Socialising your Spaniel puppy in a socially distant world

February 17, 2021

Following reports from the RSPCA that over 1800 puppies and dogs have been abandoned through the pandemic I’ve been on a mission to raise awareness about how to socialise your puppy to help ease new pet parent troubles. 

Getting a puppy is hard work. I remember wanting to have a caffeine IV drip because of the lack of sleep with my boys, not to mention thinking I’d brought home baby vampires, and don’t get me started on toilet training troubles!

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On my 5th cup of coffee…

The fact is that it’s okay to ask for help. And it’s okay to not have a clue what you’re doing, that’s what people like me are here for. I often feel that puppies are painted in a perfect light, because they are super cute, but they come with a lot of work, sleepless nights and patience! 

As we are now in our third lockdown, with no physical contact with other people or dog trainers, now is not the time to ‘wait and see’ with your puppies behaviour. Problems are much easier to work with earlier rather than later, so it’s time to look at alternatives such as online dog training which can be a lifeline to living happily with you and your baby shark… I mean puppy! 

In the midst of juggling the balls of homeschooling and pet parenting it’s important not to forget essential puppy training, as what you work with now in helping your puppy with their behaviour will save you from encountering bigger problems in the future! 

I was recently featured in the Leamington Courier and on two BBC CWR Breakfast shows talking, you can listen to me on Phil Upton’s show here (timestamp 7:27am and 8:55am)  about the importance of socialisation for puppies through the pandemic. You can also listen to me on Vic Minnets lunchtime show, (time stamp 2:12:00) where I talk about how I got into dog training, plus I play her game ‘Snake Escape’ which I completely fluked… I’ll stick to dog training over quizzes!

Socialisation for your puppy doesn’t mean saying hello to everyone and everything, it’s about your puppy feeling confident and secure. Social distancing can help with this as it prevents your puppy from feeling overwhelmed and allows them to watch the world go by at a distance. 

Hannah Antrobus specialist spaniel dog trainer warwickshire s
Happiest when cuddling puppy’s!

Up until 16 weeks old, puppies are going through their critical stage of development, where they are open to learning about new situations and environments. After this age anything new that they come across before will be met with apprehension. 

There is a phase known as the ‘fear imprint period’ which happens at 8 – 11 weeks old. This is part of the socialisation window, but occurs when their natural response to fear kicks in. Anything frightening or traumatic that happens in this time will have a more lasting effect. It is important to keep exposing your puppy to new things, and make each experience as positive as possible.

This is why your critical period for your puppy is during this age, working with a dog trainer and behaviour advisor like myself can help to fill you in on what your spaniel needs through this time and ways to adapt to training through a pandemic.

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Me and Kobie when he was very small, he was around 9 weeks here!

In fact I’ve found that online training works just as well as in person because it allows your puppy to be completely relaxed in their own home, and I can talk you through the training process so that you feel comfortable and confident with all of the exercises. You can even enjoy a cup of coffee whilst we chat, or even a glass of wine… it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere! 

One of the things that I work on with clients is getting their puppy used to new sights, smells and noises. A great way to do this is to take your puppy to a local carpark, within your restricted area, and let them sit and watch the world go by. Your puppy will hear all sorts of noises here such as other cars, people and the weather. They will also see new people, and people in masks, while they are watching this feed them some nice treats to create a positive association.

To get them to experience new people and experiences you could also order a takeaway, or a delivery… I’m sure we’re all familiar with Amazon! Hold your puppy or pop them somewhere where they can see the delivery and feed them as the item is delivered.

It can also be really great for your puppy to allow them to get used to different textures, you can get really creative with this for instance letting them walk on the ironing board as it lays flat on the ground, trying them on a musical mat, some sand, concrete, grass and gravel. Perhaps even making a checklist of all the surfaces you can think of and letting your pups paws explore. This will help to increase their confidence and independence. 

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Me and Kobie watching the world go by!

Another creative way to help your puppy socialise is to play dress up. Wear different outfits around your house so that your puppy see’s all types of clothes. You could put sunglasses on, or a big sun hat and pretend you’re on holiday… I’m sure we all need one of those! Or even wigs if you have them lying around! You can also try with high visibility clothes as your puppy will see this when they are out and about. Don’t be scared to get creative. Whilst doing this play games with your puppy and give them yummy treats when they see you to make it a positive experience. 

When you are doing this training make sure that if you do something new with your puppy one day, then the next day do something familiar with them so they have time to process the experience. It will take your puppy time to feel confident trying new things, so having a day of familiarities after new training will let their body and mind recover. Think less is more and take your time with the training process.

With my puppy clients I often get asked about how to get them to stop biting. It’s so common for your puppy to want to bite, mine were little cockerdiles! Puppy’s do this for a lot of reasons, one of the main ones is teething, but it could also be when they are tired, hungry or irritated. So make sure your puppy is getting plenty of naps and their bellies are nice and full of high quality food. I always advise to keep a biting diary because you will be able to see a pattern as to when your puppy is biting and what might be the reason behind it. 

With everyone at home and the kids being home schooled it’s also really, really important that your pup has a place where they can nap to help prevent any tired nipping. Try to find a quiet place where your puppy can get their all important Zzz’s, where they can be undisturbed by the children. 

If you find your spaniel is biting then redirect their mouth to a toy or a chew but ideally try to do this before they bite so they don’t start to think that biting means getting a toy or a chew and try to do this without starting to play a huge game.

I’ve recently finished my sessions with a bitey spaniel sprocker puppy, after seven months of training in person and via video call her owners said: “ We found Hannah online, and with her specialism in Spaniels, were really keen to work with her.

“We booked a video consultation and it was the best decision we could have made.

“Islay is a very busy, working spaniel and Hannah was able to tailor our training sessions to work on calmness, and engagement with us, rather than the dog, bird or squirrel on the other side of the park.

“During lockdown, we had quite a few training sessions over video call which worked really well, and we were able to build up the foundation skills at home, such as boundaries and self-control, which have really set us up for success when we go out on walks. In hindsight we see that going to training classes in a room with 10 other excitable puppies was that last thing our spaniel would have needed!

“Islay is now a year old, and we’ve been able to achieve a level of recall and engagement that is better than we ever dared hope for.”

The lovely Islay

The benefits of working together on a 121 basis like my client says is that you get my complete undivided attention, when you train from home your dog is going to be more relaxed in their home environment so they are less likely to behave differently as they might do if I was there in person.

Through video call sessions we can make sure that your puppy’s critical socialisation period needs are met, which will mean that they can grow into a happy, healthy dog.

If you want help with your puppy or dog then please get in touch! I have a waiting list so if you know you’re going to be bringing home a puppy please give as much time as possible so that I can fit you in as close to the critical socialisation stage as possible.

Plus I always want to see your puppy pictures so please join me on my Facebook group and follow my page dog owners in Warwickshire for free advice and connecting with other pet parents.

You can also get monthly pup dates from me full of training tips, tricks and advice. To sign up please click here

By Hannah Antrobus

Hannah is a spaniel specialist dog trainer for spaniels and spaniel crosses. Her catchment area is Warwickshire but she offers video sessions and works with clients nationally and internationally so don’t hesitate to get in touch from wherever you are in the world!

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