So, we find ourselves in the most strange and unprecedented times. Whilst we were all busily planning our lives and future, unaware of the terrifying virus on the horizon that was set to alter the course of life as we know it, some of you were planning puppies. Usually this is an exciting time of arranging excursions for socialisation, exploring the world through your puppy’s eyes of wonder and excitement and friends and family visiting you to see the new addition.
Obviously, not much of that will be happening now…so how on earth are you going to socialise your new puppy in this strange new world?
As we know the most critical period of temperament formation is up to around 12 to 16 weeks of age. I talk a lot about breed and individual specific socialisation; not all puppies are the same and it is most certainly not always a case of the more the merrier in that the dog needs to play with masses of dogs and touched by hundreds of people – it should be about the needs of the individual at the time and the likely predisposed behaviour of the adult dog based on the ever changing character and development of the puppy.
The positives about socialising your dog during ‘lock-down’ are huge – many puppies being raised now won’t be learning to run over to all dogs because they are simply not allowed…they won’t be learning that everyone in the street wants to cuddle them, because (even if people do want to…they can’t!), they will be more habituated to life as an adult dog who is with the owner and that the rest of the environment is not their business other than to be observed and accepted.
The obvious downsides that I can see are for some dogs who really do need a lot of dog on dog contact to develop normal engagement skills – for example the German Shepherd Dog and the Border Collie who can be very sensitive breeds with seemingly awkward engagement skills in some individuals. Equally a lot of the guarding breeds such as the Rottweiler, Spanish Water Dog and breeds like the Akita will not be used to visitors entering the home – this may not be such a problem for the more innately gregarious dogs like Labradors and Golden Retrievers, but may also affect some of the more timorous breeds like some of the Vizslas and UK bred Ridgebacks.
There is not an answer to this, because we are not in control of our environment and can only work within the confines of what we have.
So, if you have a puppy during this time, I suggest that you use your daily exercise periods to accustom the puppy to traffic, walking past people at a sensible social distance; they will see joggers and cyclists and other dogs and learn that they are to be ignored. The most important thing is to do what you can do within these limitations – for example, if you drive to the supermarket to do your shopping and as only one family member is allowed in the store, have another family member sit with the puppy in a crate in the back of the car and allow puppy to see what is happening around. The main focus should really be on obedience training which will help greatly in the future to guide the dog through new situations with confidence. As importantly, create the household routines and boundaries that will apply in the future – if you normally work for four hours a day, the puppy will need to get gradually used to time alone – a crate is of great use when raising puppies for a number of reasons, but critically the puppy needs to learn that alone time is a part of each day to avoid separation and over bonding issues in the future. Feeding a natural raw food in a Dental Kong is a great way to ensure puppy has a positive experience when alone, as well as tiring their jaws, relieving teething pain etc.
Work from Home
I’m really fortunate that, in normal circumstances, I work from home. My dogs spend a great deal of time with me typically and so little has changed for them (aside from a lack of visitors, days out in the car, walking with friends, training clubs, tracking through the open spaces and only one walk per day!) As we know exercise on a daily basis is critical for physical and psychological well-being. At present, we are still able to exercise our dogs, but depending on the area, some parks and open spaces require dogs to be on lead. This can be difficult for dogs that are used to a good couple of hours free running. There are many things that you can do to increase stimulation, but you need to be mindful of whether you need to increase what you are doing…and the likely possible maintenance when life returns to near normality. So, if as in my case, life is pretty much as normal for the dogs, you don’t need to start an hour of agility in the garden or scatter feeding their food otherwise when you no longer do these things, the dogs will be lacking.
However, if you are on reduced exercise, you can look to increase the dogs activities each day. I am passionate about raw feeding and so my own dogs will have bones a few times a week which keep them busy for hours in the garden engaging in normal activity, fulfilling physical and mental stimulation requirements. My own dogs are also trained to detect various scents and so I could do some scent work in the garden or the house, equally they are trained to find articles with human scent on them, so hiding small items about the place and sending them to search for them is excellent for engagement and fun. If you do have to feed kibble for some reason, you can hide it about the garden. The best prevention of boredom is to work with your dog – to teach new exercises – from going to bed, to touching your hand, playing dead, going around an object, looking at you or whatever…the things that you can teach are only limited by your imagination.
The most important thing is to stay safe, follow government guidelines, love and enjoy your dogs, do the best that you can do during these difficult times and should you need it in the future, members of the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association (cfba.uk) will be around to help.
Ross McCarthy MA
Canine Behaviour Practitioner and Trainer
A member of the British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers, The Guild of Dog Trainers, The Canine & Feline Behaviour Association. An associate of the British Police & Services Canine Association.