Puppy adoption has exploded since the start of the pandemic. The media have covered the subject extensively.
Intuitively, one would think that the fact that many people have been working from home for roughly 18 months, would be favourable to the adoption of puppies and facilitate their upbringing.
But is it really the case?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of adopting puppies in times of pandemic?
It is important to note that the information I am going to share with you today has been validated by Dr. Diane Frank, veterinary behaviourist. I thank her for that.
Let’s start with the benefits.
The main benefit is puppy house training.
The key to successful puppy toilet training is consistency and positive reinforcement.
Because of the gastro-colic reflex, it is important to take the puppy out often, mainly after meals.
Gastro-colic reflex: The act of eating will stimulate the puppy to defecate and urinate. The time between feeding and defecation will vary from puppy to puppy, but usually it takes 15–20 minutes to manifest.
So, 15–20 minutes after meals (3–4 X/day depending on the puppy’s age), the owner must take the puppy out with treats and as soon as the puppy defecates, he is rewarded with a treat, hugs and verbal encouragement.
Apart from after meals, for optimum results, it is recommended that the puppy be taken out every two hours.
It’s easy to see that if you’re home all the time, house training is much easier.
The two main problems associated with adoption during this pandemic are the almost complete lack of socialization (due to the confinement which has been quite long in some areas) and the origin of the puppies that have been adopted.
WHAT IS SOCIALIZATION?
Socialization allows puppies to get used to people, other animals and the events they will frequently encounter in their adult lives.
It’s about learning to accept everything around them, such as
• car rides
• vacuum cleaners
• other animals
This involves gently exposing the puppies to new situations to which they will be exposed as adults so that they can respond confidently and appropriately rather than with fear or anxiety (habituation).
AT WHAT AGE SHOULD YOU START SOCIALIZING PUPPIES?
Developmentally, the best time for socialization is between 3 and 14 weeks for puppies.
Socialization efforts should be started as early as possible during this period to maximize their benefits.
During this key period of socialization, any experiences that occur will have lasting effects on a puppy’s learning and future interactions with others.
Unfortunately, this means that negative experiences will also have lasting effects. It is essential that this period be positive and safe.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF LACK OF ADEQUATE SOCIALIZATION?
According to Dr. Diane Frank, it depends on the dogs. Some dogs will not be much affected while others, especially if they have anxiety disorders, may will.
It has been demonstrated that socializing puppies and kittens early in the developmental period of socialization helps decrease fear, aggression and anxiety generated by new people, animals or various situations.
Puppies who are not properly socialized, especially if they have anxiety disorders, may have an increased sensitivity to new experiences.
These puppies are often fearful of humans or other dogs.
This can lead to hostility or even aggression towards humans or other animals.
But it is also not impossible that dogs that have been well socialized still suffer from anxiety disorders.
According to an unscientific survey that I carried out with veterinarians who are members of the Québec Small Animal Veterinary Association (AMVQ), veterinarians have already noted an upsurge in anxious dogs and this is reflected in different ways: barking, aggression and separation anxiety, to name a few.
WHAT ABOUT THE ORIGIN OF PUPPIES?
Earlier, I pointed out that the two disadvantages of puppy adoption during a pandemic were the lack or almost no socialization and the origin of the puppies. What about this origin?
Responsible/ethical dog breeders have pretty long waiting lists. These breeders care as much about the mental health as they do about the physical health of their puppies.
At the start of the pandemic, many people felt the need to adopt a puppy. Since responsible breeders were “out of puppies” then, new dog aficionados turned to online classifieds.
Unfortunately, many of the puppies sold came from puppy mills or breeders who were unreliable and therefore unscrupulous about the sanity of the puppies sold, or even their health.
As a result, many puppies with anxiety disorders were adopted by people who often had little or no experience with puppy training.
Remember that these anxious puppies are more susceptible to the lack of socialization than puppies that are not.
The perfect storm…
The genetics of these puppies is a very important point to consider when trying to explain the current situation. Possibly even more than the lack of socialization. But that, we are not 100% sure.
WHAT CAN PET OWNERS DO WITH THESE DOGS WHO HAVE NOT BEEN SOCIALIZED PROPERLY OR SUFFER FROM ANXIETY DISORDERS?
1. Ideally, you should see your veterinarian to make sure your dog does not have a medical condition that could cause a change in behaviour.
2. Subsequently, depending on the severity of the situation, your veterinarian will give you exercises to do at home (positive reinforcement).
3. Many patients will require medication (especially with separation anxiety).
4. In certain cases, your veterinarian will refer you to external resources, such as veterinarians specializing in behaviour or qualified trainers.
LAST TIP (REALLY IMPORTANT)
Never punish (physically or verbally) a puppy, especially if it is fearful or anxious during exercises. It would only make the situation worse.
Patience is essential during the socialization period and also during the exercises to correct the various problems associated with lack of socialization and separation anxiety.
Importance of Socializing Puppies and Kittens
Finding an Accountable Breeder
Regroupement québécois des intervenants en éducation canine.(in French only)
Union des éleveurs canins du Québec (in French only).