Puppies in a Pandemic
It's weird times - the world is in a COVID-19 pandemic. We're told to quarantine, social isolate, social distance from others, avoid large groups, and stay home. But wait... puppies need to get out to be socialized - people, dogs, sights and sounds! And they have a critical socialization period. What to do?
If you are able to, you can still go out and see things - there are places that people are still around, such as grocery stores. And guess what? Socialization means that you do not necessarily have to meet people, but your puppy needs to experience them and be conditioned to feel good when people are around. You can do this by having your puppy look at the people and then eat a piece of food - by doing this, we condition the stimulus (people) with a primary reinforcer (food) to create a conditioned emotional response (happy). Depending on where you live and the current status of the virus, you may also be able to observe children playing outside, people with walkers/wheelchairs/crutches, and you may be able to see dogs while out on walks.
I predict an increase in separation distress behaviours after isolation periods are lifted. Even if you cannot leave your home, I recommend having time everyday where puppy is crated with a stuffed Kong, and you go to a different part of the house. If the weather is nice outside, you may want to go and sit outside, without your puppy. I know, I hate spending time apart from my dogs, but trust me, you'll thank me later when you have a puppy that is happy in his/her crate when you do leave the home.
Think about the next years of your puppy's life - are you planning on having a baby? Are there thunderstorms in your area? Children's birthday parties? Back in the olden days, we had CDs with noises on them - now we have apps and YouTube. When I need a noise (such as a crying baby), I rely on YouTube. You can do this as well - play noises at a low level while your puppy is working on a food puzzle or eating food from you. Again, make it happy!
Find one in your area and get put on the list for the next available class. I suspect that when we are able to teach puppy classes again, we will be able to modify curriculum for those puppies that have just aged out of the critical socialization period. If you are having difficulties now, contact a trainer in your area - trainers may still be offering home visits or outdoor visits, and if you are uncomfortable with that, most trainers do offer remote consultations, thanks to platforms such as FaceTime and Zoom. Just because we are physically distanced does not mean that help is not available.
In my area, puppies are on a fairly strict vaccination protocol - keep those veterinary appointments. Do not let your puppy get behind in his/her vaccination schedule. Your veterinarian may have a locked door policy, in which a veterinary technician will take your puppy into the building to have the veterinarian examine him/her, and then the information will be relayed with you. I know, you do not want your puppy pried away from you, but here is how you can help make these vet visits happy ones. Take your puppy to the vet hungry - do not feed him/her all of his breakfast or lunch. Provide your veterinary team with a bag full of DELICIOUS treats that you know your puppy loves - they will use your treats to reward and condition your puppy. Choose a veterinarian that promotes fear free appointments - this veterinary team will have your puppy's behavioural well being in mind during examinations, whether you are present or not. When you do speak to the vet, ask how your puppy did and if there is anything you should be working on at home. If they suggest some handling exercises, request handouts or the contact information of a trainer that can help you.
There is a lot of stress and worry during the pandemic pandemonium, but do not let that stand in your way of doing your very best with your puppy - reach out online and get help, particularly if you are seeing any signs of fearful or potentially aggressive behaviour.