Puppies during the Pandemic

In the last few months there has been an explosion of puppy adoptions–not only on my block, but nationwide. Since a significant part of the workforce is working from home, people are using the opportunity to add a new companion to their family. There are lots of advantages to this: the whole family is at home so the puppy won’t be left alone for long periods of time, house training should be easier if everyone is able to pitch in and take the puppy out frequently, and training your puppy basic skills might be more fun and more consistent if everyone does it together.

But, there are also some disadvantages. The most critical disadvantage of having a puppy during this pandemic is the lack of ability to socialize your puppy. Socializing puppies in the first 12-16 weeks of life is essential for a well-balanced temperament. It’s very difficult for dogs to catch up later on in life, and serious behavior issues can evolve if puppies don’t get the right kind of socialization during this window period. My husband and I spent twelve years trying to rehabilitate Vera, our rescued reactive German shepherd. She was plagued by a fear of strangers and dogs which manifested in aggression throughout her life, in large part due to lack of socialization as a puppy and young dog–not an easy fix. You can read the details of this difficult undertaking in my novel, “Finding Vera”.

Vera, although a wonderful companion who strove to do everything “right”, was always fearful of and aggressive to other dogs and strangers, largely due to her lack of socialization in puppyhood.

Another disadvantage to having a puppy during the pandemic is that classes for puppies may not be up and running in your area due to COVID-19, especially with the current surge in cases. So having your puppy exposed to and interacting with small groups of puppies will be more difficult than usual, and getting expert advice on how to manage and train puppies in a class setting might be risky or impossible. If you’ve never had a puppy before, you might feel overwhelmed.

TIPS and resources for Parenting and socializing Puppies

Milo at 6 months socializing with Annie (18 months) before COVID-19.
  • Since there is a small risk that COVID-19 could be spread to pets from sick humans, the CDC currently recommends keeping dogs six feet away from strangers. There is, however, “no evidence that the virus can spread to people from the skin, fur, or hair of pets,” according to the CDC.
    • Based on this information and depending on your risk factors for COVID-19 (such as age and underlying health conditions), while wearing a mask you might choose to socialize your dog with other puppies, friendly dogs, and people at the end of a six-foot (or slightly longer) leash. (You would need to ask permission first.)
    • Always allow your puppy to approach the person, child, or dog, (not vice versa), especially if he is shy . It’s important to strive for your puppy to have only positive interactions with strangers and the environment.
    • Don’t force your puppy to approach anyone or anything he’s afraid of. Give him time and encouragement to investigate on his own, then if he’s still reticent, allow him a break before going back to try again. Trying to force him to interact with something he’s afraid of will only undermine his confidence. This includes swimming.
    • Think about scheduling outdoor play sessions with friends’ puppies and well-socialized dogs in a safe setting while still socially distancing from other pet owners, wearing masks, and having hand sanitizer available.
  • There is also a middle ground depending on where your comfort level and risk factors for COVID-19 lie.
    • If you are uncomfortable being six to ten feet away from other humans, by praising and treating your dog whenever he looks at a dog, child, adult, cat, horse etc, you can build your puppy’s confidence. By giving him a strong positive association with other people and creatures at a distance, he will stay positive and interested in them, even though he won’t be interacting directly.
Certified professional dog trainer and puppy specialist, Siw Lea, takes a moment with Annie at 16 weeks.
  • Consider hiring a certified dog trainer for private lessons outside the house rather than inside. The investment of time and money will be well worth it, and with a mask and social distancing, you should be safe from COVID-19. Working with a trainer, you’ll learn more about how to train your puppy, socialize him, what his behavior means, and how to manage him than you can possibly imagine.
  • I recommend the following two books by Ian Dunbar “Before you get your puppy” and “After you get your puppy“. Both are downloadable from these links. They will give you excellent advice on errorless house training, socialization (which will need to be modified as I described above), how to set up your house to manage your puppy more effectively, and much, much more.
Annie resting in her long-term confinement area as recommended by Ian Dunbar in “After you get your puppy”.
  • Be cautious which type of training you choose for your puppy. Over the last twenty years, science has shown that positive-rewards training (reinforcing the behaviors you want your puppy to do with treats and praise (rather than correcting him for what he does wrong), is much more effective. Training by rewarding your puppy for doing the right thing and redirecting or preventing unwanted behaviors is not permissive, but strengthens the life-long bond you will have with your puppy. Watch for my next blog explaining this type of training in more detail.
  • Safe and effective ways to keep puppies from biting” is an excellent article on teaching bite inhibition (how puppies learn to control their bite).
  • Other puppy resources you will find helpful:
  • Remember that puppyhood, while challenging, lasts a relatively short period of time. Puppies need lots of attention, guidance, and training for the first two years of their lives, but if you put in the time and effort, you’ll have a wonderful, well-behaved companion. While dogs often need gentle reminders of our expectations throughout their lives, they will do very well after the first two years.
  • Enjoy your puppy!
  • I’ll republish two short stories I wrote a couple of years ago about our first experience with puppies, long before I was a dog trainer. These crazy puppies are long gone now, but they taught me a lot and spurred me on to become a dog trainer. They were well-loved until they died of old age many years ago.

Safe and Humane ways to teach your puppy how to stop biting by Kristen Seymour

Please read and enjoy this very educational article on how to work with your puppy to teach bite inhibition–written by Kristen Seymour, linked from Pupbox.com.

Bite inhibition is an extremely important skill for puppies to learn, and they must learn it before their jaws reach adult strength. They learn this skill through biting–other puppies and dogs, and us. Puppies and dogs will teach the puppy through yelps, avoidance, and maternal correction until the puppy learns to temper his bite pressure. We can teach them by following the steps outlined below:

Puppy Biting

Sascha’s first day: our new puppy

Reading short stories about other people’s crazy experiences with puppies or dogs can be entertaining.  I hope you enjoy my stories about our first golden retriever and collie puppies. I’ll include tips for dealing with a new puppy in your home without losing your mind (and your new pair of shoes) now that I am a seasoned, professional dog trainer.


Sascha’s first ride home

We weren’t able to view any collie puppies until the following day, but by the time we were half-way home with Sascha, our new golden retriever puppy, we were relieved that we’d had to change our plans.  We had stopped at least twice at rest stops to clean up her mess and to take her out for potty breaks. To save the upholstery, I had decided to sit in the back seat with her. This didn’t prove to be easy. Although her fur was as soft as eiderdown, and she looked as cuddly as a teddy bear, this puppy did not like to be held. And, on top of that, she was all teeth and nails.  By the time we got home, my hands and arms were scratched and bleeding.  And it was only early afternoon. 

golden-retriever-puppy- in coffee can
SO much puppy energy!

Puppy accident

“Oh my God, she’s peeing on the carpet!” Joel shouted. And a second later, “She has your sock!” Joel’s voice had reached a desperate pitch. A fluff-ball bounded past me with Joel in hot pursuit–and he wasn’t laughing. 

I grabbed a towel, my arms still soapy, and ran after him. Sascha was lost in her game, baby growls erupting from her throat.  She flopped down, intent on tearing my sock to shreds, then moments later fell asleep.  My head spun from jet lag, I craved sleep, and I couldn’t imagine another eight hours awake with this puppy.  “What do we do now?” I asked Joel.  “She has so much energy!” I looked over to where he had collapsed on the couch, rubbing his eyes. “Aren’t you going to clean the carpet?” I asked. “And what are you going to do about her biting? She’s YOUR puppy!”

“You clean the carpet. I’ll grab that puppy book,” he said. He left the room and returned with our book on puppies. 

golden puppy yawning

We followed the advice of “that puppy book” diligently. It had been written a few years earlier, in 1982, and used correction and fear-based tactics.  At that time, all training was correction based, a military approach that had been used to train war dogs. Unfortunately, in 1986, Dr. Ian Dunbar, the father of pet-dog training, was just launching his career, and had not yet published his books Before You Get Your Puppy and After You Get Your Puppy which have saved the sanity of millions of new puppy owners around the world. But the book we bought was all we had, and although some of the techniques made us cringe, we tried them because we felt we ought to, and because we were desperate, and because we wanted a well-behaved dog. 


  • Be rested when you bring home your puppy.  They require a lot of patience and work, especially when they aren’t yet house trained.
  • Transport your puppy home in a crate with a washable, soft bed in it with chewable toys available. If possible, have a second person with you to help transport the puppy in the car.
  • Don’t be alarmed if your puppy is car sick. Puppies will often outgrow this as their inner ear matures. Ask that your new puppy not be fed before the trip home
  • Leaving their litter mates and mother is traumatic for puppies, especially if they are 8-10 weeks old which is considered a fear period. They are very sensitive to their environment and new stimuli during these fear periods. So protect your puppy from potentially scary experiences for a day or two–rough handling; too many people accosting him; loud, scary noises such as TV, vacuum cleaner, and traffic; then GRADUALLY expose him to new things in a non-threatening way.
  • If your puppy won’t eat at first, it is most likely because of stress. Pick his food up after 20 minutes and try again an hour or two later. Always leave a big bowl of fresh water available to him.
  • Don’t be alarmed if your puppy bites and scratches. Puppies need to bite to learn how to control their jaws as adults. This extremely important skill is called bite inhibition.
  • Prepare for your puppy at home with long and short term confinement areas, and lots of puppy-proof toys that will stand needle-sharp teeth tearing into them (Kongs–a rubber toy that can be stuffed with treats, nylabones, ruffwear toys, etc).  They need to chew. The confinement areas will make your puppy feel more secure and will help you to teach him the kinds of behaviors you want him to learn, free of corrections. More about this on my next blog.


A new golden retriever puppy!

Reading short stories about other people’s crazy experiences with puppies or dogs can be entertaining.  I hope you enjoy my stories about our first golden retriever and collie puppies. I’ll include tips for dealing with a new puppy in your home without losing your mind (and your new pair of shoes) now that I am a seasoned, professional dog trainer.


Waking up

It was six o’clock in the morning, and I awoke in a blitz of excitement.  Today was the day.  I rolled over and shook Joel’s shoulder.  He groaned.

“Wake up. We’re getting our puppies today!”

“Later.” he rolled over and covered his head with a pillow. “I’m tired.” We had returned from England the night before, arriving back in Seattle exhausted—fenced yard in place, dog beds nestled in the kitchen—ready for our new puppies. Our first and second puppies as adults.

“No, Joel.  The morning paper is here.  I heard the delivery boy.  We need to get up and check it out. Now!”  My voice was urgent, bordering on frustration. For weeks we’d talked about this day.  For years I’d imagined it—all the way through high school and nursing school. Ever since the death of my sheltie when she was twelve and I was twelve. I had grown from toddlerhood to pre-adolescence, while my beloved canine sister had grown from an elegant, beautiful adolescent to an arthritic and fragile old lady. My parents had euthanized her while I was at school–I never quite forgave them for that. 

So today…today was monumental. I staggered out of bed, pulled on my robe, and made a beeline for the front door.  The Seattle Times was on the doorstep. I rushed back to the bedroom, scanning for the classified section en route. There were only a couple of listings for golden retrievers.  And one listing for collies.

We were in our thirties and had decided at some point not to have kids. But I wanted dogs so much I could taste it, and two dogs would keep each other company while we were at work.  We had figured that out with the help of friends. Joel wanted a golden retriever.  He liked floppy-eared dogs and had always admired goldens. I didn’t care for floppy-eared dogs.  I wanted a big dog with standing-up ears—a big sheltie really—which morphed into a collie.  

We were set.  We knew what we wanted, we had a fenced yard, we had bags of dog food in the garage, two dog beds, dog bowls, and names for the puppies.  And Joel, with his OCD tendencies, had practiced for the chaos we had been warned that puppies would create by leaving his jacket hung casually on the back of the dining room chairs for a couple of weeks before we left for England. We had even read a couple of books on dogs from the library.  In 1986 there was no internet. 

How do you choose a puppy?

“Golden Retriever puppies for sale. Eight weeks old.” Eight of them. Four hours after studying the want ads, we were driving through a suburban neighborhood of Seattle toward our first destination.  We were shown into a garage by a young woman and her two kids, and when they opened the enclosure that held the puppies, we were suddenly swamped by eight fluffy, squiggling bodies.  They jumped up, careened around us, yipped, peed, pooped, grabbed our clothes.  

Eight week old golden retriever puppies

“Which one do you want?” I asked Joel.  But how to decide? I had no idea. We had read about it a few weeks before, but in my confused, jet-lagged state, I couldn’t remember. And there were so many of them. “This will be your puppy so you decide,” I said.

One puppy ran up to him and nipped his fingers, but apparently not hard enough to hurt because he grabbed it, held it close, and said, “This one! She just chose me!” She squirmed in his grasp, her snub nose, sweet black eyes and small floppy ears completely entrancing.  

We paid for her, put her in the box in the back of the car we had thoughtfully lined with a towel, and set off for home. She promptly vomited, climbed out of the box, and cavorted around the back seat. We had a carsick puppy, but Sascha was on her way home.  

golden puppyIn retrospect, we had stumbled into a fabulous puppy in spite of our naivety. It never occurred to us to ask about her parents, or to spend some time with her mother to look for traits like fear, anxiety and aggression—even though she was present somewhere in the house. We didn’t spend time alone with the puppy we had chosen, nor test her reaction to us. We didn’t evaluate how she’d react to being held and gently retrained, or how she’d respond to an object being tossed for her. We didn’t know if she would follow us when we moved away from her and we didn’t think about her sensitivity to touch, to noise, or to new stimuli.  At that time, we didn’t have access to resources such as Dog Star Daily’s articles on how to choose a puppy , or the many books, e-books, DVDs, and CDs available on Dogwise.com.  We just fell in love with her. 

We did ascertain, however, that she was bold enough to approach and nip Joel, a man—though at the time we didn’t think about the significance. Nor did we consider the bonus that she’d had plenty of socialization with young children, and lots of litter mates to play with—both very important with regard to bite inhibition and her socialization period during the first twelve to sixteen weeks of life. Otherwise, we simply lucked out–Sascha turned out to be a dog among dogs—smart, creative, independent, a magnificent retriever,  and a very good teacher. 

Our education had begun.


When choosing a puppy:

  • plan ahead, read about what type of breed will work best for your lifestyle–all breeds have certain characteristics.
  • Find a responsible breeder.
  • If you can, meet both parents.  Many traits, such as fear, anxiety, shyness, and high energy can be passed on genetically. Shy puppies are sweet, but require a lot of work to socialize them to the world around them. Without extensive work, they can end up with aggression issues or be crippled by fear.
  • If you adopt from a rescue or shelter, find out as much as you can about the parents, and spend time with the puppy alone before you adopt him. Find out how long he’s been at the shelter. Puppies who are born or kenneled alone have a much more difficult time adjusting to the world at large. Litter mates help, but all puppies require a lot of handling to get used to people–kids, men, and women.
  • Testing how a puppy responds to you is important to get an idea of who he is:
    • Does he move toward you to take a treat?
    • Does he settle when you gently place him on his side or cuddled and stroked?
    • Does he relax quickly and get on with his activities if you clap your hands?
    • Does he play confidently and bite and jump?  If a puppy bites, you can teach him to control his bite before adulthood, if he doesn’t bite, it’s difficult to teach him this awareness.