The Covid-19 outbreak is a challenging time for many dog owners, especially those with young puppies. We’ve put together some tips on how you can make the best of this challenging situation.
Owning a Puppy
Your puppy will undoubtedly miss out on vital socialisation during this outbreak, but there are things you can do to try and make your puppy as well-rounded as possible.
Socialisation and habituation
- Now exercise is unlimited, please attempt to give your puppy at least two little trips a day to a public place. Please take care with children walking young puppies who might not understand what situations to safely put them in.
- If your puppy hasn’t yet been fully vaccinated, they can still be carried out of the house. This is recommended for all puppies, irrelevant of a health pandemic. This really is so important and many people overlook it. If you are able to carry your puppy prior to being able to walk them, PLEASE do.
- Please ensure you stick to the recommendation of 5 minutes exercise per month of age (e.g. 4 months = 20 minutes). If it’s possible to carry your puppy or stand still for periods, this increases the time you are allowed out of the house.
- Now we are able to use our cars to drive to exercise, please try and ensure you vary their socialisation (e.g. different parks, high streets).
- Do make a point of trying to safely expose them to traffic and people and dogs at a safe distance. You don’t need to be close to stimuli for your puppy to be exposed to the sights, smell and sounds of them.
- Your puppy will probably not hear all the noises required to habituate them appropriately, so it’s a good idea to play them these noises at home so they are exposed to them. For example, they might not be able to see children playing, but being able to hear the noise they make would be helpful. You can download the sound files free of charge on the Dog’s Trust Website (https://soundcloud.com/dogstrust/sets/sound-therapy-sounds-sociable), with guidance on how to use them.
- Also ensure you are accustoming your puppy to many sounds around the home, such as the hoover, washing machine, etc. These should be from a distance your puppy can feel no concern and the sounds should be paired with food or games.
- Even though trips in the car are limited, you can still habituate your puppy to spending time in the car. This can either be with your puppy in their crate or car harness, with a food toy to occupy them. Please never leave your puppy unattended in the car.
- You can get your puppy used to wearing a collar, harness and lead and walking around the garden.
You can spend this time focussing on handling exercises with your puppy, so they are habituated to being calm and confident whilst being handled.
- To begin with, your puppy will need fairly frequent rewards to encourage them to remain patient and to learn to enjoy being groomed. When your puppy is used to the process and is able to remain relaxed throughout, you can start to reduce the amount of food rewards they receive. In time, you will be able to groom your puppy without food under their nose; although it is important to still reward them intermittently to reinforce appropriate behaviour. Should your puppy begin to get wound up by the process, and start play biting for example, it may be necessary to go back a step, and increase the food rewards they receive for remaining calm. This will help to keep your puppy relaxed and without the opportunity to become frustrated and fidget. Some puppies accept and enjoy being groomed very quickly, whilst others may take slightly longer, and may need higher value treats for this exercise.
- Never tell your puppy off for becoming fidgety, but instead praise them when they are calm and relaxed. Grooming can be quite stressful for some dogs, so it is important to teach them to enjoy the process. Always keep each grooming session short and end on a positive note (i.e. with your dog relaxed).
- Throughout your puppy’s life, there will be many instances when they will need to be physically handled; for example, during trips to the vet, treating a cut paw, removing ticks, etc. In order to ensure that such occasions are as least stressful and easy as possible for your dog to endure, it is important to teach them to accept being handled from as early as possible.
- Start by holding a treat under your puppy’s nose to keep them occupied, whilst you run your other hand over their body. Pick each foot up in turn, rewarding them after holding each paw for a second or two to start with. Once you are able to pick each foot up without your puppy fidgeting, you can progress to examining your puppy’s paws and toes more thoroughly before each treat. Whilst doing so, make sure you are verbally praising your puppy for remaining calm. In the same way, you can practise examining their tail. To examine his eyes, start by gently holding their head still for a second, before giving them a treat. Once your puppy has learnt to accept that, progress to gently examining their eyes, rewarding intermittently. Similarly, you can inspect ears and teeth in the same way. Gently lift your puppy’s lips, praising them calmly as you do so, and give a treat after a second or two. In time you can increase the duration of the examination before rewarding. This is something your puppy will need to learn to accept and experience during their trips to the vet, so it is important to practise such exercises to build your puppy’s confidence, before expecting them to accept a stranger to do the same.
- Toothbrushes for dogs come in many different forms. Some are similar to a human toothbrush, others are designed to sit over your finger like a glove, so using your finger to brush your dog’s teeth. As always, it is important to teach your puppy to accept having his teeth brushed, rather than forcing him to endure it.
- If you have practised handling your puppy as above, they should be confident having their teeth looked at before you start the cleaning process. Start by allowing your puppy to lick the toothpaste off the brush, so they learn that the toothbrush coming towards them is not a scary object. Next, gently lift your puppy’s lips, and brush the teeth at the front of the mouth for a second or two before stopping and giving a treat. Many puppies aren’t comfortable with the sensation of tooth brushing, so it’s important to keep the sessions short before rewarding. This will teach your puppy that if they remain calm and accept their teeth being brushed, a positive reward will follow. In time, you can increase the duration of the brushing before each reward, as well as progressing to brushing the molars at the back of the mouth too. If your puppy becomes anxious or fidgety, go back a step; make the sessions shorter and more rewarding for them, before expecting them to cope with all their teeth being brushed in one go.
Ear inspection and cleaning:
- Whilst some breeds of dog are more predisposed to ear infection and dirty ears than others, it is important for all dogs to learn to accept having their ears examined and potentially cleaned. Start by holding a treat under your puppy’s nose with one hand, whilst using your other hand to lift, stoke and touch your puppy’s ears. If they accept this without fuss, progress to examining the ears with both hands, whilst calmly praising your puppy, and rewarding with a treat at the end. Once your puppy is able to remain relaxed throughout this process, you can begin to gently clean inside the ears with some wet cotton wool, getting them used to the sensation, before rewarding. As always, ensure your puppy is calm and relaxed before expecting too much. If they struggle, go back a step, and make the process more rewarding.
Desensitisation to veterinary equipment
- Lots of dogs are anxious about being handled at the vets, partly due to the novel equipment the veterinary team use. You can easily purchase stethoscopes, otoscopes, etc., and practise using these at home, pairing firstly their presence, then their use with food.
Different Surfaces/Objects to Manoeuvre:
Introducing your puppy to novel objects and various surfaces will aid in confidence building. Here are some examples:
- Encouraging your puppy to walk across different surfaces, rewarding them as they go. Examples:
- To sit on a cushion or small mattress
- To walk across a tarpaulin/black bag/plastic bag
- Objects to manoeuvre:
- To step over poles laid on the ground. One end of these can then be raised slightly on a plant pot
- To weave through cones/poles placed in a line
- To walk across a large piece of rope laid out in different formations on the ground
- To walk across pieces of guttering laid on the floor
- To sit in a beach tent or under a large umbrella
- To walk/crawl under a pole
- To walk through a towel/sheet hung from something
- You can start teaching all the basic commands to a dog of any age. Spend this time working through “sit”, “down”, “settle”, “come” “heel”, “leave”, etc. These are all vital life skills and you can set the foundations on these at home while we’re in lockdown. Reward-based training also helps to build empowerment in dogs as they’re successful at the task they’ve been set.
- Teach your puppy to sit on his/her bed or a blanket on command.
- You can find lots of guidance online about how to teach your puppy these exercises, or we are offering Skype or Zoom sessions to anyone who needs guidance.
Coping with being left alone
- We predict many young dogs are going to develop separation distress as they aren’t used to being separated from their owners while everyone is at home more. Please try and ensure your puppy spends small amount of time away from you (while happy and content) each day, even if that means they are just in another room or their crate with you out of view.
- Now exercise is unlimited, please spend a period each day out of the home with your dog left alone. This must be monitored to ensure your puppy isn’t feeling distress in your absence else you might create a separation problem. Webcams are always recommended, or stay near you home so you can hear and possibly see your puppy in the early days. Teaching a puppy to cope in isolation is an essential life skill. If you are concerned about how to achieve this, please get in contact with us for guidance.
The older dog
- Dogs don’t mature until 2-3 years of age, so some young dogs could still be at a very vulnerable stage in their development and be very affected by the lack of socialisation and habituation during the lock down period. The same advice as given to puppy owners can be carried out if you are worried about your dog’s levels of socialisation.
- Please ensure your dog has periods in the day when he is separated from you if your routine normally involves you leaving the home. Teach them how to self-sooth with toys and try not to build hyper-attached behaviour by letting your dog have constant contact with you in the day. Also don’t spend this time playing with your dog constantly because at some point we will have to return to work and a busy lifestyle and won’t have as much time for our dogs.
- If you have children at home, please consider your dog might be finding their constant presence a little draining and stressful. Make sure they have quiet time away from the children, and perhaps set them up a den area so they can take themselves to a safe place when it’s all getting too much.
- If you do have children, please get them involved in the dog’s training, husbandry tasks and enrichment exercises.
- If your dog doesn’t have an appropriate recall, please don’t let them off-lead. You cannot comply to social distancing measures if you can’t recall your dog away from another dog or person.
- Some dogs, who normally struggle with busy walks are finding social distancing and quieter walks a godsend. Others are now forced to face triggers they struggle with and are having more on-lead exercise, which can bring about some challenges. We don’t know how long this is going to go on for and can offer guidance remotely if you’re finding your dog is now reacting to other dogs, people, traffic or other stimuli now their walk locations have perhaps changed.
- Some anxious dogs like routine and your routine has probably changed over the last few weeks. Try and keep a structure in your day if you know your dog struggles with change. Also consider gently easing them back into a new routine when our life returns to some form of normal.
- Please don’t be tempted to take your dog to a patch of grass and throw a ball for them continuously. This is going to create lots of dogs with joint and muscular injuries and there are much better ways to enrich your dog through scenting, training and games. Even if you have a high energy dog, mental enrichment is more powerful than physical … I promise! Encouraging continuous toy chasing also creates some dogs that are completely ‘wired’, who then struggle to come down from that state.
- Now we are able to drive to take our exercise, please try and vary your walks each time, to provide your dog with different stimulation.
Mental Enrichment Ideas
Your dog may well be receiving less exercise than he/she is used to. There are lots of things you can do at home with your dog to keep them mentally stimulated, which is more effective than physical stimulation. Here are some ideas of things you can try:
- This is the most important time to avoid feeding your dog from a bowl. Dry kibble is the most versatile, but even with wet or raw food it’s possible to feed through food dispensing toys.
- Hiding food around the house and garden and encouraging your dog to “find”. Make this very easy to start with, but in time leave treats inside items and at different levels.
- Hiding food in cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, boxes full of shredded paper, Snuffle Mats, screwed up/rolled up towels, etc.
- Hide a toy (or clam shell toy with food inside) somewhere in the house or garden and encourage your dog to “find”. Again, really easy to start with. Throw toy as the reward or let them eat the treats from inside.
- Scatter feeding: throwing dry proportion of food in the garden and encouraging dog to search for it.
- Playing with various activity toys (Nina Ottosson, Trixie Activity Toys) with handler.
- Teach your dog to go “away” to bed, towel or marker on the floor.
- Fun tricks:
- Roll over (“roll”)
- Play dead (“bang”)
- Give paw (“1” & “2”)
- Give both paws (“both”)
- Commando crawl (“crawl”)
- Play bow (“bend”)
- Weave legs (“weave”/”legs”)
- Wave (“wave”)
- Circle around handler in both directions (“circle”/”wind”)
- Retrieve post from letter box (“get the post”)
- Hold dumbbell (“hold”)
- Put waste paper in bin/tidy toys into box (“tidy up”/”in the box”)
- Stand in-between the handler’s legs (“middle”)
- Touch the palm of the hand with the dog’s nose (“touch”)
- To “go around” an item and then return to the handler. This can be a pole in the ground, washing line, cone, etc. (“go round”)
- To catch a treat (“catch”)
- We have been putting regular enrichment ideas and trick guidance on our Facebook page during the outbreak: https://www.facebook.com/petnecessitiestraining.
Basic Training Exercises:
- This is the perfect time to practise all your dog’s basic commands. “settle”, “sit”, “down”, “come” “heel”, “leave”, etc.
- If appropriate for your dog’s age and breed, you can set up some fun agility equipment in the garden. This can be:
- Poles on top of flower pots
- You can purchase children’s tunnels fairly cheaply
- Put bamboo sticks in the grass to make weave poles
- Teach your dog to jump through a hoop. This can be tied to two poles and stuck in the ground if required
- You can make a “see-saw” by placing a piece of wood on top of a piece of guttering
- You can purchase back garden agility equipment online
This is the time you can really focus on improving the relationship with your dog and building on their basic training. We are available to offer advice if you have any concerns with your dog. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.