Socializing Young Puppies While Social Distancing

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A few weeks back I talked about the importance of continuing to get your puppies out for walks and yard exploration during shelter in place. They need the mental and physical exercise that outdoor exploration provides. Plus, they still need to hear outdoor noises and see other people, even if those people are across the street. They need to be outside when the trash trucks and street sweepers go by, so those don’t scare them in the future, for example. There are many other experiences you can create for your growing puppies to help them thrive during these strange times we all find ourselves in. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

a fluffy, blue-eyed sable merle (tan and white with darker tan splotches) Rough Collie puppy walks through a sunlit pasture
Luath from Minnesota, USA. PC: Rachel Hegg

1. Play sounds on your phone and computer. Traffic sounds, nature sounds, loud booming sounds like thunder, fireworks, backfiring cars. Music… all kinds of music. Start with the sounds very low, and build them up louder and louder over time. Play with your puppies while the sounds are on. Feed them treats. Work on basic behaviors. You want them to learn that unfamiliar sounds or novel sounds are no big deal. Once they can handle all sorts of sounds, try using your TV to play fireworks (there’s a great fireworks scene in “Meet Joe Black,” for example!) or other loud sounds that have visuals as well. So many of us have an HDTV with surround sound that can really help a pup to experience things like fireworks long before July 4th. If your puppy is a rock for all of this, you can even try banging pots and pans!

A tricolor (black, white, and tan) Rough Collie puppy sits on a table with its head cocked to the side, listening
Cassie from the UK. Submitted by Linda Jones

2. Work on textures and surfaces with your puppies by putting bubble wrap, crumpled newspaper, wax paper, foil, etc. on the floor for them to walk across. If you have weights, stability/balance balls, and yoga mats, have them stand and walk over those items. Create a platform for your puppy to hop up on and shimmy under using a board on top of cinder blocks.

A sable and white Rough Collie puppy walks across a wooden bench platform
Rough Collie puppy from Oregon, USA. PC: Demi Darnell

3. Break out the bikes, skates, scooters and skateboards and get your puppy used to those things. Even just moving them around in your yard or on your patio works – no need to head to a park or out in public. Got an old hula hoop? Start with it on the ground first and have your puppy move around, over it, etc. You can have them eat in the hoop or work on their basic behaviors. Now stand the hoop up and it’s different! They can walk through it or even jump. Just keep the jumps low, so you don’t hurt those growing knees and elbows. Twirl the hoop on the ground for them to watch, then spin it on your arm or neck or around your waist for them to see it used in all sorts of different ways. This is good exercise for you too, by the way!

sable and white Rough Collie puppy sitting on a blanket in a shopping cart
Laddie experiencing a shopping cart ride! PC: Kim Clark

4. If you have kids, get them to dress up in costumes for your puppy to see. Emphasis on masks, hats, crunchy fabrics, etc. If you don’t have kids, that’s okay too. You may have a costume laying around that you can use; even a cowboy hat, bike helmet, and sunglasses are good to try. And we all should have our homemade masks and bandannas that we are using to go out in public!

sable and white Collie puppy wearing a fabric bowtie that is blue with yellow bees on it
Copper from Scotland playing dress-up! PC: Richard Newlands

5. Look around for other novel items such as brooms, buckets, vacuum cleaners, rolling suitcases, wheelbarrows, etc. that you can introduce to your puppy. Start with the items just in the room or near where you are working with your puppy. Build up to turning them on or moving them around.

A blue merle (gray with black splotches and white and tan markings) lies next to a sable and white puppy
Blue merle and sable and white Collie puppies. PC: Dianna Gutoski

6. You should be working daily on “handling” exercises to touch every part of your puppy’s body. Add in nail clippers or a nail Dremel nearby, and work up to turning the Dremel on. Use all kinds of brushes and combs on your puppy, too. Especially make sure that you not only handle their feet, but also clean their eyes and ears. If you can’t take your puppy to the groomer, now’s the time to introduce baths, blow dryers, teeth brushing, and other grooming basics.

Sable and white Rough Collie puppy sound asleep on the floor indoors
Laddie as a pup. Submitted by Vivienne Blaher

7. Train every day just as you would do if you were attending puppy classes. Practice all the basic behaviors. Do some tricks training. Have your puppy work both on and off leash and with the distractions outlined above. If you have soccer cones, use those to practice your loose leash walking. No cones? Set up chairs to move your puppy around on-leash obstacles.

A happy-looking tricolor Rough Collie puppy lies on its side in the green grass, completely ignoring the taut leash attached to its collar
Tricolor Collie puppy from Pennsylvania, USA. PC: Tori Bandel

While the shelter in place directives are likely to be lifted over the next couple of months, the social distancing guidelines are probably here to stay for the foreseeable future. Keeping up with your puppy’s training and social experiences is going to require a bit of ingenuity, but it can be done. And all of the activities outlined above can be done for adolescent and adult dogs, as well, to combat boredom and anxiety from being cooped up indoors.

A sable and white Collie puppy bounces on the beach beside a white Collie puppy with sable spots
Cedar and Tundra from Oregon, USA. PC: Alexandra Thompson

As always, if you have questions about your pet’s behavior, you know where to find me.

When I first bought the grooming table, I had to introduce it slowly and with treats to get Ozzie used to it. It’s a weird surface to stand on, and it’s up off the floor. Desi is a retired show dog so he was an old pro at grooming tables, but Ozzie required a bit more convincing. Now they both get up there readily for their weekly grooming sessions – and the snacks!

A sable and white Rough Collie lies on a grooming table, while a tricolor Collie sits on the floor nearby.
Desi and Ozzie. PC: Julie Bond

Julie Bond is a certified animal behaviorist, treating pet behavior problems in the San Francisco Bay Area of California through her business, P.E.T.S. She is also a writer, blogger, speaker, and keen observer of all things Collie. Read more of her posts here, follow her on Instagram @k9freud, or connect with her on Facebook @JulieBondPetEducationTrainingServices.

A laughing blondhaired woman walks between 2 Rough Collies, one tricolor and one sable and white
Desi, Julie, and Ozzie PC: Jessica Mangold

Julie Bond

Julie Bond is a certified animal behaviorist, treating pet behavior problems in the San Francisco Bay Area through her business, P.E.T.S. She is also a writer, blogger, speaker, and keen observer of all things Collie.
  • Thank you for all the great ideas on socializing a puppy. I am picking my collie puppy up in 3 wks (so excited) and can’t wait to follow your suggestions. Thanks again.