Puppies After COVID: What Will They Think?

During the COVID-19 lockdown, your puppy won the people lottery by enjoying your attention around the clock. Snuggling for hours on the couch, long neighborhood walks, and extra lunchtime treats were all in a day’s work. It’s a heavenly routine your canine best friend has come to rely on. The downside is that your pup missed out on experiencing what the rest of the world looks like. As life slowly transitions after the pandemic you may need to help your pup adjust to staying home alone and encountering new experiences outside the house.

Figuring Out the New Normal

As people begin leaving the house and going back to the office, it’s goodbye to extra dog time and a set routine. In the meantime, your pup has no idea why you’re not available 24/7. Dogs are intuitive creatures. They feel their owners’ feelings and anticipate their every move, but when the schedule changes, they can feel perplexed. As a result, they may show signs of separation anxiety by barking too much, destroying household possessions, depression, and housetraining mistakes. To ease your puppy’s negative reactions, try these tips:

• Exercise or play games with your dog an hour before you leave the house.
• Keep departures and returns relaxed and low-key. Too much of an instant fuss only revs up your pup’s behavior.
• Arrange for a dog walker or doggy daycare visit. This gives your pup a positive outlet for his physical and mental well-being.
• Introduce puzzles and play new games. These activities provide enrichment.
• Try providing soothing blankets, bedding, or pheromone products. These may not work for every dog but may be worth trying. Note that some dogs may shred and eat their bedding under stress, which can be dangerous.
• Consider enrolling your dog in a puppy training or performance class. This provides mental and physical stimulation. Plus, the training helps!

Missed Socialization

Staying indoors or within the safe street boundaries also prevented many owners from introducing their new puppies to the community around them. As a result, many pups missed out on seeing new sights, hearing different sounds, and discovering a range of experiences to help them build their confidence and bond with their community.

Regardless of your puppy’s age, it’s not too late to begin the socialization process. Depending on your puppy’s comfort level it’s best to gradually introduce your pup to new experiences outdoors.
Rather than spending fewer, longer hours getting your pup out, schedule shorter, more frequent trips. Take treats on all socialization trips and reward for confidence.

Does the sound of a rumbling garbage truck driving by send your pup into a frightened frenzy? Will the sight of a fire hydrant on the sidewalk cause your dog to turn the other way? When a group of curious children crowd around your pup, does your puppy like it or want to run in the opposite direction?

Take It Slow

If so, resist the urge to flood your dog with too many new experiences all at once. The idea is to introduce your puppy to people and situations rather than overwhelm the dog.

For pups who have never met strangers or encountered odd sights in over a year, cramming too many stimuli in one visit can cause your dog to shut down and cause more harm than good.

If going out proves too much for your pup, invite one or two friends to visit with your dog in your yard. When it’s safe to do so, invite them indoors. A playdate with a friend and a stable dog might help, too.

Especially avoid dog parks, big crowds, or busy outdoor restaurants, as these too present unpredictable situations. For puppies who appear comfortable with odd sounds, sights, and experiences, try branching out to larger, noisier circumstances. Above all, keep socialization calm and positive. Treats, toys, and encouraging words, and petting help reinforce your pup’s positive reaction

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Advice on socialising your puppy

Picking up your new puppy Ensure you're well prepared when you go to pick up your pup, so you can both have a relaxed journey home.

Interact using toys

Use interactive toys stuffed with food, give them problems to solve, and controlled frustration to deal with. To continue their brain development in their new home, introduce them to tunnels, steps, things to clamber over and different surfaces to walk on.

Teach them about separation

Teach your puppy that part of their new life includes being left alone for short periods of time – or not having constant access to you. Do this from the first day you bring them home. Use a dog crate or a baby gate to separate them from you at least once every day at times when there are positive things happening, like eating dinner. To start with, they should still be able to see you, and so not feel deserted.

Introduce friendly dogs

If you know any, introduce them to friendly, healthy, vaccinated dogs. If not, speak to your veterinary practice or your chosen puppy training class; some have days where your pup can meet friendly staff dogs in a safe environment

Encourage them to follow you

Encourage your pup to follow you by rewarding them with a treat or a game when they do. This means keeping a constant supply of treats in your pocket. This will simplify recall training when your puppy is older and will build the bond between you.

Teach relaxation

Teach your puppy about relaxation and being calm around you. This includes when being groomed and being handled around their feet, face, mouth and ears. You can do this by rewarding them when they are still and relaxed.

Encourage periods of quiet time

Many owners miss this one in all the excitement and so the dog thinks everything is a game and never keeps still when the owner is around.

Breed and type considerations

Depending on which breed you choose, you may find that you have to pay more attention to certain things. Here are some starting points to help you:

• Toy/companion breeds: are more prone to separation anxieties. Spend more time making sure they are happy being left alone both when you are in the house and then when you leave
• Working breeds: spend lots of time making sure they are well-socialised to other dogs and strange people/visitors, and that their natural working instincts are utilised and appropriately channelled into toys and games
• Hounds: try and encourage them to pay attention to you when there are interesting smells or small animals around. Work hard on recall and following you • Pastoral/herding breeds: make sure that you provide them with plenty of mental stimulation, and have things to occupy their minds so they don't go chasing or herding things
• Terriers: use toys, games and yummy treats to distract them from small or fast moving animals and to prevent them ignoring you Consider what the breed was originally bred to do – this will give you clues to what you need to socialise for.

Don't forget the rest!

There are also some other really important factors that you need to consider as your dog gets older. These are:

• immunisations (for more information see the WSAVA guidelines) and when it is safe to start taking your puppy out for walks • training
• feeding and nutrition • worming
• permanent identification, e.g. microchipping, if not already done by the breeder • neutering