The warmer weather is here, the vaccines are here and all of our covid puppies are raring to go.
This summer looks like it will be easier and easier to get out and about, especially on outdoor adventures with our dogs. There’s just one problem, a lot of our new(ish) puppies haven’t really been anywhere or met new people. We need to remember that just because we can jump right back into social situations doesn’t mean it is so easy for our dogs.
Think of your puppy as having grown up on an island. You have now just set foot on new land with lots of new things. Your dog will be awestruck, overwhelmed and depending on their personality they may be scared. A lot of confidence in new situations is learned. This is often learned in puppyhood, but many dogs will need to have it taught to them now.
Dogs all have natural personalities and this will never be more clear than after a year of isolation. Just like some people naturally love new situations and being social while others prefer to be alone, the same can be said of our dogs. If your dog was naturally an introvert or nervous, the change in social activities will be very overwhelming. You will need to take things more slowly and make sure their confidence has a chance to build. Your dog may be overjoyed to meet new friends and not even think twice.
If you have an extrovert who welcomes new situations, it is still important to remember that not all dogs share this natural exuberance. Hopefully, there will be plenty of both types of dogs out and about. Remember, that just because your dog is ready to party that doesn’t mean the dog they are greeting feels the same way. So manners are important even if your dog has no social worries of its own.
For our naturally reserved dogs, this will be a trying time. Let them take it slow. Start off with friends and their dogs in a neutral setting. Don’t force your dog to interact, but let them do their own things. I really like teaching a dog some go-to commands before this. If your dog can come, sit, and stay that will be very helpful. They should have a “go-to” so that if they are feeling insecure they can come over to you, be told to sit, and have entered a safe zone of knowing exactly what to do.
Remember that our dogs get overwhelmed, so they should have some automatic behaviors before they’re asked to perform outside of the house. A come and sit is much easier in the boring yard or living room than it is out in a field with amazing smells and a new dog running past. So when we’re working with these behaviors try them out in different settings before it is crucial. If the first time you ask your dog to “come” outside of their house is in a very exciting setting, we can’t really have that high of expectations for perfect behavior. Getting upset will just make a difficult situation worse, so we need to be prepared with a gentle correction.
Also, remember that just because you and your buddy have been friends forever doesn’t automatically mean that your dog will love them. I just started seeing some of my friends again that I haven’t seen in a year. This is a little blip in time for me, but for some of our new dogs, it is their entire life. Let their security level guide you and be aware of ways to make them feel more happy and comfortable at each step. Usually, this involves food and praise from both of you.
Puppy classes aren’t just for puppies. Once your dog starts to feel comfortable in more and more situations, consider finding a doggy social class for them. Just because your dog doesn’t need professional help learning how to sit doesn’t mean they couldn’t use professional help learning how to sit in a room with lots of other dogs. It will also mean having a pro help monitor and guide you through new dog interactions and playtimes.