The year 2020 had a large percentage of the world start working from home due to a global pandemic. What this started was a glorified “puppy boom”. The demand for puppies started increasing as many people had a false sense of availability being able to raise a puppy and work from home at the same time. The prices of puppies skyrocketed and the “breeders” of all kinds started to produce puppies left, right and centre. The problem with this? The aftermath once the world returns to normal. Below are some of the issues that may arise and some ways we can try to prevent them:
It sounds pretty cool right? Work from home, raise a puppy – easy peasy.
When you’re home nearly 24 hours/day, 7 days/ week and you don’t teach your puppy that it is ok to be alone or create any distance and separation from your puppy, it’s a recipe for creating separation anxiety. What is separation anxiety? By definition it is exactly as it’s written – the puppy suffers from anxiety any time they are separated from the owner(s) or left alone. The symptoms and severity of separation anxiety can range from case to case but some examples would include whining, barking, pacing, panting, drooling, house soiling and destruction when left alone. Not only is this a stressful situation for your dog but it can create problems for the owner as well. Barking complaints, furniture and items destroyed, accidents on the carpets every time you come home etc. So what would be the best way to prevent this? The answer is building separation from your puppy from very early on and teaching them that it is OK to be left alone. Ways to do this include:
· Provide them with a safe space (crate or x-pen) where they can go to spend some time alone on several occasions throughout the day.
· Do not acknowledge whining/barking for attention.
· Do not take them everywhere you go (its OK to go do groceries or errands and leave your puppy crated at home!)
· Do not encourage them following you room to room. You can train a place/bed command so they can stay alone despite you leaving the room they’re in.
· Provide durational toys. Bones, Kongs, Enrichment toys to keep them busy when they’re alone.
· For the first several months (at least), have them sleeping in their crate away from your bedroom.
In dog training it’s always easier to prevent issues than it is to fix them. Being aware of separation anxiety and actively training your puppy with the thought of preventing it in mind will help substantially.
Uh oh, time to go back to the office. Now what? Now you have a 1 year old dog that is not crate trained that’s used to being with you 24/7 and you have to go back to work 9am-5pm. So what happens here? Sadly in many cases rehoming or bringing your dog to the shelter will happen. There will 100% be an influx of adolescent dogs (12m-18m) surrendered to shelters or posted on classifieds for rehoming when things return to normal. Reasons such as “not enough time to give him”, “not home during the day anymore”, “going back to work and don’t have anyone to look after him”, “can’t afford doggy daycare and he deserves it”. AKA: I impulse bought a puppy because I was home and bored and now it’s an adult. I didn’t do any proper training with and now it has behavioural issues I’m not willing to work through or I can’t afford a trainer for so he’s gotta go. Refer to my blog post “Should I Get A Puppy?” here.
Lack of Socialization
By socialization I don’t mean playing with other dogs. I mean proper socialization in public around strangers, bikers, kids, other dogs. The various “lockdowns” included closed parks, closed stores, stay-at-home orders, the inability to attend the veterinary clinic with your puppy etc. Crucial socialization windows and fear periods not being utilized because of the inability to actually go anywhere. The inability to desensitize your puppy to the ways of the world because there was nobody out and nowhere to take them. It’s always better to have a neutral dog in public than to have a reactive one. When your “working breed” is barking at everything it sees that isn’t because its “protective”, that’s because its reactive. You should be able to turn that on and off if that is what your goal is for your dog (protection). Some clever ways to help socialize and prevent issues from arising during the pandemic are as follows:
· Grocery stores. Stand outside the door and work on engagement/focus on you with people, carts, shopping bags and cars around.
· Outside the dog park. Working on obedience and foundation work using the dogs inside the park as a distraction.
· If you know somebody is coming to your house – mailman, weekly home food delivery, your Amazon order – go outside with your puppy. Let them watch the trucks and delivery personnel in uniform. Expose them to as much as possible.
· If not under a stay-at-home order, take a trip to your nearest busy city. There may be a boardwalk or more hustle/bustle on the streets than what you would find in your neighbourhood.
· If any dog friendly stores are open, take your puppy on a field trip. Getting them used to walking in unfamiliar indoor environments around strangers.
· Play noises/sounds on Youtube. Gun fire, thunder, car horns, fireworks. Trying to get your puppy neutral to auditory, visual and tactile stimulation are excellent ways to desensitize.
In conclusion, think twice before adding a “pandemic puppy” to your family. Make sure you are prepared for the extra work and lifelong commitment to that puppy. It’s not a temporary fix for boredom and you should have a plan in place for when you may be returning to work. As always, research your breeds to ensure the best fit for your lifestyle and educate yourself on the breeders.