What to Know If You Plan to Bring Home a Pandemic Puppy
If you're one of the many people who welcomed a puppy into their family this year, you likely said the same as others, "We have nothing but time, sequestered in our home for the foreseeable future. If not now, when?" Earlier this year, animal shelters, rescues, and breeders started reporting increased demand as Americans tried to fill the void with a canine companion. And it's clear to see why: Dogs have been shown to help ease feelings of loneliness and anxiety, which, in turn, makes them seemingly ideal for a life in lockdown that demands isolating ourselves from friends, family, and neighboring communities. Dogs also force us to get off the couch and get active, even if it's just for a walk around the block, which is something that's all the more important while social distancing.
But owning a dog is a big responsibility, and there are many things to consider before you adopt one. Here, try these techniques from trainer Victoria Stilwell of Animal Planet's "It's Me or the Dog" to ensure your pandemic puppy is well-behaved (for life in quarantine and beyond).
Is Your Home Prepared?
"I like to puppy-proof a room first," says Stilwell, adding, "You can't let a puppy just roam around the house." She suggests you crouch down the puppy's vantage point to scope out any chewing temptations and choking hazards—electrical wires, shoes, or harder-to-spot items like loose change. This is especially important while working from home and your puppy plays somewhat unsupervised. In this room, you will do your training. "There are three challenges: toileting, chewing, and crying in the night," she explains. Puppies are prone to mischievous behavior, but here's the good news: they're also very responsive to training. "At this age, puppies learn a lot," says Stilwell of training them. "You can really start to train a puppy at eight weeks old. But learning continues throughout the dog's life."
Raising a puppy is similar to caring for a baby in that training should start early. Potty training, for instance, should start right after a puppy joins your family. If your puppy has an accident, wipe it up immediately and clean the area with a product that contains pet deodorizer to remove the urine smell and prevent your dog from re-visiting the same area. Don't punish the dog if you do not see the accident happening. If you do see the accident, say a quiet "ah, ah" to interrupt the behavior, then gently lift and place your dog on a pads or in the yard. Always offer praise when your puppy goes in the proper place. According to Stilwell, puppies should be able to hold it for an hour for every month of age, so they should be taken out at least eight times a day. Puppies are most likely to go potty during the day after eating, vigorous play, excitement, or waking from sleep. If you are diligent, potty training should be accomplished in a couple of months; after six weeks without accidents, consider it done.
Puppies explore everything—including your arms, clothing, and possessions—with their mouths. From about four to six months of age, puppies grow their adult teeth and will go through an intense time of chewing, which can be exasperating for owners. If your dog mouths your skin or anything on you, make a high-pitched squeal; this is what their littermates did if play got too rough and will signal to the animal that you are being hurt. Keep in mind, however, that some puppies get more excited by squealing and will only mouth more. With these dogs, say "ah, ah" every time they mouth your skin or clothing, wait one minute, and then resume play.
Crying at Night
Try letting the dog sleep by your bed in a crate. You may have to take your puppy out a couple of times during the night to go potty. However, if you know your dog is only crying for attention, a reassuring hand through the crate is often enough to help with sleep. As the puppy begins to sleep through the night, you can gradually move the crate farther away from your bed until it is in its desired place.
Most dogs aren't used to being left alone. And if you accepted ownership a puppy from the earliest stages of its life, consider this: As we ease out of life in lockdown, odds are, they'll be left home without us for stretches of time, perhaps for the first time in their lives. This upheaval in their day-to-day routine can lead to depression, destructive behavior, or even separation anxiety in the dog. That's why early socialization—even at a social distance—will help them rejoin the world in which they're going to live.