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Will social distancing affect how I socialize my puppy? How will I entertain my dog within my home?

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

I’d like to say I’m thankful that you took the time out of your busy schedule to check out this informative post, but let’s be honest. You’re stuck at home, dipping Oreos into wine, rationing a limited supply of toilet paper, while face-timing your sister who just happens to be finishing off her last bag of Doritos. No....? That’s just me? OK, well, move along then.

Well, just like the rest of us, I’m sure you’re at least a little frightened and very bored. Maybe you suddenly feel the urge to be a social butterfly, (never-mind the fact that you’ve always appreciated your solitude, maybe even defined yourself as somewhat anti-social) but now? Now that you’re being told not to, you long for the company of just about anyone. Heck, you’ll settle for the “comfort” of your in-laws at the moment. You’re desperate.

You’re an emotional eater, but your favorite restaurants are closed. You can’t partake in retail therapy, those stores are….you got it, closed too. You’re trying to pretend that this is your own personal episode of “Naked and Afraid.” Except you won’t lose any weight, you aren’t enjoying beautiful wildlife on an exotic island, and your skin certainly will not be showered with a deep golden bronze when this is through. It’s more likely that you’ll end up a few pounds heavier and in need of a haircut.

Let’s be serious for a moment though, I really don’t want to take away from the gravity of this situation. You’re concerned for your community's local businesses and the incomes that depend on them. You’re stressed about your own financial support, and you're preoccupied with the idea of family or friends falling ill. If you’re looking for some positivity despite these circumstances, look no further than to that four legged companion currently curled up at your feet. Above all else they're thankful to have their human all to themselves, wondering what they did to get so doggone lucky. So how will social distancing or a “shelter in place” order affect our dogs?


If you have a dog over the age of 6/9 months old, you’re in luck! Your adolescent to mature dogs will be relatively unaffected by this change.

Tip: It is wise to keep some degree of normalcy in their day to day routine.

Aside from the need to partake in more indoor activities and ensuring they are receiving both adequate enrichment and mental stimulation, they’ll just be stoked to have you all to themselves. My recommendation? Soak in those sweet cuddles. Let yourself softly run your fingertips over their muzzles as they drift off to sleep. Appreciate every snuggle and sigh as they melt into your laps. Be thankful you have such loyalty with you to weather out this storm. They’ll be a day when you’ll look back and kill to have these special moments. I know, I’m getting all mushy gushy, but trust me. There will come a time when you’d do anything to have even just a few extra days with your best friend. So go on, make memories today. Don’t wait.

Oh, and maybe consider some of the activities listed below to help keep you and your dog engaged while cooped up like chickens.

*Ah, yes, now you're understanding the attraction to free range, aren’t you?

My favorites

  • Create a “magical laundry pile” by playing Hide-A-Treat. Start by wrapping kibble in some old towels, blankets or clothing. Allow your dogs to rummage around in order to access the hidden treats. It's their very own buried treasure.

- Please supervise. I really don't want Rover to ingest your girlfriends bra during his explorations. If you think this may be a hazard for your dog, try a muffin tin with their treats hidden under tennis balls carefully perched over the tops.

  • Licky mats and Kongs are superb options. Feed your dogs their morning and evening feedings utilizing a kong and freeze it to increase difficulty & fun!

  • Consider puzzle feeders or sniffy walks. Try tossing some treats into your yard for your dogs to forage for. Hot dogs, cheese and chicken all work very nicely.


* It is important to keep some normalcy for your dogs during this time. You know those yummy chews you usually deliver your dogs as a parting gift? It may be advised to continue this (and ideas from above) regardless of you being home. Dogs can pick up on our stress and change in schedules. This may cause your dogs some anxiety as well. Dogs stress can manifest in a variety of presentations. Watch for abnormal panting or pacing, unusual whining, destructive behavior or excessive licking, also known as a lick granulomas. Attempt to redirect your dogs to more pleasing replacements. Please contact a professional if their behavior continues or becomes compulsive.

More ideas, brought to you by: Emily Musgrove M.S Psychology- specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis

Sniffy walk - Unless you are on quarantine, you can still walk your dog. A sniffy walk has no destination in mind, the idea is to just let your dog sniff around. Simple.

Sniffy walk: Quarantine style - If you have Your own yard, take some different scents With you - Examples may include perfumes or spices. I like to hide vanilla extract, a few drops will be more than enough.

Kongs - Time to bust out those kongs! Try stuffing and giving immediately, or stuff and freeze. Remember, every time you change the stuffing it becomes new and exciting for your dog. My “go to” is kibble mixed with yogurt, canned pumpkin, or any other potentially new and exciting flavor of canned food.

Chews - All dogs chew. Puppies, adults, even the seniors. Chewing relieves stress, anxiety and even boredom. Trachea tubes, knuckle bones, hooves, bully sticks or cow ears may be appropriate options.

Play scent games - Some of these games are easy, and some much harder. Pick which one you think your dogs will enjoy the most. This is also a great way to get your children playing with your dog.

Hide and Seek - Hide and seek is a great way to practice what to do when being called! This game can be performed both inside and out. Adapt to the level your dog is both successful and comfortable with. Try starting with hiding in a separate room from your dog, now call them! When they become quicker about finding you, make it harder. Try hiding under a blanket, in the shower or behind the door. Your kids will love this game too!

Run-away recalls - If you have a rope or a long line you can also practice runaway recalls. Dogs usually find us moving quickly to be very enticing, it’s a sure way for both of you to get some exercise.

Trick Ideas - Kikopup and Donna Hill are great resources on youtube for trick training idea

Facebook has a Canine Enrichment group that has lots of ideas -

Settle on mat

Capturing calmness


Now, let’s talk puppies.

You have a puppy under the age of 16 weeks old and you’re now in isolation while the country practices social distancing. Your trainer has spent weeks hammering the significance of socializing into your brain. No? Well you should get one who does. Really, it’s important! I would. No really, I would. So here’s my number: 469-450-8118. Call me, maybe?


Before we really dive into more details here, I’d like to remind you that while you’re enjoying all this extra time with your new puppy, it’s important for them to have some alone time as well. Right now you can be with your puppy every moment, of every day, but that will change and he won’t understand nor have the tools to be confident when separated from you. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but as a professional I’m concerned about the influx of young dogs who may show signs of separation anxiety when their parents can go back to work. A few times each day allow your puppy to spend time in a separate room from you. Give your puppy a yummy chew or a fun toy and allow them to gain the independence required to be a healthy, stable dog in the future. Applying these little changes now can really make big differences for your puppy later.

Anyway, you’re now worried. Really worried. How are you supposed to socialize your puppy when you’ve been instructed to avoid socializing? You’re bummed. You were planning on doing all the right things. You were even planning on taking little Rover to your friends bridal shower, your brothers bar mitzvah, your family reunion (really, what did your puppy do to deserve that?) and then to top it all off, Six Flags!

I have good news for you. Contrary to popular belief, socializing your puppy isn’t all about interacting with tons of strange people. In fact, some would argue that the actual interactions aren’t really the most vital portion of socialization at all. For an interaction to benefit a puppy, they must first have positive exposure. Emphasis on the positive and the exposure!

You see, while in an ideal world your puppy would meet many, kind, tolerant adult dogs, and yes, certainly some new people along the way too, socialization really just means exposing your puppy to all sorts of new things. Yes, again, this often includes people, but socialization is so much more than just people. Socialization is the exposure to sights, sounds, textures, surfaces, smells, places and animals. Your puppy’s “critical socialization” period ends around 4 months of age, this means you’ll want to do as much as you can to provide your puppy with positive experiences before they reach that age. You’ll want to be careful not to overwhelm your puppy, you’ll do this by giving them ample choice to opt out of experiencing something they simply aren’t comfortable with yet. You can minimize this occurrence by keeping some tasty treats with you to help provide positive associations to new things. Remember, when it comes to experiences, quality of quantity!

Have you ever met someone who you’d define as an eternal optimist? Your goal is to give your puppy that very same prerogative. As your puppy matures he is more likely to show extreme caution or fear towards environments or stimuli that he’s never experienced before. These fears can manifest into behaviors that could later lead to extreme anxious, reactive or aggressive tendencies. These reactions would likely morph into behavior that would require guidance and treatment from a professional.

So how do we socialize our puppies to new things while locked in the confines of our home?

First, let’s talk about playing dress up. Yes, I said dress up. Get crazy! OK, maybe not too crazy. I want your puppy to have positive associations to your new look, not your spouse. Let’s keep it PG y’all. Try on funny hats, place your hood over your head, pull out your Halloween costume, dig out that bridesmaid dress your sister made you wear in all it’s hideous glory. Now is it’s time to shine! The goal here? We want to make you look different, and we want your puppy to simply be OK with that. Be creative and have fun! Associate treats, play and snuggles with these exercises and ensure your puppy is enjoying themselves just as much if not more than you are!

Struggling to find different surfaces? Try placing a dampened towel in a baking sheet and have your puppy walk over it. Simple? Try a soggy towel next, then a bathtub. Tin foil is a fun option! Tin foil is shinier than most surfaces. Tin foil will offer a new texture, and odd sound for your puppy to explore (with your supervision) as they walk over the top. What about unstable surfaces? Do you have an exercise ball or a sled? Can you balance them upon a pillow or small ball? Will your puppy navigate your new obstacles in order to earn some yummy treats? These are great ways to encourage your puppies to be brave and confident. Make a pillow fort, then let your pup climb it like a crazed billy goat on the discovery channel. Do you have any empty bottles or containers? Large kitchen utensils? Anything that *wouldn't* be a choking hazard? Extra points if these items make noise! Try throwing them into a Rubbermaid tub and letting your puppy sort around them to find hidden treats (With supervision, of course.) Do you have an umbrella? Umbrellas laid on their sides make pretty fun, rocking “treat bowls.” Show your puppy that these new things aren’t just safe, but they’re the predictor of positive outcomes for him. There are many free apps on the market that make an assortment of different sounds, I'm sure your puppy would be more than pleased to be rewarded for each new sound he heard! Willing to go for a ride? Safely confine your puppy inside of your vehicle using a well fitted auto harness or crate, lower your window slightly and allow him to soak in the different sights, sounds and smells as you cruise down the road. Do you have a long hallway? Try creating an agility course with whatever you have laying around - imagine it‘s your very own episode of “America‘s Top Dog”. Make sure to reward your puppy with their very favorite toys or treats when they complete each portion of the course. Check out the link posted below for a more comprehensive checklist of experiences that would benefit your puppy during this time. *Note, many of these can be done within the confines of your home!

Dr. Sophia Yin’s socialization checklist

OK, that’s enough for now. Stay safe, stay well, please try really hard not to catch Covid19 and soak up that puppy breathe for us!

© [Jenny Wyffels], 2020. The materials on this site, ( may be copied and distributed with written permission of the copyright owner so long as our copyright notice and Website address is included.

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