Helping the post pandemic pup adjust to ‘normal’ life.
On one hand, the pandemic was the perfect time to welcome a new woof into your world. With furloughing schemes freeing up time for owners to settle pets into their new surroundings, for many, adding to the family was a welcome distraction from the craziness unfolding around us all. With the whole family ‘stuck’ at home, there was much quality time to be spent playing with, and generally enjoying the company of our dogs. But how are these lockdown lovelies faring now? Be they young or old, new to the family or long-standing members of the household, they have spent an awful lot of time in the company of their favourite people these last couple of years. As life gets back to some degree of normal, we are all (including our dogs) spending more and more time out of the house. As owners, it’s worth sparing a thought for the mental wellbeing of our canine companions during this period of adjustment, by easing them into their new (or indeed old) routine gently.
What’s the problem?
A leading pet insurance company carried out a survey on pandemic puppies (those purchased during the COVID-19 pandemic) and found that the number of young dogs relinquished to rescue centres continues to increase. In fact, more than half of those admitted into their care are below two years of age (fitting perfectly with the pandemic pooch theory). A significant proportion of these pups are being surrendered due to behavioural issues of one kind or another, and one theory suggests that this is due to the lack of opportunity for proper socialisation during lockdown. We know that for the vast majority of pet owners, giving up their dog is an absolute last resort; we also believe that the return to ‘normal life’ can be tough on dogs. So we’re here to offer our advice, to help owners through these challenging times.
As alluded to previously, our dogs likely relished the extra time we spent with them over lockdown; perhaps some of them have forgotten how to enjoy their own company (or at least how to relax into it). Separation anxiety is a real fear and should be treated as such. It can manifest in many undesirable behaviours such as inappropriate toileting, vocalisation, and destructive tendencies. Punishing these behaviours may at best be futile and, at worst, be counterproductive. For these guys, gradually building up the time they are left alone is a far better bet, and we mean very gradually. Start with five minutes alone time here and there. Remain calm both when leaving them, and upon your return, only making a gentle fuss of them when they are relaxed in your presence. Help them settle on their own by ensuring that they are well exercised, satiated with food and relaxed before leaving. If you’re out for long periods, consider the use of a dog walker who can break up their day and provide a much-needed release of energy. In extreme cases of separation anxiety, we recommend enlisting the help of a qualified and experienced canine behaviourist. A little investment now could pay dividends in a happy home environment for years to come.
The big (scary?) wide world
Since the country opened up, everyone is out and about more. Which means more traffic, bustling streets, herds of people in parks and many more dogs with them too. The sudden emergence of crowds, fast moving cars and hordes of fellow canines can put the fear into even the bravest of pooches who have been used to a comparatively serene, hour-long daily exercise regime over lockdown. So how to help these chaps? Go slowly. Choose quiet times of the day to walk them initially, and find quiet parks and other places. Perhaps this means driving elsewhere for the time being. Build up the busyness gradually. Walk the pavements later in the evening when cars are fewer and further between. Pay attention to your dog’s body language and help them by removing them from stressful situations until they are mentally strong enough to cope. Train them for recall, make them feel that you are their safe place by building a calm, understanding and supportive bond. And why not think about attending socialisation classes? There are classes for dogs of all shapes, sizes and ages and owners can benefit from a great deal of advice given by the professional running the class. We’re sure this goes without saying, but never punish behaviours born out of anxiety, seek sympathetic canine behavioural advice instead.
As vets, we’ve always had (at least) one eye on the pet health considerations associated with this phenomenon, known as COVID-19. Your dog’s social life is likely to be booming, what with all the new park pals they’ll be making. But forging these new friendships can come with health risks. Check that your dog’s vaccinations are up to date including kennel cough. Kennel cough is by no means reserved for those who attend kennels. An umbrella term for a range of highly contagious bacteria and viruses, certain strains can remain in the environment for relatively long periods of time. Nose-to-nose transmission isn’t your only concern with this one, infected fomites (inanimate objects) pose a risk too. Park-goers and socialisers should be protected by the easy-to-administer vaccine against kennel cough. While we’re on the subject of preventative health, it could be worth checking your dog’s flea and worm treatment status too…
Pupsqueaks and parties
Hopefully many of the old-timers will remember life before covid-19; pandemic puppies however won’t have any point of reference to it. There are likely to be many sights, smells, and sounds that will be new to them as society opens up. Fireworks, crowds, unfamiliar dogs, vets, grooming parlours, all of these things can be scary for even adolescent dogs who missed out on socialisation as tiny pups. There is a ‘critical socialisation period’ identified in puppies which runs until they are 17 weeks of age. How a puppy sees the world over this period can shape the way that they view the world for the rest of their life. Which is why it’s sensible to introduce new experiences in a calm and positive manner within their first few months. Some pandemic puppies will have missed out on much of this socialisation due to lockdown, and these pups might display signs of anxiety in unfamiliar situations. They might be fearful of other dogs, they might be overbearing to fellow pooches, they might fear the vets, or greet friends and family with far too much enthusiasm. But fear not, it isn’t too late, especially if you can spare a good bit of time, patience, effort and understanding. Think socialisation classes, sound desensitisation audio, positive training methods, whatever it takes to get these guys back on track. And always ask for professional help where a problem has become overwhelming.
There is so much owners can do to help a hound who is struggling with the return to a busy life, and we’re here as vets to support in any way we can.