The Puppy Boom – What’s at Stake?

 

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.

Touch Me Not

Michael Baugh CPDT-KSA, CDBC

It’s one of the most uncomfortable things for us trainers to say to a client.  I am always looking for the kindest and most tactful way to say it.  “I don’t think your dog really enjoys being patted on the head like that.”  It’s tough because the thing is, we humans love to pat and pet and paw on our dogs.

Ethologist and Author Patricia McConnell PhD was one of the first to shine the light on this basic disconnect between humans and dogs.   We humans are primates.  Our social interactions are played out primarily with our arms and hands.  Dogs are canines and they are notably lacking arms and hands.  Their social interactions are played out with their whole bodies, but primarily with their mouths.  So, it’s no surprise then to find new puppy owners bloodied on their limbs and digits baffled over why their young bundles of teeth keep biting them.  It’s also no surprise to see a dog duck away when their person reaches out to pat their head.

Here’s the rub (literally and figuratively).  Even when we know better, we humans keep on keeping on.  We don’t get it, even when we get it.  Case in point: that picture of me and Stella over there.  My face says, I love this dog.  Her face says, I don’t care just get me out of here.  I knew better but I just couldn’t stop myself.  Facebook and Google are littered with videos and pictures like this one, and worse.  People hugging dogs who clearly are uncomfortable.  Children draped over dogs who are at best tolerating the interaction.  We can’t help ourselves.  Almost daily we’re highlighting the difference between our species, photographing it, and publishing it for the world to see.

Sometimes I chuckle at myself when I forget and reach for Stella’s head for a nice pat.   She, of course, ducks away and I apologize.  The laugh is on me.  I knew better and couldn’t help myself.  Dogs tend to not like hands reaching for them; especially hands belonging to someone they don’t know too well.  Some dogs are more sensitive than others (Stella knows me well and still doesn’t care for that kind of greeting).  We forget because quite often we greet each other, including strangers, with an extended hand.  We call it shaking hands.  If we know each other even a little bit better, or if we’re in Europe, we might hug.  Hugs to dogs are very alien and offensive.  Dogs who drape their heads over another dog’s withers (shoulder area) often get in fights.  So do dogs who full-on mount another dog (sort of like hugging).

People who reach for the wrong dog get bitten too.  Sometimes the results are serious.  Children, unfortunately get bitten most frequently.  They’re the ones most likely to hug or even try to ride a dog.  It pains me to know some parents don’t know better and actually encourage this.  They grab the camera and log on to Facebook.  I cringe.  At least one dog related fatality this year involved a baby pulling himself up on a dog.  Those cases are rare and extreme.  It’s easy to blame the dog or the parents.  The truth though is that we all need to learn better ways to interact with dogs;  we trainers especially need to take the lead on this – teach – learn – teach again.  No one who loves their child and loves their dog wants things to go badly.  But it happens.

This doesn’t mean dogs don’t like to be touched.  Most do.  When I’m thinking correctly, I let dogs approach me first.   If the dog appears fearful, I’ll turn sideways to the dog, and I might bend at the knees to get down to his level.  I don’t reach into the dog’s space or make direct eye contact, the way you might do when you’re greeting a person at a business meeting.  If the dog approaches, I pet him on the chest or on the cheek by his ears.  Watch to see how he reacts.  If he backs away, I stop.  Of course, the overwhelming majority of dogs will love this.  Many will be exuberant and jump for joy (that’s another issue altogether).  Children are always supervised.  In Stella’s case, because she is particularly sensitive, interactions with kids are structured and brief.

Trainer educator Jean Donaldson got it right in The Culture ClashWe want our dogs to be like dogs the in the movies.  She calls them Disney Dogs.  They are cute and always nice, with human sensibilities and manners.  That, of course, is a myth.  Dogs have their own ways, their own sensibilities, and they are nonetheless still cute and nice.  I think they are more so.  Nearly perfect in fact.  I should remember that when I see a dear client looming over her dog and reaching out.  “Your dog is wonderful, and so are you.  Let me show you how he likes to greet people.  He’s so cute.

“Wait, I’ll get the camera.”

High Rise Potty Training

Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC

Dear Michael;

I just got a little furry baby from the rescue in my area. She is a mix of who knows what, cute and cuddly with curly fur. I live in a high rise apartment building and am starting to use puppy pads for training. I know there will be times when I cannot be there to take her out. How would you suggest I use puppy pads and crate training together? We are just starting and already unsure as to how to get the message across.
Thank you, Jess
 ————————————————————
Dear Jess,

Great questions!  Potty training a puppy is a pretty straight forward process, regardless of where you want the puppy to “go.”  Most dogs seek out absorbent surfaces, like grass.  Unfortunately some seek out carpet as well.  The potty pads are absorbent too, which is good news.  I can tell you, they are most effective if used in an area with hard flooring.  Don’t put them in a carpeted area.  If you want to train your dog to use the potty pads some or most of the time in your apartment, then lead her to the pad right after letting her out of her crate.  As soon as she’s done doing her business, praise and treat her.  Repeat this process often and she will learn the pad is the preferred indoor potty area.

(read more on All Things Dog Blog)