Puppy Socialization in a Pandemic World
I have to be honest, I considered writing this blog post back in April, and I decided not to because I had hope that we would be out of this mess by now (well that and the thought of writing a blog post was exhausting! 2020 pandemic fatigue is REAL, y'all). Oh how naive April 2020 me was!
Now that COVID-19 numbers are on the rise again I personally have had to shut down my group puppy classes when the church where I hold classes closed; group puppy classes are one of the greatest ways that we can help 'inoculate' our puppies against behavior problems related to fear and have been proven to help puppies be more trainable (see this link for more info). Group puppy classes provide a safe, structured way for puppies to meet different people and other puppies and learn age appropriate social skills; unfortunately as puppy classes begin to close due to statewide mandates and shut downs we will need to be more creative in our socialization efforts to make sure our puppies are not missing out!
First things first, a quick reminder of what socialization is: socialization is all about a puppy having GOOD experiences with novel people, things, and situations. Puppies have what is known as a 'critical window of socialization' it starts as early as 4 weeks of age (hey breeders and rescues, take note! You have to be doing this work too!) and the jury is out about how long it lasts but most behavior professionals estimate it starts closing around 16 weeks of age, unfortunately sometimes even earlier. It's VERY important (like, VERY VERY REALLY SUPER DUPER IMPORTANT) that your puppy is having a GOOD time during socialization outings. If your puppy is scared or worried during the outing and you try to push them to work through it, thinking "they'll get over it!", you may very well end up sensitizing your puppy and causing long term fear. Exposure alone does not equal socialization, we are looking for POSITIVE exposure. Use delicious treats generously during your socialization to insure that your puppy is indeed having a good time, and at any sign of discomfort give your puppy space and time to feel better about the situation!
This point is illustrated beautifully in the below drawing from Lili Chin:
If your puppy seems worried about the world or is unable to cope in new situations, please contact me and we can set up a zoom appointment to discuss how to handle this! Do not wait for your puppy to outgrow fear, it DOES NOT happen and can get much worse without proper intervention! (For more information about not waiting, please see