Wondering how to socialize a puppy at home? Or how to effectively train your puppy while being asked to not be social?
The social distancing directive presents the most obvious challenge for new puppy owners; a lack of new people for your puppy to meet and public places to explore.
If you are faced with this conundrum, look no further.
You may be relieved to hear that there is more to puppy socialization than being “social” with new people. In fact, this broad term is a catch-all for any new or novel experience during the period of 0 – 16 weeks of age.
With this in mind, I am going to share with you my best tips for socializing your puppy during this time of social distancing.
Using only items from around the house and my two child assistants, these tips are easy, fun, and FREE!
And as icing on the cake, this post includes a humorous video to illustrate them all!
Let’s get started…
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Precautions for Puppy Socialization
Before we begin, we need to set the stage with a few ground rules.
I covered these in much more detail in Puppy Socialization: 5 Common Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make, so this will be a brief overview.
Beware of Overwhelm
Puppies, like children, learn better and faster when they are not overwhelmed.
While you want to make the most of your puppy’s critical socialization period prior to 16 weeks of age, less is more, as they say.
Take it easy and introduce new experiences slowly.
Observe your puppy’s body language for any signs of stress or fear and be sure to minimize discomfort when at all possible.Wondering how to socialize a puppy at home? Or how to effectively socialize your puppy while being asked to not be social? If you are faced with this conundrum, look no further...
Never Force a Puppy
Dog training methods in which owners apply force “because the puppy needs to learn who’s boss” are not only antiquated but they are also cruel and unnecessary.
Force does nothing more than reinforce fear, discomfort, and anxiety.
And believe it or not, even if your puppy is not showing overt signs of fear, force can often cause a puppy to be fearful.
One quick example and then we will move on.
Imagine your puppy is super excited to go out for a walk. You are trotting along until you come to a neighbor’s house that has one of those big blow up Santas in their front yard.
Your puppy looks at it inquisitively. Seems genuinely interested and unafraid, but not quite confident enough to approach Santa.
You want your puppy to be confident so you drag him over to “say hello.”
In this situation, you’ve basically turned an otherwise pleasant learning opportunity into a potentially traumatic event. A new unintended association with Santa that could have a lasting negative effect.
It is best to allow your puppy the space and time to make his or her own decisions as courage mustered in those situations will be imprinted forever.
Early Puppy Socialization Before Fully Vaccinated – The Do’s and Dont’s
You may be wondering, “Is it safe to walk my puppy on the ground before he is fully vaccinated?”
The short answer to this question is yes. And it is my belief that there is far greater risk to your puppy if you wait until vaccinations are finished at 16-20 weeks of age.
If you wait until all vaccines have been given, you will have missed out on the most critical window for socialization in your puppy’s life. You cannot get these days back.
To keep your puppy safe from vaccine-preventable disease, the two rules of thumb I follow are:
- Avoid populated areas where there are many dogs of unknown vaccination status like a public park or dog park, and
- Do not let your puppy near other dog’s feces.
Walks in a neighborhood on the sidewalk do not generally pose much, if any, risk to a young puppy.
If you would like more detailed information about puppy vaccinations, click here.
Now we get to the fun stuff…
In the next three sections, including a BONUS at the end, I am going to briefly touch on each of the 15 creative ways to socialize your puppy.
And at the end we will put all of these tips into action in a comprehensive (and humorous) video.If you wait until all vaccines have been given, you will have missed out on the most critical window for socialization in your puppy’s life. You cannot get these days back.
Socialize Your Puppy Inside the Home
Puppy socialization inside your home is only limited by your own imagination. Your job as a puppy owner is to think creatively and let your inner child shine through.
Try this: If you have kids at home, ask them,”What would be a fun game to play with the puppy?”
Kids have the best imaginations and will come up with games and activities that you would have never dreamed of and that your puppy will love.
There really are no rules when it comes to training your puppy inside your home (except the cardinal rules above of course).
1. Household Sounds
Consider how many home appliances and tools you use on a daily basis that your puppy could potentially be fearful of if not exposed to them early in life. Some examples might include, the vacuum cleaner, a hairdryer, a blender, pots and pans, or a popcorn maker.
With that as your foundation, set up situations where your puppy is within earshot or close to you while you operate these tools.
Have treats nearby to provide a positive association with the sound.
You are not encouraging your puppy to touch or interact with the appliance, but rather telling him, “This sound is loud, but there is nothing to fear.”
2. Indoor Games
This may not sound like socialization on the face of it, but trust me, playing games with your puppy are as valuable to his or her development as meeting a friendly stranger.
The reason is simple. Games stimulate your puppy’s brain in a very powerful way.
Not only do they channel your puppy’s energy in a productive way, but they are fun…. Which means YOU are fun…. Which results in your puppy wanting to be with you and listen to you.
Here is how I like to think about play and puppies:
Games ➡️Fun ➡️ You are Fun ➡️ Puppy Focus, Attention, and Motivation
Some fun examples of indoor games include Hide and Seek, scent training games, and teaching your puppy to catch a ball in the air.
3. Clicker Training
A clicker is a simple tool used in dog training which makes a sound that marks a particular behavior.
For example, you ask your puppy to sit and when he places his rear on the ground, CLICK!
In the absence of a clicker, there is often a time delay between the behavior and the reward which can slow the learning process.
For example, if you ask your puppy to sit and he places his bottom on the floor, but it takes you a couple of seconds to get the treat out of your bag and say “yes, good boy,” that time delay can mean the difference between your puppy interpreting the sit being the correct behavior or his head turn or movement of his front paw, or lick of the lips, etc.
Once a clicker is primed, it becomes the reward. Because we pair it with treats – a reward all puppies understand – as soon as the puppy hears the click, they know a treat is to follow.
Basically a clicker can be an invaluable asset and a great source of training fun for you and your puppy!
In the video below, I will walk you through the simple steps to priming a clicker and how to teach your puppy a basic skill using it.
With this foundational understanding, puppy training will be easier and more fun than ever, for both of you!
BIG DOG MOM TIP: Once you learn how to prime the clicker and your puppy is getting it. You can start to train simple behaviors a few days a week, while your children continue to prime the clicker with 5-10 treats on the opposite days. This will help solidify the meaning of the clicker to your puppy, and it will help hone your children’s dog training skills for the future.
4. Simple Puppy Obedience
At this age, we aren’t looking for Baby Einsteins to start opening doors and pouring us coffee.
But training your puppy to “come,” “sit,” “stay,” “leave it,” “wait” and have some basic front door manners will go a long way. Trust me!
Since we just covered clicker training, you can use that, to begin with. If you don’t have a clicker, you can follow the same steps using the marker word, “YES!” Something short and meaningful to your puppy.
In the video below, I illustrate how to teach your puppy to lay down and leave it with a short discussion on front door manners.
5. Dog Nail Trimming with a Dremel
Now, we get to my favorite topic… dog nails!!
A critical part of socializing your puppy, and let’s face it, your responsibility as a puppy owner, is nail trimming.
This includes all aspects of trimming nails, but most importantly the conditioning required to teach your puppy that nail trims are awesome. That conditioning occurs overtime before you ever touch the Dremel to your puppy’s nail.
In the video below, I will be showing you a very brief look at a nail session with Junior and Sulley. This is NOT meant as a step-by-step tutorial on how you should start with your puppy.
My method, the Dog Nailpro™ Method, of force-free dog nail trimming, starts with a basic foundation of paw handling which leads into conditioning for all aspects of using a Dremel to trim nails – sight, sound, and sensation.
If you are interested in learning more about Dog Nailpro™, my step-by-step online training course on force-free nail trimming, click here. I will be opening the doors very soon, so add your name to the waitlist if you want to learn more.
For now, I encourage you to watch the video below and comment with any questions or challenges you are facing with trimming your puppy’s nails.
Puppy Socialization In the Yard
Weather permitting where you live, the next five puppy socialization activities will expose them to new sights, sounds and smells while playing and having fun.
6. American Ninja Puppy
Set up an obstacle course in your yard and practice some agility-like fun with your puppy.
Pretend you and your puppy are on American Ninja.
Enlist your kids to help. Set up obstacles which require more than one person so your puppy starts to learn how fun it is to follow and listen to other people in your family.
Think of ways to stimulate your puppy’s five senses; sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste.
Be creative and have fun!
7. Teach a Reliable Recall with Distractions
In How to Teach a Dog to Come: A Dog Recall (That Works Every Time!), I shared a great method for using classical conditioning to teach a reliable recall.
With just some treats and enthusiasm, your puppy is sure to learn coming to each member of the family is met with love and treats!
8. Water Play
Water presents some of the best fun for puppies, even for those who are unsure at first.
Following the rules above with respect to not overwhelming or forcing your puppy, water can represent a wonderful opportunity to stimulate all five senses.
You may need to encourage him to take the plunge, but I promise you it will be worth it for you both!
9. Hide and Seek
Games are not limited to indoor activities.
If you have children, this is a perfect game to play as a family!
Simply have your children hide behind some bushes or a corner of the house and call your puppy. You can encourage your puppy by asking, “Where’s ___? Let’s go find her!”
More than likely your puppy will use his sense of smell and hearing to seek out his bush-hidden besties.
If your puppy has trouble and seems confused, have your child step out in the open briefly so your puppy can see them.
You can also start with your puppy closer to the hiding spot and make it abundantly clear there are treats involved. Make it super fun the first few times and your puppy will come to love this game.
10. Yard Work Sounds
Whether the yard work occurs in your own yard, or in someone else’s close to you, exposing your puppy to the sights and sounds of yard work in action is important for future fear-free walks where landscapers are in action. Some examples include a lawnmower, snow blower, leaf blower, or hedge trimmer.
The point here is not to have your puppy interact with these tools, though I do encourage you to allow your puppy to sniff the tool while it’s not running.
As I stated above with the home appliances, the goal is simply to expose your puppy to these sights and sounds with a paired treat reinforcement.
Taking Your Puppy For a Walk for Socialization
Before we cover the final five tips for socializing your puppy at home, there are a few facts about how puppies view the world around them that I believe are critical to understand first.
These five facts are the rationale for the following tips for socializing your puppy on a walk:
✅ Dogs Do Not See Long Distance
Dogs are able to distinguish objects that are LESS than 20 feet away. Compare this to a human, which can see up to 82 feet away.
In other words, an object that a human can see clearly may appear blurry to a dog when viewed from the same distance.
✅ Dogs Can See at Night
A dog’s retina is uniquely able to receive more stimulation in low light settings as compared to humans.
While dogs can’t see in total darkness, a night walk provides an opportunity for your puppy to see the world around him quite clearly. (1)
✅ Dogs See Two Colors: Blue and Yellow
It is a myth that dogs are color blind. They actually have dichromatic vision which is sensitive to blue and yellow. By comparison, humans have trichromatic vision and see the full spectrum of color.
✅ Dogs are Very Sensitive to Movement
This makes complete sense when you think of the evolutionary roots of our canine companions, the wolf; a masterful hunter. Some researchers believe dogs can detect moving objects up to 2,642 feet (800 meters) away. (2)
✅ Puppies See Like Adult Dogs
Puppies vision is fully developed by the time they are 12 weeks old. (2)
11. Friendly Stranger at a Distance
No matter where you choose to walk your puppy, you will at some point be faced with an approaching stranger.
Fortunately, our dogs are unable to distinguish their family from a stranger at a distance beyond about 20 feet.
This sets up a perfect opportunity for you and your puppy to practice behavior with an approaching friendly “stranger.”
Simply have someone in your house walk out of sight a distance down the street. Then practice walking while that person approaches.
Ask the “stranger” to give your puppy a treat and a sweet hello, but NOT every time.
Be sure to practice the “stranger” simply walking by at a distance with no promise of a hello and treat for your puppy as this mimics daily life in a public place.
12. Kids Playing Ball
Balls are fun for kids and for puppies and they can represent a huge distraction when we are out with our dog.
Some dog breeds will be more prone to ball-obsession than others, however, for most puppies, seeing kids with a ball brings out their inner prey drive. Remember what I said above about dogs being sensitive to movement?
Socialization is about the experience, not necessarily obedience. The idea with this activity is that the more your puppy sees balls being played with and is pleasantly reinforced for staying calm (treats), the less likely he will be to dart after them.
13. Bikes and Scooters, Oh My!
It is not uncommon for dogs to chase people on bikes or scooters, however, I believe the behavior is preventable if practiced early during this critical socialization period.
If you have a dog that chases bikes, consider why they do it. Very commonly the reason will fall into one of two categories; fear or prey drive.
When you practice this activity with your puppy be sure to watch for any signs of fear (tail set, barking, avoidance, etc) when the bike or scooter is still.
Let your puppy sniff the bike and then get a few treats. Do this for a few iterations before practicing with the bikes moving.
Move from a low intensity to a higher intensity activity so as to not overwhelm your puppy.
Provide plenty of treats and affection for calm behavior in the presence of a moving bike.
14. Friendly Strangers Are All Unique
Very often rescue organizations will use this activity in order to temperament test their dogs for particular sensitivities.
To socialize your puppy with ALL types of strangers, have one of your kids dress up and approach at a distance.
Remember, your puppy cannot distinguish that the “man” with the hat and glasses is your son until he is within 20 feet if not much closer. Have the “stranger” provide your puppy a treat and some affection.
Be creative and have fun.
15. Walking at Night
As mentioned above, dogs have terrific vision at night.
Puppy socialization should include a walk or two at night, especially if you ever intend to walk your dog at that time.
Remember, this activity is not about perfect obedience on a long walk around the neighborhood. Even a short trip around a cul de sac is plenty for a puppy.
Your puppy’s senses will be on high alert at night, so you will not need to go far to take advantage of the wonderful world around you.
Bonus Tip for Puppy Socialization
While we are currently being asked to stay home, consider taking your puppy in the car with you. Even if you have nowhere to “go,” going anywhere with your puppy will provide great exposure for his growing young mind.
The entire experience of going “bye-bye” presents a plethora of learning opportunities.
From countless new sights, smells and sounds, your puppy can learn all about the world around him from the comfort and safety of inside your car.
So, grab some treats, strap your puppy in for safety, and enjoy the ride!
Puppy Socialization and Training Tips on YouTube
If you have a puppy, what are some of the creative ways you are socializing him or her at home? What challenges are you having? Comment below and let me know.