puppy on a leash

Social distancing isn't quite how you planned to welcome Spring, 2020! And yet, here we are!

At first, the isolation felt weird – and more than a little scary – but as the days pass, isolation begins to feel like the unwelcome guest that tried to spoil the party. But, welcome or not, social distancing is a responsibility and it has to be taken seriously.  You've heard that before, right? 

Now I have a four-month-old puppy. He needs to be socialized as a baby so that he'll grow up with a healthy attitude toward living within our human social norms. (check out his stinkin' cute picture below).

When I adopted my Border Collie mix, Radar, in early February, I was vaguely aware that there was an epidemic in China.  However, it never crossed my mind that illness on the other side of the globe would force me to change the way I raised my puppy. 

Although I'm staying home, how can I navigate the conflicting responsibilities of quarantine vs socializing my puppy now, when he most needs the exposure to his world?

To figure that out, I turned to a basic 3-step problem-solving strategy: Think, Plan, Act. 

Socialization is critical during a puppy's early months.

They require exposure to places, animals, things, and people…lots of people.  Done properly, each new exposure adds enrichment to a puppy's early months and helps eliminate the risk of needless fears as he grows up.

But now all the typical socialization experiences are unsafe.  Theoretically, I suppose I could let Radar approach a person as long as I stayed six feet away.  But what if my puppy felt uncertain about someone new? In the past, I would go and stand beside the person, maybe shake hands to give the puppy confidence. 

And we now know that letting others pet your dog is also a risk of spreading the virus.  If the virus is deposited on the dog's fur when someone pets the dog, then it can be transmitted to the next person who touches the dog.

So I need to re-think socialization.  Time is of the essence. The window of opportunity to socialize this puppy to the world is getting smaller by the day. And so it's back to square one. Think outside the box, come up with a plan, and then put that plan into action.

The first part of my plan is taking lots of walks on a long leash outside in the fresh air.  Fortunately, I live in the country so Radar and I can walk on acres of property without meeting anyone.  But that's ok because there are plenty of opportunities for enrichment that don't include other people.  Dry leaves to chase, fallen twigs to carry. My neighbor's barking dogs, birds on the ground and in the air. Squirrels, rabbits, and so many smells!  

Then there are the traffic noises. My country road doesn't have a “city version” of traffic. So when a truck or car passes by on the road, the sight of a moving vehicle and its unique sound is a noticeable contrast with our quiet surroundings. And curious Radar pays attention.

Meeting new people is temporarily off the list.  We'll learn how that turns out in time. It's a new abnormal.

I want to show you one of Radar's early socialization walks on a long line.  Watch the video.

He bites the leash, picks up leaves and twigs, and finally rolls in something smelly he finds in the grass (probably bunny poop).  But look at how much he's enjoying his walk! And that's what socialization must always do – provide enjoyable exposures to the world. 

Click here to watch Radar's video.

More to come.

Stay tuned for more to come in this Special Series of posts about Radar's “quarantine version” of socialization! In Part 2, I show you how Radar learned to “check-in” with me on our walks. Frequent check-ins mean he'll learn never to pull on his leash.

In upcoming posts, I'll show you how you can use the exact same plan of action with your own dog.  You can make a plan to stay mentally and physically active while you comply with social distancing at home. Action is a wonderful antidote for anxiety.  

Think, Plan, Act


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