It is not an easy time for any dog owner (well, anyone at all); but the ones who are facing the most challenges definitely are new puppy owners.
It’s already quite the task to socialize a puppy in a regular world. You need to make sure that he gets to know and learns to be comfortable with so many things: people, other dogs, all kinds of noises, surfaces … now how on earth do you do this while being restricted to your home?
It’s quite a challenge, and I have spent the past weeks thinking a lot about how puppy owners can utilize the limited options available currently, and maybe even turn them into an advantage.
While we cannot perfectly reproduce the exposure our young puppies would have in normal times, here are 100 ideas to help you maximize the amount of input he gets while at home.
Because the truth is, your house is probably full if items perfect for exposing and socializing your puppy, even during these unusual times.
Patience and Positivity
Any of the following ideas should be presented to the puppy in a calm and positive setting.
This is not about flooding your puppy with sensations that scare him.
Instead, you want to keep all socialization session happy and no big deal. If your puppy appears scared and taken aback, you need to reduce the intensity of the stimulus.
Of course, there should be plenty of treats involved in all these activities! Your puppy needs to eat every day anyway, so why not use the food to help him see that the whole world is a playground, and there is nothing to be afraid of 🙂
Surfaces, All The Surfaces
Surface insecurities can be a hallmark of poorly socialized puppies. If young puppies are not introduced to a variety of different textures under their feet, they can become quite apprehensive towards any that they do not know.
I have seen so many young dogs in my time as a dog trainer that refused to walk on novel surfaces that they had not gotten to know during puppyhood – from the dogs that would not put a foot on stairs to the dogs that didn’t like slippery tile floors.
Here are some ideas for exposing your puppy to surfaces – simply spread them out on your living room floor and have your puppy walk across, with many treats as encouragement:
- Parchment paper
- Aluminum foil
- Pots and pans
- (For brave puppies:) Bubble wrap
- Styrofoam (make sure your puppy does not chew it)
- Beach towels
- Crumbled up newspaper
- A plastic box with a bit of water
You will not be able to expose your puppy to a variety of people right now, but you can still expose him to different looks! You will be surprised at how he might be unsure when he sees you in an unusual outfit for the first time. Try on a variety of clothes you might not regularly wear inside, such as:
- Gloves or mittens
- Baseball hats
- (If you have) any kind of helmet, such as bike or ski helmets
- Down jackets
- Heavy boots
- Rain ponchos (those are also great for the crinkly sounds)
- Flowing dresses or bathrobes
The first time any puppy sees persons with unusual “equipment” – such as a wheelchair or a suitcase – he can be pretty sketched out. Teach him that there is nothing to be afraid of, by walking around your house with:
- Suitcases (both carrying and rolling them)
- Plastic bags
- Umbrellas (both opened and closed)
- A stick you are using as a cane
- Your bicycle (pushing it)
- A wagon
- A broom
- A vacuum cleaner
Noises Of Everyday Life
Your life is very quiet right now, but you still want your puppy to get used to all kinds of sounds and noises. The internet offers unlimited possibilities for playing any sounds you can think of for your puppy at home. Just go to Google or YouTube and put together your puppy’s daily playlist.
Make sure to include some that are usually part of life but currently not happening, such as:
- Children playing
- Babies crying
- Heavy Rain
Noises Of Other Animals
Especially if your puppy is an only dog, you want him to get used to the fact that there are other dogs and animals out there, and that they are – no danger whatsoever. Play sounds of other dogs and animals for him. Include for example:
- Large dogs barking
- Small dogs barking
- Dogs howling
Noises In Your House
But even just around the house you will have plenty of different machines that make all kinds of noises already. Now is the time to dig them all out and introduce your puppy to them. How about starting up a:
- Sewing machine
- Lawn mover
- Leaf blower
- Power washer
- Electric saw
- Carpet cleaner
- Dremel (which you can also use to trim your puppy’s nails!)
- Cordless vacuum cleaner
Many puppies don’t like ground that is moving underneath their feet. While they might encounter this more often when being allowed to go places, our floors at home tend to be pretty stable. Here are some easy ideas for unstable surfaces you can set up to teach your puppy that this is nothing to be afraid of (be sure to keep these safe and always be there to help your puppy if he loses his balance):
- Pillows (these are the easiest – start out with them!)
- Big and fluffy dog beds
- Air mattress
- Sleeping pad
- Balance discs
- Pile of blankets
- Gymnastic ball
- Cookie sheet on top of food bowl
- A wooden board on top of a pool noodle (a mini teeter – be very careful with this)
- Skateboard (for expert puppies!)
Get your puppy used to being handled by you in many ways, and being happy and relaxed during it. This will be useful for your home routine as well as future vet and grooming appointments.
You can practice:
- Touching his feet
- Touching his ears
- Touching his tummy
- Touching his tail
- Having his nails trimmed
- Putting his collar on and taking it off
- Putting his harness on and taking it off
- Putting on dog coats (if you intend to use them)
- Giving him a bath
- Drying him with a towel
- Blow-drying him
- Brushing him with different brushes
- Having him being weighed on scales (if he is small enough)
- Touching the pads on the underside of his paws
- Looking at his teeth
- Gently moving his legs
Practice your puppy’s skills such as leash walking and sitting when asked in many different situations to help him generalize what he has learned, and give him some thinking challenges
- Loose leash walking up and down stairs
- Sitting in the bathtub
- Loose leash walking in a figure 8 around chairs
- Finding a treat hidden underneath a plastic cup
- Sits and downs on a yoga mat
- Balancing on a wooden board
- Loose leash walking while you are skipping on one leg
- Finding treats you hid in a rolled up towel
- Sits on a new surface outside – for example on wet grass after it rained
- Finding treats you tossed in a pile of crumbled newspaper
And finally, some miscellaneous ideas for your puppy home-socializing program:
- Walk your puppy on one side and drag your outdoor trash can on the other. Many puppies are unsure about the sound it makes, so best to get them used to it right away
- Even if you are not driving anywhere, you can still put your puppy in the car and turn on the engine every day. It will teach him that car rides are just a part of everyday life.
- “Accidentally” drop items such as spoons, your wallet or shoes in your puppy’s presence (of course not on him!). It will help him learn to not startle at sudden noises, as they seem to just be happening all the time, and are no big deal.
- Make sure your puppy spend some time by himself every day. If he can now be with you 24/7, but in a couple weeks or months you go back to work, he will be really shaken and might develop severe separation anxiety. Have him take a nap in a separate room every day.
Still bored? Join our email list for daily training tips straight to your inbox – guaranteed to keep your puppy happy and busy:
And now, happy training!