I recently got a puppy! His name is Blaze (Blaze Augustus—because all dogs need majestic names!) and he’s an adorably fuzzy standard poodle. I’ve fostered a number of puppies in the past, but the youngest dog I’ve ever adopted was 6 months old. I’m a conscientious dog-mom and want to make my new friend be a welcome member of our community.
So how can we provide proper and safe socialization when a puppy hasn’t completed his or her vaccine series? It’s a work in progress at our house and here’s what we’ve come up with so far.
Meeting new people of all sizes, shapes, genders and colors. Everyone loves a puppy, so why not invite friends over for a visit with your new friend? Introduce them to your postal carrier and your daily Amazon (or Chewy) delivery drivers. Puppies should learn early on that humans come in a wide and wonderful variety. From adults wearing hats, heavy coats or uniforms, to squealing kids, to differently-abled and those different skin tones, puppies must learn to live peacefully in our human world. Exposing them to a wide variety of people will help ensure that they grow up accepting new human friends.
Meeting new dogs (and other pets) of all sizes, shapes, genders and colors. This one might be a bit more challenging for your unvaccinated puppy. If you have friendly, healthy adult dogs in your neighborhood, or friends with fantastic canine ambassadors, now’s the time to make those introductions. Puppy classes are also a must for a well-developed adult dog. Puppies learn proper dog language, bite inhibition and so much more from other dogs. A number of local, positive-reinforcement trainers will be eager to help.
Sights and sounds. Television, music, vacuum cleaners, sirens, overhead airplanes, fireworks (YOWZA!) and more cause a whole lot of commotion in our daily lives. Introducing your pup to this cacophony early on will help prevent many fears and an adult dog prone to bolting away when unexpected sounds occur.
Textures. While green lawns and sandy surfs are the norm here in Hampton Roads, be sure to have your pup feel more under his or her paws. Gravel lanes, paved sidewalks, vinyl, ceramic or hardwood floors, elevators, and even a muddy bog can help make a more well-rounded and confident adult.
Home Alone. Puppies should learn that sometimes they have to be alone. Whether we’re at work, picking up groceries, or have a night on the town, every dog needs to learn it’s okay to spend time alone. Start out with short periods of alone time while pupper is safely tucked away in a crate or puppy playpen. Give them a special, or favorite, treat or toy saved for these occasions. Praise them for their expected bravery when you leave, stay low-key upon return. Working on alone-time now can help avoid separation anxiety as they grow.
Out and About. Having a puppy that hasn’t yet received all of his or vaccines can make outings precarious and sometimes deadly. An unprotected pup should never visit a dog park, downtown streets, or any areas where numerous dogs congregate and travel. Instead, we’ve opted for buggy rides at Lowe’s, being carried around the farmer’s market, and quiet walks through a local cemetery. We’ve also set up a small puppy obstacle course in our yard with low jumps, play tunnel, teeter-totter, and places to dig a dog-sized hole. We’ve watched ducks and geese from our creek’s shore and taken plenty of car rides around town. After Blaze has had his 3rd puppy vaccine, we’ll hit pet supply stores, groomer, popular hiking trails and beaches. If we opt for dog parks, we’ll go when he’s a bit older and during non-peak times.
Boot Camp. It’s never too early to work on basic skills like sit, down, coming when called, and walking on a loose leash. YouTube has an abundance of great videos to help you get started on your road to a superstar dog. Plan a couple of short, 10-15 minute sessions each day. You’ll be amazed at how quickly young dogs are able to master these skills.
Wet and Wild. This one is my personal obsession. In Hampton Roads, we are literally surrounded by water. My greatest fear is that my dog will get away from me while we’re enjoying a day at the beach, bolt out of fear, scamper out of an open door, or be ejected during a car accident and end up in deep water. Dark stuff, I know! I’ve always made it a priority to teach my dogs to swim and be comfortable around water. I never want my dogs to panic, I want them to know how to swim with confidence. I started my new puppy in a backyard kiddie pool with just an inch or so of water to make it safe and fun for him. I increased the water depth over the next few days. Blaze has quickly graduated to wearing a doggy life-vest at a friend’s swimming pool. A few rides on the kayak let him know how if feels to be surrounded by water and gentle waves. It’s not fool-proof, but it gives me some peace of mind.
Document this special time. Okay, time for the pet photographer in me to remind you that puppies grow up so fast and you’ll miss out on these memories if you aren’t careful. That cuddly and clumsy ball of puppy fluff will soon be a teenager, and before you know it, he’ll be a mature and graying senior dog. Take time to document every stage of life with your new best friend. Get them accustomed to posing and performing for your camera. Make him or her the next Instagram sensation. Dogs grow and change so quickly. —And if you need some help capturing this special time, I know just the pet photographer who’d love to help you out. 🙂
P.S.—If you’ve mastered the art of safe puppy socialization, I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email with ways you’ve worked to make your pup a great ambassador in your neighborhood.