Puppy Socialization and Separation Training

The arrival of a new puppy at home brings about many new questions and challenges for their owners. Will the puppy get used to their new home? Can they learn how to be alone? How should they be socialized?

Fortunately, getting your puppy used to their new home is relatively easy, so long as they get enough rest and stimulation without becoming anxious or overwhelmed. There are also a few extra steps you can take to ensure that your puppy can tolerate being alone and that they're capable of having positive interactions with both strangers and other dogs. Putting in the time to train your puppy now is an investment into both of your futures!

A puppy

There is a lot of talk about socializing a puppy. However, an equally important counterpart to socialization training is the often overlooked practice of separation training. Both are essential aspects of a puppy's educational needs as they enter adulthood.

Separation training is linked to a puppy's sociability. Though puppies by default have a strong drive to be with other people and animals, this impulse may be lessened if they weren't exposed to many new people or animals at the breeder, or if they happen to have an exceptionally fearful nature. If a puppy is inherently social, like the average dog, mismanaging the first steps of separation can scare them, leading to difficulties being alone as early as the puppy stage.

When it comes to socializing a dog, the health of the puppy must be taken care of first. This is because vaccinating a dog is necessary to safe socialization. Due to possible infectious diseases, many prefer early vaccinations, which are given as early as 7-9 weeks of age instead of the normal 12 weeks.

By vaccinating your puppy early, you're giving them the opportunity to get to know other dogs at a slightly younger age than the usual vaccination program. This is the ideal option, as the puppy's first stage of socialization, which can be significantly influenced by their owner, occurs during weeks 8-12 of the puppy’s life. In addition to this stage of socialization, the choices made by the puppy breeder play a major role in what the puppy considers dangerous and what they consider harmless.

If you end up opting for the normal vaccination program for your puppy instead of the early program, your unvaccinated puppy can interact with familiar, healthy adult dogs. While an unvaccinated puppy may not yet be able to meet other unknown dogs in close contact, they can watch them from afar from the safety of their owner's lap or behind a fence.

In terms of socialization, it's important to know that although a puppy sometimes learns from playing with other puppies, older, trustworthy dogs are an important teacher of social skills. The adult dog used to socialize the puppy should be friendly, while also being capable of showing the puppy what kind of treatment other dogs may feel nervous about. However, the adult dog should never be allowed to get violent. The gestures of a social, adult dog are, at best, very subtle when it wants space from the puppy. It can communicate to the puppy, for example, by turning to its side, moving further away, or ultimately by a quiet growl.

The more social a puppy becomes through these positive life experiences, the more important it is that the puppy understands how to calm themselves down when alone. Puppies don't inherently know how to be alone, and only a few puppies can tolerate the initial test where they're unexpectedly left alone during their owner’s absence. This is why it's worth investing in isolation training just as much as socialization training.

General Tips for Puppy Socialization and Isolation Training

Note: Step-by-step tips for separation training can be found further below!

  • Let your puppy get used to their new family and immediate surroundings for a few days in peace before taking them to new environments or meeting strangers. Also, be sure to take your puppy outside to do their business after they've eaten, slept, or played.
  • After the introductory days, start taking your puppy with you wherever they're allowed and safe to be. Always pay attention to your puppy's endurance to ensure that they don't get out of breath or overheat during these outings.
  • Remember that your puppy is still very small at this age and needs a lot of rest. It's important to let your puppy rest as much as they want, ideally in an accessible place with a comfortable bed. You can ensure that they get the rest they need by asking others in the household not to approach your puppy while they're sleeping.
  • For the socialization phase, choose places that don't require the puppy to move unless they want to and at their own pace. Puppy exercise should be focused on training and playing outdoors. Excessive, forced exercise can have long-lasting negative effects on your puppy's health, including bone and joint function problems.
  • Although your puppy needs a lot of attention, it's important that the attention is not undivided and constantly available whenever your puppy comes to you. An occasional lack of attention teaches your puppy from an early age that sometimes you may not pay attention to them when they want you to. You can give some attention to the puppy by petting them as soon as they leave to do their own activities. If there is another dog in the family, use a puppy pen or dog gate to keep the dogs apart for short periods. This will help your puppy learn how to be independent without other dogs.
  • With a smaller puppy, it’s not a good idea to start doing separation exercises that include treats or lots of activities. Familiarization, which is presenting separation slowly on a non-emotional level for the dog, is sufficient for the most part. Too much attention and/or rewards during training can accidentally cause a puppy to struggle even more when you're not around, as they now associate being alone with treats and extra attention rather than actually having to be alone.
  • Let your dog learn sociality with other dogs and with the help of a familiar, healthy adult dog that treats the puppy well and consistently. Also, arrange puppy playtime with other familiar puppies. At this age, puppies often only have experiences with their own breed, so make sure the puppy also sees dogs of different breeds. Keep your distance from dogs you don’t know or can’t guarantee will be healthy and friendly. You can also have your puppy observe dogs from a distance. The dog park is not a suitable place for a little puppy due to the risk of disease and potentially unpredictable dogs. If you do bring them there, make sure that they're not bullied or subjugated in the games of other puppies.
  • Protect your puppy from fear — both of being left alone too early and of socializing. Let the puppy examine the exciting things of life in peace, while also allowing them to get as far away from those things as they want. If a puppy is forcibly exposed to exciting things, it is likely to become much more fearful as an adult. In situations where your puppy is accidentally frightened, be sure to behave calmly yourself — talking in a worried tone can make the puppy even more nervous. By acting calm, you're communicating to your puppy that the situation is not dangerous.
Two dogs together

Step-by-Step Tips for Puppy Separation Training

1. Tolerating Separation Behind a Puppy Fence

Get your puppy a puppy fence or a dog pen that you can put in a central location, such as the living room. Move your puppy to the pen for short periods of time to eat, sleep, and chew bones several times a day. You can also cover the bottom of the pen with pee pads to facilitate good habits and begin potty training. Additionally, when using the fence or dog pen, your puppy is less likely to chew unwanted things in the home, as their access to objects will be limited when they're not supervised.

Start keeping your puppy in the pen for very short periods of time and take them back out not too long after they calm down. When the puppy is calm in the pen, but still awake, lift them to the same side as you and give attention by petting them. If they fall asleep in the pen, let them get some rest before rewarding them. However, be careful not to make getting out of the pen too rewarding itself, so the puppy won’t be always eagerly waiting to get out. Please note that, even at this point in the training, you should actually sit nearby the puppy and always within sight.

The purpose of this exercise is to keep your puppy calm during these minor experiences of separation. However, if you have misjudged the difficulty level and the puppy is not comfortable in the pen, wait for them to calm down before letting them out. Only let them out before they calm down if you believe that they're incapable of becoming calm on their own at their current state. Don’t let them panic in the pen; instead, release them from the pen and return to the exercise later at an easier stage.

2. Distance From Their Owner

Once your puppy is used to puppy pen training, you can spend the next few days moving further away from their pen. Try doing a variety of exercises; sometimes staying closer and sometimes farther away. Remember that the length of these exercises doesn't need to be terribly long at this age. Even a quick three-minute exercise will make a difference.

3. Longer Periods of Independence in the Puppy Pen

You can encourage your puppy's independence by starting to do chores while they're resting, so long as those chores don't attract too much of their attention. When this feels like an everyday occurrence for your puppy, you can slowly begin extending their time in the pen. Vary between short and longer times in the pen so that your puppy doesn't start to anticipate your return based on a certain amount of time.

4. Leaving Their Field of Vision

When your puppy can remain calm for several minutes while you're further away from them, start walking into the next room without closing the door. Then return immediately to their sight. This shows your puppy that they don't need to be able to see you at all times to feel safe. You'll know when this phase of training is complete when your puppy can be at ease in their pen as you do your chores freely inside your home, including between different rooms. Before moving on, expect your puppy to be able to do at least six sessions of this exercise.

5. Leaving Through the Front Door

At this point in their training, it's important to teach your puppy that you can leave the house or apartment and that there are certain proactive signs involved, such as dressing yourself. With your puppy securely in their puppy pen, start putting on your shoes and jacket as if you were normally leaving home. If your puppy does not pay special attention to this action, you can also open and close the front door. Immediately after this, take your puppy out of the pen. Throughout this exercise, continue the previous exercise of leaving your puppy in their pen while you do your chores.

During this training phase, you should only open the door when you have time to take off your shoes and jacket between repetitions. The most effective method is to do a single exercise several times throughout the day, rather than trying to do multiple door openings and exits right after each other. Studies show that too repetitive return and departure training exercise can cause added anxiety to puppies.

While doing this exercise, leave the house for varying intervals, such as 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 5 seconds, and 15 seconds. The important thing is that the puppy does not learn to predict too accurately the moment when you will return. This shouldn't be difficult, so long as your puppy doesn't get too nervous during the exercise. Complete relaxation of the dog is the main goal of this exercise, so pay attention and be conscious of their level of calmness.

To escalate this exercise, you can increase their solitude for a few minutes at a time. When a puppy can be alone for 20 minutes, they're most likely capable of being alone for 40 minutes. When 40 minutes is possible, an hour is likely possible, followed by an hour and a half and two hours. A dog's perception of time is not particularly accurate, especially when they're a puppy. However, you can always monitor how quiet or peaceful they are while you're away by using Digital Dogsitter.

When you start leaving through the front door, start by always saying the same words to the dog, such as “going to the store.” Don't touch the dog or pay special attention to them. This is how they'll learn that “going to the store” is a normal thing that they don't need to be afraid of, simply indicating that you'll be gone for a while and that it's time to rest and be alone temporarily.

6. Conditions for Longer Separation

Start paying close attention to your puppy's condition before long periods of separation. Have they gotten enough exercise? Have they eaten or gone outside today? Are they lacking in attention or affection? If your puppy is already missing one of these basic needs, it can lead to a higher likelihood of nervousness during their separation training.

At this point, you can also slowly begin to increase the space that your puppy has access to when they're alone. However, always ensure that they're able to stay in their original spot if they want to. This will keep your puppy from becoming nervous or frightened in a situation that seems foreign to them. You can keep track of how your puppy is doing as you expand this space using Digital Dogsitter's live video monitoring, no matter where you are.

When you return home, don’t pay attention to your puppy. Remember that looking at your puppy is also a sign of attention that can increase your puppy’s enthusiasm for your return. After all, you want to establish your leaving and returning home as an everyday occurrence, rather than something odd or special that your puppy should be excited about.

Wait for your puppy to calm down after you return before you invite them to be petted and receive affection. You'll know when they've calmed down if they've settled down to rest or have turned their attention toward their own activities. If your puppy is very agitated when you return, it likely means that they were nervous while they were alone, possibly because they weren't in the proper condition to be left alone in the first place.

A puppy

Always Keep Your Puppy Safe

The most important thing about separation training and socializing your puppy is to keep them safe at all times. Protect your puppy from scary things like aggressive dogs and sudden abandonment at home. If your puppy looks worried or is trying to get away from things that frighten them, alter your training and exercises appropriately. Exposure to fear doesn't teach puppies good behaviors. It only teaches them that the world is frightening.

Need some help with monitoring your puppy throughout their training? With Digital Dogsitter, you can track your puppy's progress with ease. Digital Dogsitter allows you to record and listen to the sounds from your home while your puppy is there alone. You can even view your puppy pen remotely through live video. This helps you ensure that everything is going according to plan and that your puppy is safe and sound.

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