In the past few weeks we have seen many changes within society in how we operate businesses, socialize, shop, spend our free time and communicate, all due to COVID-19. People are getting creative, socializing via video, gyms are providing online workouts, restaurants are offering take out options, vet clinics are offering telemedicine, and there has also been a lot of focus on mental health given all the roadblocks to our normal outlets. But what about our pets? How are all these changes, quarantines and social isolations affecting them?
While our canine companions may be revelling in our constant presence, this could possibly set them up (especially unsocialized puppies) to have separation anxiety when society starts to go back to “normal”. On the other side, our feline friends, while we hope they enjoy our constant affection, thrive on routine, and thus this is a big change for them which can cause them a lot of stress. This two-part blog post is to help owners take these possibilities into consideration, and how to help navigate our furry companions’ needs. Pets can be a huge outlet for us in regards to mental health, so let’s find ways to help theirs!
Part 1: DOGS
Something all dog owners I’m sure can agree on, is the majority of dogs are quite social. A pivotal time that helps shape their ease of socialization, is during the developmental stage of 3-16 weeks. During this time, they are more receptive to new social relationships and attachments. Genetics also plays a role in confidence or anxiety, and they also continue to learn as they mature during their lives, but research has shown, weeks 3-16 weeks are integral for puppies.
With this information, it means socializing your puppy, exposing him/her to new scenarios, objects etc. that they may encounter later on is very important. This is why puppy socialization classes are so beneficial, along with daycares and puppy training classes. Thus with the current social isolation practices and many businesses closing, we have to become creative in how we continue to socialize our puppies, as well as any newly adopted adult dogs. If not, we run the risk of raising fearful, unsocialized dogs, who are also at risk of severe separation anxiety
Human interaction – If you have other family members in your household, utilize them! Spend time handling, playing and feeding the puppy, use a variety between adults/children, men/women etc. If you don’t have others in your household, try dressing up in different styles of clothes, jackets, hats, scarves, and even get fun with it by character acting! Make sure you get them used to handling their ears, mouth, feet and tail.
Alone time – Just as important as introductions with people, is learning to be comfortable being alone. This one is particularly important so they don’t get used to having us constantly around during quarantine! Crate training is perfect for this. Make sure the crate is comfortable, nesting in an area such as the family room or your bedroom, and provide toys or stuffed animals in it. Slowly test their ability to be left alone by spending time in another room, gardening outside, or upgrading to going for short walks.
Sights & Sounds – There is a large variety of stimuli you can introduce your puppy or newly adopted adult to so they don’t develop fears later in life. The key is to allow them to take it at their own pace, reassure them, use food as encouragement and praise them for desired behaviour. Some sights and sounds to consider are traffic, weather (ie thunder and lightning), bicycles, dogs barking, children playing, appliances, phone rings, doorbells etc. There are many downloadable soundtracks to present to your puppy in a safe environment.
Outdoor stimuli – Again, let them go at their own pace and reassure them. Introduce them to different terrain such as gravel, grass, concrete, carpet, tile, snow, stairs, ramps, birds, flowers, sunny days, wet weather etc. In addition, get them used to the car, getting in and out, going for short drives, so they don’t fear the car.
Social skills – Even though we have to keep our social distancing, allowing your puppy to notice other dogs as you walk past them in their yards, or across the street on their own walk. The advantage here is this exposure is at a safe distance. Assess your dog’s body language to learn their boundaries and to know when to reassure them. Getting them used to their harness and leash, a little at a time and working towards short and then longer walks. Once they are ready, you can start to teach them basic social skills such as sit, stay, down etc. Ensure you use a lot of positive reinforcement for the desired behaviour. There are a lot of online resources and videos for dog training, such as www.clickertraining.com
Through trying to touch upon each of these sections during these current events, you can help to raise a more confident, and socially adapted dog, ready to take on the world when things return back to “normal”!
By: Dr. Laura Hartman