As a result of COVID, most of us with new puppies are finding creative ways to get our puppies out and about – seeing the world and having positive experiences – without actually seeing the world.

Tricky, no?

Anyway, I found an approach that is so superior to what I did before COVID that I will make it a significant part of my approach going forwards.

Car Socialization.

I take my puppy somewhere with activities to see and I give him a nice bone to chew on. I grab my phone or computer and do my own thing while we hang out for a good long time – often an hour or more.  My personal favorite spot is the parking lot where a popular walking trail begins.  I open the back of my car with my puppy in a crate facing out.  We watch all the people – people of different sizes and shapes. Some walking and some running. Some using a cane or a walking stick and on occasion, a wheelchair.  Some noisy and others silent.   We do not interact with any of them but we get to know what people look like, smell like and how they move and vocalize – all from the safety of the car.

Going well?  Add more!

Now I might take him somewhere that dogs are allowed.  He sees those dogs getting in and out of cars, some walking slowly and others excited and moving fast or possibly barking looking in his direction.  But mostly, they want to get to the start of the trail and on with their walk.

If at any time my puppy appears fearful in any way, I drop a towel over the front of his crate.  Still agitated?  Shut the hatch and wait until he’s ready to try again.

Going well?  Relaxed, watching the world and chewing his chew?

Now I open the crate door and add a leash.  He can sit in his crate or sit on my lap – it’s up to him.  We even play miniature games of fetch and tug in the back of my car.  This is particularly useful if a dog is staring in our direction or is overaroused and likely to cause a reaction from my puppy. I use the toy (or food) to redirect him from whatever is out there and head off his reaction before it starts.

Doing good?

How about letting the puppy out of the car on the ground right in front, so you can pop him back up should the need arise?

If your puppy is sociable/not fearful and if you don’t have COVID restrictions, you can allow interactions as you wish.  I have found that COVID gives me control over the situation as people are not walking up to interact.  They coo over my puppy from a distance and respect my requests to stay back if I should need to remind them.  I wear my face covering and make it clear – I take COVID seriously.  Respect that.  And they do.

Next up would be walks on the trail.  I’m ridiculously fortunate that my walking trail of choice is one way, so we don’t have head to head encounters with strange people or dogs.  Perfect for my purposes.

Can you see how by splitting out the sights, sounds and smells of dogs from the actual encounters you can make the socialization experience more gradual and positive?  This is particularly valuable if you have a more sensitive type of dog such as a herding breed or a very small puppy who will be easy overwhelmed or trampled if not carefully monitored.

I’m loving this approach.  Which is not to say I’m not encountering more than my fair share of challenges showing my puppy the world as it will relate to his future (specifically – he has not ever seen a group of people, never mind walking though a group and we’re working on a pretty serious “chase all things that move” reality), but I’m also discovering some real advantages to raising a puppy at this time.

Dice has opinions about dogs – in this video you can see how we’re working on staying calm – from the car.