How many of you are working in a companion animal practice? Are you in a jurisdiction with a high restriction during COVID-19? This is us in the GTA. Pet parents bring their new fur babies to the clinic and their babies come into the clinic without their family.
Many people felt that getting a puppy during COVID was the perfect idea. You'll be home to train them, potty training made easier, and teach them all the tricks to be a good housemate.
I have started to witness a major downside to this situation: social anxiety in young puppies.
I saw 11-week-old puppies so scared of our staff that you thought they saw aliens.
Young pups should be happy, enjoying life, playful, and curious. While new puppy owners are focused on training their puppy to sit, to not pee in the house, to walk nicely on a leash, today I want to focus on socialization. It is great to see that your puppy can sit for a treat. LOVE! However, I have noticed some are missing a key aspect of their training - learning how to socialize, both with other dogs and other people.
The window of crucial socialization for puppies is around 8 to 16 weeks.
If you are a human parent, you will have heard the term "making strange". A term that is given to babies when they reach 4 to 6 months and have not been socialized with a lot of people. They start to distinguish who is friend and who is foe. Their caregivers are friends, and everyone else is the enemy.
Puppies have a similar behaviour, if they have positive interactions with many people and many dogs during this window of socialization, they grow up to be confident and happy adults.
COVID will be to blame for this next generation of high social anxiety in dogs. During COVID, people are still purchasing and adopting puppies because they are home more often. My only hope is that these people will be continuing to work from home once our COVID restrictions have lifted. We will get into separation anxiety in another post.
What can you do now to help your puppy?
When to Socialize
First, we should go back to the basics, pre-COVID.
But Dr. Serena, my puppy has not had all of its shots!
Your puppy can socialize with trusted pet owners - people you trust with dogs that are fully up-to-date with all their vaccinations and have a recent negative fecal analysis, are using flea and intestinal parasite prevention and are healthy with no vomiting, diarrhea, coughing or sneezing. Your puppy can have social interaction outside in areas that are free of fecal material as viruses like parvovirus, as well as parasites, can be spread through the fecal to oral route.
It is a balancing act. In a healthy dog that is cared for by a dedicated owner, the risks of disease are lower than the benefits your puppy will get from the social hour.
I have heard many people say, my puppy cannot go outside because he is not fully vaccinated. Yes, it is true that you should exercise caution.
In Toronto, there are raccoons, raccoons carry distemper, and this is spread through the air - yes, very similar to COVID through respiratory droplets and saliva. So, do not go wandering in highly populated areas of raccoons. Seems like common sense? If you have a raccoon in your back yard, it would be safer to monitor your puppy in an area free of raccoons.
Dogs can carry parvovirus, so do not let your puppy lick or consume feces, and try to prevent them from chewing on things outside - grass has the eggs of parasites sitting on it.
If you wait for your puppy to have its full set of vaccines before you socialize your puppy - it is too late.
I am kidding, I say it is never too late.
But think of it this way for an example: Puppies get their 1st shots at 8 weeks, 2nd at 12 weeks, 3rd and final at 16 weeks.
When did we say that puppies need to be properly socialized? 8 to 16 weeks.
Do not get me wrong, there are already confident puppies, that do not really care. Take Phoebe for example. Phoebe came in for her puppy series during COVID-19 restrictions. She got a LOT of love and positive attention from our veterinary assistants. This makes a situation that could perceivably be scary for a puppy into something that they enjoy.
Happy puppies = Happy clients! No new puppy owner wants to see their puppy fearful. I never do. It breaks my heart and I cry a little inside when I see the whale-eyed puppy of only 8 weeks old on its first visit to the vet. How horrible is that?! I don't want to see it, and neither do you!
Socialization During COVID
There are a ton of resources online, just get on Google and you are going to find blogs, videos, top ten ways to socialize your puppy during COVID, etc.
Here's one by the American Kennel Club. You can go for a walk, in a safe environment with your puppy and your friend's dog. Wear your mask, use a long lead, and use common sense - wash your hands. Use the same suggestions stated above.
Here's another post from a dog trainer in Guelph. Your puppy can socialize from a distance. This will teach the puppy proper social etiquette of not jumping up to meet new people. A good time for your puppy to learn cues from you.
One last share written by a Fear Free Certified dog trainer. It's not just about meeting a lot of people and a lot of other dogs. But different sounds, sights, smells and stimulation and learning that the world is not scary.
This is the time to have fun with your puppy! We know that if they are not fearful, they will be less likely to develop anxiety disorders in their future.