Many a Victorian family has adopted a precious puppy in 2020 in the hopes that the pitter patter of four tiny feet will counteract the Covid-induced slump of isolation. Others are looking to expand their family over the Christmas season, with a puppy a favourite addition at this time of year for grown-ups and kids alike.
But socialising your new addition when life has been anything but social has proven to be a difficult task for many. Even as restrictions ease, the uncertainty of future lockdowns and the introduction of social distancing etiquette leaves us scratching our heads on how to help Fido play fetch with his friends.
Your dog needs to become familiar with an array of new people, places and pals in order to become comfortable with new experiences. We generally say that prior to the 4-month mark, puppies should be exposed to all sorts of sounds and situations so that they can learn to cope with change, and avoid becoming anxious, aggressive or even anti-social as an adult. Much like we might teach our children to say thank you while out shopping, or to take turns at the playground, your dog has lots of learning to do whilst ‘on the job’, like learning how to play well with other dogs, and you really cannot simulate those experiences from within your home.
So, let’s get to the bottom of how you can teach your new pup his manners outdoors without putting your family at risk ~
Puppy pre-school and dog parks –
Puppy school is a great way to safely introduce your BFF (best furry friend) to friendly dogs of the same age, who will likely be learning the ropes as well. Ensure that your group is kept to minimum numbers and that enough space is allowed for pet owners to socially distance while the animals play and practice their newly acquired social skills. We couldn’t recommend the amazing staff at Point Cook Dog Training enough and have had a fabulous relationship with them for 10 years. Your pup needs only to have had its first vaccination to be able to join the crew.
Now that restrictions have eased somewhat, you can also aim to use daily time outdoors to train your pooch to be a well-behaved socialite, but before venturing out into public parks etc. ensure that your pup has had its entire puppy series of vaccinations. Leash training is a great way to teach your pup to walk at your side without tugging on the lead, and to stay calm in new situations. Reward polite interactions with praise and staying close to you with food treats to encourage this ongoing behaviour. Ensure you set the tone and expose your dog to lots of new experiences, like walking past houses with dogs in the front yard, walking by roadways and meeting lots of new people. Dog owners tended to congregate in groups before the pandemic, but the general etiquette now is that while we can still chat, we do so from a 1.5 metre distance. Refrain from touching dogs, toys, balls and leashes that belong to anyone else, and santise your hands as soon as you return to your car or home.
Car rides and road rules
You may not be travelling interstate just yet but you can certainly teach your doggo that being social usually involves a car ride somewhere – like the vet, the park or a friends’ house. Help your dog adjust to travel by exposing them to short drives up and down the street, praising them and offering high reward treats for keeping calm and ignoring unfamiliar noises like the engine starting. Make sure you’ve purchased a secure pet harness or seatbelt for Fido and keep him in the backseat – remember you’ll cop a fine if you are caught with him on your lap. Expose your puppy to road rules as early as you can, making him sit and stay at every curb you cross, even if there is no oncoming traffic. Your dog must learn that these are the expected rules, and you can reinforce that message by rewarding them when they follow your commands. This is certainly a training task that should be carried out alone – too many distractions can overwhelm your pup, and the upside is you can’t be more socially distant than doing it solo.
Noise and chaos
Life can be a little unpredictable, and your new puppy needs to learn to cope with what comes their way. Start the vacuum, turn up the radio, stamp through the house in your work boots – make some noise and expose your dog to sounds that startle so that he can learn to cope, all the while rewarding for calm behaviour. The “Sound Proof Your Puppy” training app can also help with a heap of other household noises to expose your pup to. Start slowly and quietly, gradually increasing the volume. Obviously, we don’t to make them fearful of the unknown, but with a few liver treats and pats along the way, he’ll soon learn that noises come from everywhere, especially when he is out and about, and not to dash off but to come to you if he needs reassurance.
Your dog will teeth, there is no doubt about it. And according to every puppy I’ve ever met, the remedy to sore gums is chomping on the fingers of very small humans. While he might feel better, it’s bound to end in tears, and so we must teach our dogs not to bite or chew on the humans they socialise with. If your puppy begins to bite, a polite but firm “No” followed by the immediate offering of a sturdy chew toy will suffice. Keep repeating this replacement of fingers with toys and your dog will soon get the message that only some things are for chewing, and this does not include fingers, children, or heaven forbid, your new shoes. Flailing your hands around, pulling them away from the pup and squealing will only cause arousal in the pup and make it think that this is a game and will encourage the bad behaviour. So, Stay Calm and off up the toy or a substitute.
Socialising your puppy from a young age will set him up for a successful, sociable, well- adjusted life down the track. While it has certainly been difficult over the past months, it is never too late to start teaching your pup the etiquette expected of him. Manners always go a long way, and your hard work now will definitely pay off in the future. To find out more, or to book your puppy in for their vaccinations, give us a call on (03) 9369 1822.