Let's talk about the question that has to be foremost in any breeder's mind right now...socialization during the coronavirus pandemic. I'm in this situation myself with a 12 week old puppy in my house that normally would be in the midst of daily exposures to important things. I've taken a hard look at my past research on socialization and viewed that in light of the US government's call for measures to stop the spread of the virus, and I have, if not a plan, at least a distilled version of the considerations, with some definite "dos," some definite "don'ts" and some definite "it depends." But I will say at the outset this is all very fluid so, in the end, you have to be alert to changing facts and use your own judgement.
Update Saturday, March 21, 2020: Seven states and several counties in other states have ordered 100% of non-essential workers to stay home. Notwithstanding anything in this article, please comply with all federal, state and local laws.
Back in the day, (like, last week) socialization was a pretty straightforward weighing of risk benefit based solely on risk to the puppy- bottom line, wait until an appropriate age and vaccination status, stay away from high risk areas for canine infectious diseases and advocate for your puppy so that every encounter is a positive one:
But in the space of a week, coronavirus has changed everything and now governments in virtually every country are asking us to practice "social distancing" which is, on its face, contrary to socializing puppies. So now the puppy socialization diagram looks like this:
With that big, fat question mark on the bottom. The good news is that, although the safe space for socializing puppies has just gotten a lot smaller, it's still there. So let's look at what we CAN do and what we SHOULD do.
Two points to consider regarding our normal assumptions about socialization of puppies:
What is social distancing, anyway? Good question. The answer is something of a moving target but in sum it's minimizing non-essential contact with other humans to slow the spread of the coronavirus. For healthy adults with no risk factors either for having been exposed or being at risk because of a health condition, the President has issued the following directives:
Based on all of these considerations, I've come up with three rough categories for socialization protocols:
First, the green light activities:
Whew! If you're lucky enough to have at least one other household member and one other good dog, you can keep extremely busy with this for the next two weeks and, who knows, all this emphasis on ignoring and emotional regulation just might be as good or better than if your puppy actually interacted with other people and dogs in an unregulated fashion during this time. At the very least, you'll be removing the possibility of having a negative experience with another dog or person which is a very good thing.
Next, we'll talk about "red light" activities that are no longer advisable:
Finally, let's talk about the "yellow light" areas. I can't make a decision for you about these items, but I can give you thoughts about making your own decisions.
So, here are some ideas which I present to you, but I advise a great deal of caution with them:
So, what am I doing with my 12 week old puppy? Well, as luck would have it, I just got back from Australia on Tuesday so unfortunately I don't have a lot of options. Australia is generally much safer than almost anywhere else in the world, but I had to pass through three airports to get home. I'm feeling great but I'll be staying put in my house for two weeks from the time I travelled, just to be sure.
Fortunately for us, Alana really did so well with her first off premises socialization that we're not in a rush to push things for the next two weeks. We have a house full of dogs, up until this week we had a house full of people each day, and I did do a lot with her early on. I will probably do some "closed car" things, but, other than that, I don't see the need to go off premises right now and will concentrate on my "green light" list.
Once I've been back in the country for two weeks, I'm going to set up some private agility lessons, preferably at my outdoor facility but even indoors I feel we can conduct the lessons safely. I feel that getting Alana out to understand that novel places mean we train and work together is very important, so that will be a priority for me. I may also be renting a building for training. I have no current plans for socialization with outside dogs or people, but it so happens that because Alana was a singleton I've done a lot of that work with her already - much earlier than I would ever do with a litter, so she has that in her favor.
I think you see how personal these decisions become, based on your unique situation and your puppy's unique set of circumstances. The takeaway from this article is that, at the end of the day, any socialization where you can ensure social distancing, yet still control and curate your puppy's experience, is fine. That can look very different, depending on the circumstances, and I don't pretend to have every possible scenario covered here, but I think now you have some good guidelines for making decisions.
All that having been said, as I mentioned at the beginning, it's important to remain fluid and responsive to risks in real time and comply with all federal, state and local laws. I will be updating this article as necessary but in the meantime, be safe, be careful with your puppies, and be kind to the community!
Jane Messineo Lindquist (Killion) is the director of "Puppy Culture: The Powerful First Twelve Weeks That Can Shape Your Puppies' Future" as well as the author of "When Pigs Fly: Training Success With Impossible Dogs."