Just when you thought you had social distancing in the bag, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending that your pets follow social distancing guidelines as well. (Insert sad dog emoji here).
While there’s no evidence that animals can pass the virus to humans, there are some confirmed cases where coronavirus has passed from a person to an animal.
So…what do you do if you have a new puppy that absolutely must have some meet & greets? Puppies have a limited window of time in the first four months which can significantly influence how they behave as adults, so it’s critical they experience new environments, people, and other animals. Skip it, and your pup could develop behavioral issues like fear aggression, separation anxiety or dog-to-dog reactivity.
But don’t panic. There are lots of fun experiences you can share with your new baby that don’t include new people and new dogs.
1. Surfaces. Introduce your puppy to a variety of surfaces to walk on like grass or gravel outside, carpet or wood floors inside. Be creative; see if your puppy will walk on a spread-out newspaper, paper bags or even a baking sheet. Try a dip in the tub—without water. Take things slowly, let your pup set the pace and offer lots of praise and rewards.
2. Handling. Practice handling for future visits to the vet or groomer. Try slowly massaging all parts of the body, including paws so nail trimming won’t be scary. If your pup is too young to go for walks, get him or her used to the weight of a leash attached to the collar.
3. Introductions at a distance. Sit on your porch, patio or lawn with your leashed pup and watch other dogs and people go by. As he gets older, go for short adventure walks or scavenger hunts—while maintaining appropriate social distance, of course.
4. Virtual socialization and training. Many trainers and training facilities are offering virtual puppy classes, and there are many online training resources and litters of great YouTube videos specifically for puppies as well. Puppies are even having their own ZOOM playdates, though sadly, they do lack the all-important rear sniffing component.
5. Sounds and scents. Doorbells, vacuum cleaners, car engines, bicycles, skateboards—your puppy needs exposure to anything they might encounter that makes sudden and/or loud noise. You can drop a can full of pennies, open an umbrella, or even have your phone ring loudly, then encourage your dog to remain calm.
6. DIY stranger. Dogs of all ages are having to adjust to greeting masked strangers, and it’s going to be important moving forward that your pup is ok with this. Try hats, glasses, and wigs, and get your family members to dress up, too.
7. Schedule and routine. Puppies and adult dogs do best on a schedule, and just like with human children, canine kids need a nap around the same time each day. Your pup also should learn to be calm when he is alone because sooner or later you’ll have to leave him by himself. A Kong-type toy stuffed with canned dog food or a frozen treat is a great idea so that he associates good things with your leaving.
In the end, you will eventually need direct contact to properly socialize your puppy, and if you are healthy and not at high risk for complications from COVID-19, you might consider playdates with another dog owner or two who is also healthy and willing.
If that’s not an option, the above activities will certainly help get you started. You can also check out the resources below for more ideas:
International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
AKC COVID-19 Resource