help them to live a longer, healthier, and happier life.