Lock down due to Covid-19 is a troubling time, where many of us are feeling like our lives have suddenly been turned upside down. We are having to adapt to all sorts of things.
I have been contacted by many concerned dog owners, owners who had carefully researched their puppy, agonised over which breeder to buy from and already made efforts to sign up to training classes. Not to mention the many rescues who are now stuck in shelters either abroad or in the UK. They are in limbo and their socialisation and training has had to go on hold while their basic needs are simply cared for.
Socialisation – is the process by which puppies learn to relate appropriately to people and other animals, learn how to express themselves and read the intentions of others, and assess threat and react appropriately. It involves gentle exposure leading to pleasant encounters with a wide variety of people, dogs and other animals the dog may co-inhabit.
Habituation – the process whereby a young animal becomes accustomed to a variety of environments, situations, sounds and events. A well habituated dog will not think anything of extractor fans, washing machines, noisy children at the park, large or fast passing vehicles or hissing espresso machines at a cafe.
But all is not lost, and life must go on!
Here are a few tips on adapting your attitude to socialising/rearing a puppy during the Covid-19 lock down:
If your puppy is not vaccinated yet –
- Go for walks but carry your puppy – this way they can see traffic, people, lawn mowers, bikes, prams, kites (this is me listing what I saw on my dog walk yesterday). There may be less people/traffic out and they may all be spaced out, but they are still out there and your puppy will still see, hear and smell all of this.
- In the meantime, while your puppy cannot go on the ground as they have not completed their vaccination course, work on getting your puppy used to the lead and harness around the garden.
- You could also start some basic training, such as recall games and attention. Bond with them. Teach them that you are their support network, so when they do eventually get out in the big wide world they can check in with you and you will guide them.
Once your puppy has had their second vaccination plus the cautionary week advised by vaccine manufacturers –
Continue to use your allotted exercise time to take your puppy for a walk. They will still be seeing, hearing and smelling all these stimuli. It really is not the end of the world that they cannot meet and greet up close. In fact, for many dogs, it will give them the time that they need to acclimatise to life outside of the house with far less pressure. If I had a pound for every over-whelmed puppy or rescue I have seen who is been over-faced by that friendly neighbour or passing school child, or over-exuberant off-lead dog. The body posture is saying back off, the ears are back, the muzzle is tense and the tail is stiff (albeit it may be wagging) – everything is screaming ‘I feel awkward please let us move on –we have sniffed, our 1-2 second doggie hand shake has been completed, and I do not know how to respond next. I feel trapped’. But human etiquette dictates that we should be polite and stop and chat, so our dogs are left in this predicament. In some ways, social distancing is optimal conditions for socialisation, particularly dogs of a nervous nature (of course this is in the hope that lockdown rules do not become yet more severe and we can continue to walk our dogs responsibly).
Instead you can work on your puppy acknowledging the stimulus, enjoying the learning from a distance and then making an excellent choice to check-in on you! These good choices should be rewarded.
Normally, I would advise puppy owners to go for three short walks a day to avoid over exercise – one to a park where they will see dogs, one to the high street where they can see lots of people and traffic, and one around the block. This provides a variety of socialisation and habituation. Obviously, at the moment you can only do one walk a day and up until recently you could not drive to new places. Things will get easier as we phase out of lock-down, but in the meantime try your best within the confines of what your environment can offer
Things to do from home:
- Play a variety of noises – here is an excellent article with sound clips from Dog’s Trust. Find out more.
- Try to provide novelty at home – So for example each day take a few novel (but safe) items out of your shed/loft and place it around the garden for you puppy to explore. Dogs will identify familiar items by shape (amongst other things), so even a chair can be novel if it is placed on its side.
- Get started with some basic training e.g. recall, sit, attention
It is really tricky at the moment, and by no means a normal scenario for owners of young puppies. However, there is still plenty that can be done
What if lock-down prevents me from collecting my puppy?
You should be asking the breeder to be doing the above, or at least as best as possible. If the breeder can only go out once per day and has multiple dogs, then a rota could be organised so all the dogs get some ‘out of the house’ time a couple of times per week. Done correctly, some gentle exposure is better than no exposure. A good breeder should be happy to listen to your concerns, and make efforts to mitigate problems developing.
I bought a puppy online and they have offered to leave him on my doorstep
Many people are off work at the moment and may be tempted to get a dog. After all, this may seem like a sensible time to many. I have heard of colleagues in rescue who have been inundated with offers to adopt and foster dogs. It seems they did not have time before the lock-down, so there is a worry that they are not thinking ahead to after lock-down has finished. Most rescue centres, rightly so, have closed their doors. However, this may push people into the hands of ‘back street breeders’, puppy farmers and even the stolen dog market. So this is just a word of warning if you are purchasing/rescuing a dog, or putting your name down for a puppy at this time.
Interrogate your breeder. They should be happy to answer as many questions as you wish to ask, they should have footage of the mother and the puppies together in their home, they should know the puppy’s characteristics and they should have some plan or knowledge of a plan in relation to vaccinations, worming and micro-chipping. They should be willing to hold your puppy until after lock down, and they should be offering to start some work on his training and socialisation and they should be happy to send you pictures and videos as your puppy’s journey begins. Be very wary if they offer to drop the puppy off on your doorstep.
If the situation does not feel right, it probably isn’t, so walk away.
How to help your puppy adjust once we are out of lock down
Once we are out of lock down, we also must consider how to support your puppy, who may or may not struggle with the changing world that suddenly gets a lot busier.
We can do this by:
- Asking for recall as soon as you see your puppy feels overwhelmed, and rewarding them for listening. This teaches them from the start that if they are worried, you will support and guide them away. They are not alone, and therefore do not need to panic or escalate.
- Allow them time to approach and retreat at their own pace, and avoid overwhelming situations. With any situation, always start in the shallow end of the pool and wade deeper as appropriate.
- Ensure you go to training classes when you can
- At Minds Alike we hope to be able to provide some walk n’ train sessions when we can to provide as many socialisation opportunities as possible, in addition to our classes, for those that may have missed out.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you have any questions or thoughts leave a comment below.
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