Getting a new dog or puppy has been a coping mechanism for humans faced with isolating themselves through COVID restrictions, but it is not without pitfalls.
Most caregivers are aware of the importance of wide-ranging positive socialisation experiences during the sensitive socialisation period in a dog’s development.
This period starts at around 3 weeks of age and ends around 12-16 weeks depending on the breed.
Puppies born during COVID restrictions have a future red flag for behavioural issues
The first part of socialisation is learning about your own species by interacting with your siblings and your mother and perhaps this part won’t be too negatively affected by the changes we are experiencing as a community practicing social distancing. The bitch teaches the puppy how to behave, how hard to bite, how to play, when to stop playing and how to be part of group. Canine social rules are learnt. It is so important to have a kind and caring mother (for humans too!) The second part, however, starts around 8 weeks and goes to 12 -16 weeks and this period will likely be effected. This is the period where the puppy learns about the world he lives in and the things humans do. I guess we just have to accept that these will be COVID puppies and we will have to watch out for them as they mature.
They essentially have a RED FLAG now for future development. “Puppy born during COVID restrictions.”
So what can you do as a new dog guardian to minimise the negative effects of limited socialisation?
Firstly you should as always be selecting dogs from fit and healthy mothers who live in environments free from stress and distress. Ideally the mother is tried and tested. She has produced wonderful puppies before. Hopefully you have been diligent in sourcing your pup from someone you have developed a relationship with – enough to know the temperament of both the adults that produced the pup and the environment the puppy lives in. The breeder follows the latest advice in behaviour. They do not follow outdated advice such as being a strong pack leader, or showing their dogs who is boss. The breeder has a strong interest in producing puppies that will be sold to pet homes. They pride themselves with excellent temperaments.
If you are looking for a pet you do not need to be convinced by the number of show ring ribbons or that the sire is from imported semen with strong guarding lines. You have not purchased from the internet with little information other than images.
You are not going to be able to do many of the things that we suggest a new puppy caregiver do. You may not even be able to attend puppy class, although some are still running, so look around for those who are able to offer a large facility and social distancing.
You may not be able to introduce your puppy to the large number of people we generally advise – 100 people in 100 days might have shrunk to single digit numbers. So I want you to be the 100 people! You can dress up – wear silly costumes, walk funny, put on sunglasses and hats. Get all your immediate family who you are not socially isolating from to do the same. Weird voices, funny laughs, fake beards, use a walking stick. Become a crowd!
You may not be able to take your puppy to cafes and markets anymore as they are no longer open, but you can still walk the streets and get the dog habituated to the sight and sounds of traffic and people at distance. I am afraid no people should be getting close enough to you to touch your puppy. I suggest pairing food with everything new thing the puppy is experiencing and taking note of anything that seems especially scary to the pup and increase the distance. You want to see a wiggly, happy pup the entire time you are exposing the dog to new stuff. He should want to engage even though he can’t. This will be a good sign.
Because no one but your immediate family is touching the dog you might want to get your pup used to the weird and intrusive things people might do in the future. Pair touching the dog’s head and reaching over the dog’s head with high value food. Practice the kind of greetings you want your dog to be accepting of.
You can increase the rudeness of your greeting as your dog shows he is not bothered at all by the stupid things humans do.
You may be able to mimic some of the sounds of the experiences you are not able to do in reality. There are sound apps such as SOUND PROOF Puppy and no doubt others that can be used to expose a dog to sounds. Have your television on a lot. The reality will be that the dog will not be experiencing these for real and it might be good to do more of this that you normally would and gradually increase the volume of different sounds, eg children playing may be something the new pup may be limited in seeing if schools close so use the sounds of these to socialise to. Even if you don’t like sport you can find it on You Tube and play these sounds.
You may be spending more time with the puppy than you normally would, and will in the future, and so you do want him to get used to you going out. Covid won’t last forever! So even if you are not working, get him used to be separated from you and you leaving the home. When you enter your office place him away with something to do rather than have him next to you constantly. Go for a drive and leave him with chew toys and things to eat. Don’t spend every minute with him just because you can. He needs to see your departures as his chance to eat and sleep. Watch him via a phone and laptop to ensure he is behaving calmly while you are out. Early signs of separation distress require treatment. Remember puppies need 16-18 hours of sleep each day so if kids are home from school make sure they give him a break too.
Crate training is a great way to teach a dog how to settle and done correctly it can be a useful trained behaviour for a dog who is moving home, going to a vet clinic, boarding etc. It can assist toilet training. Crate training should, however, occur in a stress free manner and therefore needs to be a planned. No dog should see a crate as entrapment and if your dog is responding in this way then the crate training has been rushed.
Susan Garrett – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8HNO79bZMY
Even though I do not underestimate the importance of good socialisation I do think that if the individual has sound genetics (stable, calm mother that had a dream pregnancy and her influence on her pups was positive in their early in life) he will be okay despite not having as much socialisation as we would like. The real risk is for dogs who have the genetic predisposition for fearfulness and then they are, on top of this, under-socialised due to COVID. These dogs will likely be the patients of the future.