Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA
We are working from home. We have some extra time. We have some extra free attention. Regardless, we are here. And, we’ve been talking about getting a puppy anyway. Why not now?
If this sounds like what you’ve been thinking, you are definitely not alone. Dog trainers and veterinary professionals around the country have been reporting an increase in puppies. Could it be a typical seasonal trend? Veterinary practice managers say no. They think folks are using this time of social isolation to get a puppy. If it is, in fact, happening on a large enough scale we could reasonably call it a Puppy Boom. And, I totally get it. What could be more comforting in a time of uncertainty and angst that an adorable puppy?
But (and you knew there was a “but” coming), having a new puppy isn’t just about cuteness and cuddles. We are responsible for this dog’s long-term behavioral health. It’s up to us to prevent serious behavior problems down the line. And, that work needs to happen right now. The term you’ve probably heard bantered about is “Puppy Socialization.” Now, puppy socialization isn’t just about putting your puppy in a play group, though meeting other dogs is part of the process. Socialization is about thoughtfully teaching your puppy resilience and behavioral flexibility. In other words, it’s showing our puppy that they are safe in a variety of settings while we teach them how to make good behavior choices. It’s work. And, it’s work that has to be done in the first few weeks our puppy is with us. The clock, as they say, is ticking.
Proper early puppy socialization can prevent any number of serious behavior issues, inducing (but not limited to):
- Aggression toward people
- Aggression toward other dogs
- Debilitating fear
- Separation and isolation distress
In normal times we would get our puppies into a puppy class. They would learn to interact with other healthy vaccinated dogs. We would visit family and friends with our new puppy (every new person giving him a few small treats). We would have a puppy party in our home. Family and friends would visit so the puppy could learn the normal comings and goings of our household. We would accompany our puppy to the vet clinic or groomer for more feel-good meetings with praise and treats. We would explore lots of new places together, take car rides, visit playgrounds and ball fields for light-hearted investigation (and yes, smiles, praise, and treats). We would go to work and leave our puppy alone. A dog walker or pet sitter would come over midday. We would teach our puppy what normal is, no matter how crazy our normal life may be. In other words, we would totally rock puppy socialization. And, we would end up with a behaviorally healthy adult dog as a result. That’s what it looks like in normal times.
These are not normal times.
What’s at stake is significant. It is likely that we trainers will see an increase in aggression cases in the next 12-18 months. We will also see an increase in fear related behavior problems, and isolation and separation distress. Think of it as an echo boom effect from all of the puppies happily quarantined with us now. Am I generally an alarmist? Those of you who know me know I am not. Am I sounding the alarm on this, though? Yes, absolutely.
What can we do to make sure your puppy is not part of my dire prediction? How can these “boomer” puppies get the proper behavior intervention they need now in their early puppy socialization period, even while we are in a time of social distancing? Here are a few ideas:
- Socialize as best you can. We put together a free webinar on Puppy Socialization in a Time of Social Distancing. We explored ways to:
- Introduce your new puppy to various types of people creatively and safely.
- Introduce your puppy to hand-picked well-mannered healthy dogs.
- Introduce your puppy to a wide variety of experiences (activities that we typically see as problematic in our aggression cases).
- Seek out and schedule an online consultation with a qualified dog trainer or behavior consultant. Yes, we offer this service. But, so do many excellent dog trainers around the world. In fact, you might be reading this blog now because a trainer shared it on social media. Contact him or her for help.
- If you have not gotten a puppy yet, please wait. I’ll put my professional reputation on this. It will be best to wait until the pandemic is behind us.
There’s the warning. That’s what’s at stake. Now, let’s all take a breath (myself included). If you already have your puppy, cool. Seriously, cool. Puppies are fun and we love them. You can still pull this off and end up with a balanced healthy life-long companion. You will have to work a little bit harder at it, though. That’s the truth. But, you can do it. And, there are plenty of people who can help. We may be separate in some ways but you are not alone in this. Your vet knows what’s going on. Your local trainers see the trend, too. I see it. Together we can help you rock puppy socialization even in this very unusual time.
And one more thing. Congratulations. You’re a puppy parent. Take lots of pictures and post them everywhere. Puppies grow up so fast.
Michael Baugh is a dog and puppy trainer in Houston, TX. He is currently hunkered down with his family including his two dogs, Stella and Stewie.