2020: Are Our Pet Dogs In A Behaviour Crisis?
2020 has been an interesting year, to say the least. For many people, their lives have been turned upside down, and suddenly, many of us have found ourselves with more time on our hands – for many, the time they felt they needed for a dog. For those in the pet industry, “pandemic puppies” has become a very well known term. As the pandemic continues and many of us have been through the first wave of pandemic puppies, we’ve learned a lot to help our next wave of puppies as well as those first wave adolescents.
Dogs are naturally crepuscular animals – they are more active at dawn and dusk and are relatively content to snooze the day away. This is one of the reasons why they fit so well into our former lives – the pre- and post- workday outings were perfect. Now we’re home all of the time, which means constant stimulation and attention.
From this schedule change, I’ve seen a lot of inappropriate attention demanding behaviours develop, from barking to mouthing to chewing.
I’ve also seen a significant drop in crate training – since we’re home, who needs a crate? Think of it this way – do you still need a bed? A home office? Your dog needs a safe space to relax in, and in the future, you may need to leave the home – are you going to leave an overstimulated adolescent dog loose?
Dogs also love routines. This past week, I was called to work at a former job, which required an 8 hour workday out of the house. As I went through my morning routine, I swear my dogs were literally jumping for joy. They were in their home alone spots well before my coffee was finished pouring – they were so happy I was leaving. And they were happy when I came home. If you are working and schooling from home, establish a routine and help your puppy/dog fit into that routine. Let them sleep during the day, give them breaks away from you, and teach them that those breaks are wonderful.
Handling/ Resource Guarding
Resource guarding has become THE behaviour problem of 2020 in my area – I’m not 100% sure why. There is a strong genetic component occurring here as it is running rampant in particular breeds (sorry Golden Retrievers- I am no longer recommending you as a family dog until this resolves).
With the lack of routine and boundaries occurring in homes, dogs are being given a lot of chewing items to keep them busy – very tasty chew items. Valuable items plus constant human stimulation – we may be setting our dogs up to resource guard.
I have also seen an increase in intolerance for handling – again, this likely does have a genetic component, but with dogs constantly getting into things, they are frequently being grabbed and pulled away from things they want. Guess what this creates? A dog that doesn’t want to be handled and touched. This can set you up for a very challenging lifetime of husbandry.
Puppies and dogs also seem to be getting less exercise – they don’t seem to be going for many walks or
walks to new places. You can still go for walks despite lockdown restrictions – there are not many places where you must stay literally indoors. Take your puppy for different walks – let them see new things and get some exercise.
Fear and Anxiety
One of the biggest concerns amongst new dog guardians was how they were going to socialize their puppies. Many people do not realize that socialization is not necessarily going out and meeting every dog and person – socialization is being exposed to different stimuli while creating a positive experience (counter conditioning). This is why trainers and behaviour consultants are constantly asking puppy guardians to take food/treats with them and to feed their puppies after seeing people and other dogs – we want to condition a good response to these stimuli. We also ask people to give their puppies space and not force them into situations when the puppy displays fearful body language (this applies to all ages of dogs).
With many dog trainers and behaviour consultants unable to work in person, the internet is flooded with online training options. I do think virtual training can be extremely effective in specific areas, but are puppy and dog guardians selecting appropriate training for their dogs? How are guardians applying that training to every day life? This is where things get a little murky.
Can we do better with our pandemic dogs and puppies? Yes. It may require some tweaking in our thinking and even in our training/ behaviour recommendations and services. It definitely requires some future planning so that we are setting our puppies up for success so that they become dogs that we want to spend the next 10-15 years with.