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TOP TIPS FOR PUPPY OWNERS AND BREEDERS DURING CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN: Tips 1-5

Puppies have a period of development up to about 14 weeks of age when they are particularly sensitive to learning about the world around them, how to interact appropriately with their own and other species, what is safe, and what is irrelevant. During this stage, exposing puppies to anything they are likely to encounter in life so that they remain happy and relaxed means they are less likely to develop a fear response to those things later in life. The current restrictions in place due to Covid-19 are going to impact on socialisation opportunities and will have other potentially undesirable affects to a puppy’s emotional development, so here are some tips to ensure puppies get the right start in life during this period of lockdown:

TIP 1 – EXPOSURE TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD


If your puppy is vaccinated and you are able to safely leave the house, take them on a short walk (as your daily exercise) so they can absorb the sights, smells and sounds of everyday life including watching other dogs and people from a distance. If they are not yet vaccinated, you will need to carry your puppy or use a pushchair to do this safely. Get your puppy accustomed to being carried (either in your arms or in a puppy carrier) or sitting in a pushchair at home before you attempt going for a stroll - make sure they are relaxed and use food to create a positive association with these types of restraint in short periods. If they are wriggling and desperate to get down, they are finding the whole experience a negative one. If you’re unable to leave the house, sitting and watching, listening and air scenting from the front door (on a lead or being held) or a window will provide your puppy with important information about the outside world and their neighbourhood.

 

TIP 2 – SEPARATION

Whilst being forced to spend time at home provides many positives in terms of toilet training and having the time to teach our puppies new behaviours, we need to be very mindful of also ensuring puppies learn to tolerate being left alone when the world returns to normal.

On a daily basis, provide your puppy with self-reinforcing, independent activities such as a stuffed Kong, chews, items from your recycling box that they can destroy, and activity feeders. Whilst your puppy is happily pre-occupied and learning that they can have fun on their own without you, introduce barriers such as closing their crate door, a babygate or a door. Return to your puppy whilst they are still happily interacting with the activity you left them with. You can also practice separation when your puppy is very sleepy. Spend time in another room or in the garden, keeping an ear out so that you can return to your puppy if they show any distress. Forming a secure attachment in this way will nurture your puppy’s self-confidence and ultimately, their independence.

TIP 3 – NOVELTY

Introduce your puppy to something new every day to help build resilience and a general mentality to be curious about novelty. Raid your loft or garage for unusual items (or even everyday items turned upside down or out of their normal context) and place an item in a room or the garden, then go to your puppy and give them access to the area where you have placed the item. Stay with your puppy rather than go near the item and allow them to approach and investigate in their own time. Try to avoid coaxing them to explore the item. Let them withdraw back to you, their safe place, if they want to.

TIP 4 – NOISES

You can introduce your puppy to all sorts of noises whilst you are isolated at home. The Sound Proof Puppy Training App and Dogs Trust website Sounds Sociable tracks provide loads of different noises that you can play to your puppy as background noise. You want your puppy to acknowledge the sounds but then carry on with what they were doing. If they leave the room, their tail drops, they vocalise, or don’t quickly return to the activity they were doing before the noise started, then turn the volume right down (in fact, turn it off and start again later at a much lower volume). Then gradually increase the volume as long as they remain aware but relaxed.

You can also provide your own real-life noises at home, such as crashing around in the kitchen or practicing raised voices (even if you live on your own!) always immediately followed by throwing a tasty treat to your puppy (so that the noises predict something nice happening). You want these noises to be at a level your puppy acknowledges them but doesn’t retreat OR they startle but quickly recover and explore where the noise came from. Domestic appliances including the vacuum and lawnmower can also be used, reinforcing your puppy for staying in their bed to prevent them trying to chase or bark at the scary, noisy, moving monster!

TIP 5 – FANCY DRESS

Fake beards, glasses, big coats, umbrellas, woolly hats and scarves, walking sticks, sunglasses, long skirts, helmets… when you can’t have visitors or take your puppy out to see loads of people, get inventive and dress up yourselves. If you have more than one family member, it would be sensible for one person to remain with the puppy as a safety-net. Allow the puppy to have the choice to approach the ‘unfamiliar’ person rather than the ‘unfamiliar’ person approaching them. The safe person can reinforce the pup for watching or approaching calmly. If you live alone, you can do the dressing up in front of your puppy, rather than suddenly appearing looking strange which may frighten the puppy and they then have no safe person to retreat to.

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Stay safe!

This blog was written by Rosie Bescoby  Clinical animal behaviourist BSc, PG Dip CABC from Pet Sense

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