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”.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- The puppy Primer by Patricia McConnell PhD
- The Puppy Survival Guide By Sarah Whitehead
- AKC S.T.A.R. by Mary R. Burch PhD.
- 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.