Training Your Puppy in a Pandemic

What to do when you are stuck at home and have unlimited amounts of time on your hands? Get a puppy! You're not the only one with this idea. Millions of Americans are doing the same, with record levels of dog adoptions and puppy sales surprising all of us during the COVID-19 crisis.

The process is all so exciting.. Find the breed you love, start scouring the internet and local shelters for the perfect pooch, and Boom! You've just acquired your newest family member. Your new pup comes home, and within days he is wreaking havoc on the new landscaping that you've been working so hard on lately. He is crying in a crate, barking out the window, taking food from the kids, and therefore, you've suddenly found your migraines returning.

Well, this isn't exactly what we expected! The truth is, nobody knew exactly what to expect in a global pandemic. In theory, we all should've just gotten a few weeks to relax at home. In reality, we have millions of stir-crazy Americans that need something to do. A puppy seemed like a great idea, but now people are realizing that raising a puppy is hard and it's more difficult than ever to find resources to solve these problems!

Real Talk

We have to be safe, our government has made this abundantly clear. However, we know puppies need to be socialized, and even adult dogs need regular exercise and enrichment. How do we balance safety during the COVID-19 Crisis and healthy puppy socialization? Well, the short answer is: very carefully.

A puppy has a critical window of socialization that ends around 16 weeks of age. Anything your puppy has not experienced by this age is something he will run the risk of becoming fearful of later in life.

If you keep your puppy inside for the entire length of this pandemic, you run a very high risk of turning your happy puppy into a dog who is fearful of strangers, new places, the vet, the groomer, and anything else you try to do with him/her later in life. Socialization is not an option, it is a requirement.

How to Safely Socialize Your Puppy

Although it may feel impossible, there are ways to safely create a stable, mentally healthy dog for life in these difficult times.

  1. It is absolutely essential to take puppies out of the house daily. Do it in a smart way by avoiding large crowds and stores as much as possible. Take your puppy to a local park or church, and let him explore the jungle gym. Place treats on the steps to encourage him to climb it, and hold him close while you go down the slide together. This is a very enriching experience for a puppy. Let him experience the pea gravel between his toes, the squeaking of a chain link swing, and the rush of going down a slide (with a human, not alone).

  2. Instead of finding a parade or festival to bring your puppy to (gosh, remember those?), just stand outside a local grocery store and let your puppy watch all the people coming and going. Unfortunately, you'll have to avoid letting people pet him, but you'll get lots of people talking to your puppy from a distance, giving him eye contact, and he will experience the hustle and bustle of a "crowd" for the first time.

  3. Find another trusted friend with a well-behaved dog. It is very important that your puppy still meets plenty of other dogs during this time, and thankfully it is totally possible to practice social distancing with a friend in a park or backyard while the puppies enjoy some playtime! Just avoid entering each others' homes, let the homeowner open the gate to the yard, don't share poop bags, leashes, or anything else that might transmit a virus, and remember your mask!

  4. On a limited basis, bring your puppy into the store. We do not recommend visiting stores purely for the sake of socialization. But if you need to purchase something from a pet-friendly store, bring the puppy! Stores like Home Depot, Lowe's, Petsmart, Petco, Michael's, Hobby Lobby, Autozone, are actually all pet friendly. Any store that sells food, such as Walmart, is generally not pet friendly.

Training and Enrichment

Another important aspect of this pandemic is how to train your puppy and enrich his/her life when attending puppy group classes is not an option!

  1. Contact a local trainer, and open a line of communication. Whether you're struggling with potty training, puppy play biting, basic manners, or crate training, professional trainers can help. Many trainers right now are offering virtual private lessons, which can actually be just as helpful as in-home lessons. If your trainer is not offering virtual lessons, they may be willing to give you advice over the phone for a discounted rate, or even come to your home and do a private lesson in your front yard. If you're having trouble finding a virtual lessons trainer, check out our page. We can help anyone, anywhere in the US.

  2. Read, read, read. The Puppy Start Right book is an excellent resource for many new dog owners. We also have a full range of recommendations here.

  3. Puzzle toys! Throw away that food bowl. You don't need it! You've got unlimited time on your hands, remember? Your puppy would get so much more enrichment if every one of his meals were fed from a puzzle toy, or through training sessions or scent games. This will teach your puppy how get better at problem solving and learning new behaviors.

  4. Kongs, Lickimats, and other time-consuming things. Chewing and licking is a very important behavior for young puppies! Every day, give your puppy some quality one-on-one time with a stuffed kong, a peanut butter-filled Lickimat, or a bully stick.

  5. Feeling a little extra? Set up a digging-approved sandpit in the backyard full of dirt/sand, chew toys, kibbles, tree roots, and other delicious things. Teach your puppy how to dig up tasty stuff. Digging has long been thought of as a terrible behavior, but it is actually one of the best ways for young puppies to develop proper musculature and ligament strength. The key is not to stop your puppy from digging altogether, just teach him when and where to dig, and it won't be an issue!

Well, good luck! You've got lots of time on your hands.. now put that time to good use! If you have any questions, be sure to reach out to us. It's what we're here for!

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