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'tips-for-owners-of-pandemic-puppies

Tips for Owners of Pandemic Puppies


by Lauren Samet
10/05/2021


The last 15 months have seen a tremendous change in both our working lives and social lives. Covid-19 saw the country and much of the world go into lockdown and restrict our movements to help prevent the spread of this notorious virus. This meant that many of us began spending a lot more time at home: working from home, socialising (via Zoom) from home, exercising at home, educating our children at home – the list goes on! It also meant that many people began thinking about their environment at home and who was in it.

For many people, busy lives and busy jobs are a key determinant of whether they own a pet or not. Not “having enough time” is one of the key reasons people cite for relinquishing a pet into a rehoming shelter. And yet suddenly in 2020/2021 many people had enough time, a lot more time, more time than they knew what to do with in fact! Whether it was to keep them company, to give in to the children’s pleas, or to more easily take the required “pawternity” period that settling a new dog into the home often requires, getting a dog suddenly became a really popular idea.

Fast forward into 2021 and the phrase “Pandemic Puppy” is a common one. 

Perhaps it’s just the algorithms in my news feed but it seems not a week passes without mention of “pandemic puppies”. A common theme is the record-breaking prices for new puppies, illegal puppy smuggling into the UK, or the increasing rise of pet thefts, all spurred on by the demand for supply. 

Another is the fear from animal welfare charities as to what will happen to many of these puppies when normality resumes and a cute puppy turns into a time-consuming adolescent, one that has probably grown up in a very different world to the one it is now faced with. It is this latter concern that is discussed in the rest of this article.

Whilst most of us have been able to adapt to “the new normal” of lockdown life, for many pets this will be the only life they’ve known - company 24/7, long daily walks, and possibly a quieter life void of socialising with strangers both human and canine, certainly the number of house guests will have been minimal. And while we as owners have adapted to this way of life, we will of course be able to adapt back again, but will our dogs be so lucky? 

Here’s a list of hints and tips to assist those with “pandemic puppies” to prepare for a return to normality:

Home Alone Training 

Many dog welfare organisations have stipulated for some time now that it is crucial owners begin to start some home alone training with their dogs as lockdown eases and we start to see a return to normality. 

Leaving your dog alone by themselves regularly, is when their real “lockdown” begins. We obviously don’t want them to feel like they are in a lockdown situation however, and spending time alone should ideally be seen by your dog as time to rest and relax. That’s why starting the process of training your dog to understand this sooner rather than later is recommended. 

Training your dog to enjoy home alone time before any issues develop and whilst you have time to work on them at home, helps to avoid unnecessary stress to your dog. 
Home alone training can be built up slowly over time to ease your pet’s transition back to spending time by themselves. There is lots of advice out there on how best to do this, however, the basics of it are to set your dog up with a comfy safe space and a filled kong or a chew – something that they really like and will keep them occupied the whole time whilst you are out of the room/house and they are alone. 

You want to keep their experience of them being alone as positive as possible and ideally the first few times you try this, you want to aim to return before they have time to miss you (even if that means just crossing or leaving the room without them following you) that way they can begin to associate your absence with something nice. 

Build up their alone time slowly, and make targets small and achievable (even 5 minutes alone is a big deal for some dogs). Try not to rush the process, and don’t be afraid to go back a stage in the process if they are struggling, especially if they have separation anxiety or other separation-related behaviours. For cases like this, you may wish to seek help from a dog behaviourist to get additional tips in supporting your dog that may be specifically adapted to your set up and routine.

Socialisation 

It’s been a really hard year, one full of social distancing and restrictions to public spaces, which has had an impact on how much socialisation people have been able to do with their puppies. 

“Socialising” your puppy basically means making them familiar with lots of new and different people, places, situations, and other dogs, all whilst providing them with lots of positive reinforcement to show them that new doesn’t have to mean scary (see our article on positive reinforcement if you would like some more information on this topic). It’s basically teaching your dog to be adaptable and cope with change, something that, just like us humans, can cause some dogs much anxiety, trepidation, and sometimes fear. 

Socialising your puppy is a gift that gives them a great start in life, however for many different reasons (global pandemics being one of them) sometimes socialisation during a puppy’s crucial learning stages is not possible and therefore must be carried out after this time. 

If you acquired a puppy during lockdown, do not overestimate how much of the world they’ve actually seen/heard/smelt or experienced or are comfortable with. Even experiences such as going to the vets may have been different to how a normal trip to the vets might be and so you must regard these seemingly routine activities as quite a big deal to your dog; be patient with them and provide them with praise and treats to allow them a positive association with these new things they will experience. 

When restrictions lift, puppy or training classes may still be a good idea even for slightly older dogs. This will allow your dog to build some confidence with other friendly dogs, meet some different but nice people, and allow you to build some muscle memory in training routines for when you’re at home or out and about with your dog e.g., loose lead walking.     

Get Reading! 

While many of us struggled to get any work done during lockdown, some people were ultra-productive during this time and wrote some excellent books and articles on dog behaviour! A few trustworthy reads I’d recommend are Zazie Todd’s Wagg (and founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology) and Carrie Westgarth’s The Happy Dog Owner. Also do not underestimate the excellent advice provided by animal welfare charities on their websites which are generally the best up-to-date methods of practice and advice to help with all kinds of issues. Dogs Trust Behaviour webpages are particularly good.

Behaviourists 

If you think your dog is in distress, even mildly, or they have a behaviour that is unwanted, or a behaviour that is not ideal for you or them but is manageable, my advice would be to seek help from a qualified dog behaviourist as soon as possible. 

Seeking help early doors with a dog’s problem behaviour is an investment in your lives together and both of your happiness. Often unwanted behaviours don’t go away by themselves and can sometimes get worse. It can be really reassuring and heartening to talk to someone that is an expert in dog behaviour and has helped similar cases before. 

There are lots of dog behaviourists out there now so you may wonder which one to pick. Any listed by the Association of Pet Behaviour Councillors (APBC) will be qualified and use positive reinforcement methods (i.e., praise, treats, toys – your dog’s favourite things!) to support your dog. 

Avoid any behaviourists suggesting punishment or negative reinforcement methods as to change your dog’s behaviour. Not only is this much nicer for your dog, but it has also been shown that those using positive reinforcement training methods have better relationships with their pets and happier dogs with better levels of welfare than those that do not (de Castro et al., 2020).

Dog Walkers & Pet Sitters 

You may have heard that it takes a village to raise a child, well guess what, the same could be said for a dog! Ok this might sound excessive, but it may be that you have family, friends or neighbours, or know other pet owners in the area that can help.  You may also be able to share dog duties with them, especially if you are scheduled on a gradual return to work where some days of the week you are in the office and some you are working from home still. 

Once again it comes down to thinking about what would be best for your dog. While you may be excited to return to normality, don’t forget that for many dogs this is when their real “lockdown” will begin. If you are concerned that your dog will miss your company in the day or get bored, alongside their home alone training, you may also want to seek out a local, trusted dog walker that could break up their days and offer them some extra fun in their routines!

Vaccinate

It’s probably fair to say that most of us now know a lot more about vaccinations, viruses, and immunity than we did at the end of 2019. However, the 2020 PDSA Animal Welfare Report revealed a worrying rise in the number of owners not getting their puppies and dogs vaccinated. This puts individual dogs at greater risk of deadly diseases and also puts the whole dog population at risk from these diseases becoming predominant again (ever wonder why we don’t have to worry about rabies anymore?). 

If there’s one thing we can take away from this pandemic its vaccinations save lives! You may have had to cancel routine veterinary appointments due to lockdown restrictions etc in the last year but as things get up and running again, make sure you check in with your vet and make sure your dog is up to date with their vacs!  


References & Further Reading 
Dogs Trust (2020) Lockdown Advice: Introducing your puppy to the world around them [online]. Available at: https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/behaviour/puppy-socialisation-introduction (accessed 09.05.2021)
PDSA (2020) PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report 2020: The essential insight into the wellbeing of UK pets (10th Ed.) [online]. Available at: https://www.pdsa.org.uk/get-involved/our-campaigns/pdsa-animal-wellbeing-report 
Vieira de Castro AC, Fuchs D, Morello GM, Pastur S, de Sousa L, Olsson IAS (2020) Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare. PLoS ONE 15(12): e0225023. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0225023 
 


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