Puppy socialisation and lockdown – what’s the fallout?

The impact on wellbeing

The lockdown and current restrictions on movement and socialising has an impact on human wellbeing, and I’m sure many of you have experienced this – some maybe more than others. From recent social media posts, it seems that many people have acquired pups in the lead up to lockdown, and it even seems as though more owners are managing to acquire pups. What is the impact of ‘social distancing’ on puppies’ emotional development and welfare, and what can we as veterinary nurses do to help puppies and their owners?

The COVID-19 pandemic has of course created worldwide issues – but in this short blog we are going to consider, what to some, may be a very trivial topic – but to new puppy owners and their pups, is very much a big issue!

Puppy socialisation classes are a vital service for veterinary practices to offer to help owners understand the vital things they must do to get their puppies used to the outside world – however in the current climate we are far from being able to provide this service, so what CAN we do to help these clients?

Let’s just look at the issues resulting from ‘new pup and lockdown’…

Lock down will pose specific challenges for puppy raising owners 

A socialisation programme for a pup will include a myriad of positive exposures to many, many different situations, people, dogs, objects – but when owners can only take their pup out for one walk a day, not have contact with others, not visit others’ homes, not go for unnecessary rides out in the car; this seriously limits the normal run of events that an owner will perform with their pup in order to achieve effective socialisation and habituation.

Household routines

When an owner gets a new pup, routine is really important to acclimatise the pup to the new environment and help them to understand how that household normally functions. However lockdown is far from the normal routine, with people working from home and not leaving the house, no visitors (friends, family, workmen, unexpected visitors), and that’s before we’ve considered that many owners will also have to be tackling home-schooling! Pups may be also be getting over handled/too much attention – then what happens when life resumes?

Separation distress

Separation distress is a common anxiety for many dogs, so it’s part of a pup’s learning process to learn to feel comfortable with being left alone, by working through a mini-programme and gradually building up the time that you are away. But how can we do this at a time when everyone’s home all the time?

How can we expect puppies and young dogs to suddenly tolerate us picking up the car keys and bag and leaving the house for 4 hours, when it is not something they have experienced before?

When life goes back to normal…

Once this is all over and we see the other side, we can maybe predict that there will be many pups who have gone through their socialisation window during lockdown, and may experience a variety of behavioural and anxiety problems as a result of this, so we will need to be ready to offer the right advice at that time to help them to coach their puppy through this. That takes sound knowledge and skill to ensure that you get it right.

The questions are…

What advice should VNs give to owners NOW to help them? 

Consider the advice you would give to owners who were attending classes, and the process you would take them through to achieve effective habituation and socialisation, and work out which activities can still be performed.

Are you running remote consultations for you puppy (and other) owners? What scope do you have for advising owners about what they can and should be doing now to help their puppies develop during this difficult time?

Could you set up these routine consultations for all new puppy owners, offering a (chargeable) service where you offer a series of check-ins to see how things are going?

Imagine what a positive impact this could potentially have for these puppies and their owners.

Types & amount of exposure currently available

Whilst of course exposure is limited, there are still many activities and exercises that pup owners can undertake to help their puppies through the socialisation window. Think fancy dress – wigs, fake beards, glasses, flouncy dresses and funny hats (and imagine the fun you can have), everyday and strange objects, noises and smells, and available exposure to experiences outside of the home environment.

The current restrictions may even be a benefit to some puppies in certain situations, especially if they do have any anxiety, as exposure outside can be far more controlled and predictable.


There’s so much to discuss!

Linda Ryan’s Puppy Classes course offers a walk-through of the background behavioural knowledge that you need to setup and run successful puppy socialisation classes, but this intake will also cover the topics above – enabling you to – firstly – help puppy owners at this difficult time, and limit the ‘fallout’ from un-socialised adolescent dogs; secondly – enable you to support owners who are experiencing problems with their puppy following lockdown, and finally – set you in good stead for when the situation normalises and you are able to run classes again.

Our course is an interactive, immersive learning experience, where you will be guided and supported by your tutor for the 2 weeks of the learning forums, and discuss issues with your fellow candidates. You will then go on to complete coursework which will offer you a solid plan to take back to practice, and in the short term, enable you to advise owners appropriately. You can find out more about the course and your tutor Linda here, and we’d love to see you join us on the next intake, starting on the 18th May.

Blog written by:

Jill Macdonald, with guidance from Linda Ryan

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