For many people right now, a puppy is just what the doctor ordered. It is scientifically proven that a dog can reduce stress, anxiety, blood pressure, cardiovascular conditions, depression, and more. However, the current climate of “stay-at-home orders” can create some lasting negative effects on your puppy because despite the pandemic going in the world right now, a puppy’s critical imprinting period (8-16 weeks) does not stop. It is often said, puppies learn more in the first 16 weeks of life than the rest of their life. What your puppy is learning right now will either become a benefit or a regret for a long time to come. In order to prevent the regret down the road, we will focus on one of the biggest behavioral problems the current environment makes more difficult to avoid which is separation anxiety. Don’t worry, we will provide some easy solutions to make sure you steer clear of this issue. And to continue the upbeat vibe, there are also some positive aspects of raising a puppy while being quarantined to your home, so we will definitely identify those as well!
Separation anxiety just happens to be one of the hardest behavioral problems to resolve in a dog. One of the leading root causes of separation anxiety is not learning how to be alone as a puppy. Why is this more concerning right now? Because under normal circumstances a new puppy owner would be leaving the puppy alone to do typical things such as go to work, grocery store, restaurants, etc. But during the current climate of the coronavirus, most people are not leaving their home. Unless you know better, your puppy is getting used to someone being present 24/7. Therefore, it is going to be hard for your puppy to adjust when life goes back to a normal routine because they were inadvertently taught being independent and self-confident was not necessary. When you do go back to work/school, your insecure pup will be forced to be alone which will be scary for him. Consequently, a scared insecure dog typically acts out in one or more of the following ways when alone:
- Barking and whining while you are gone, resulting in possible noise complaints
- Destroy stuff they have never destroyed before such as sofa, blinds, carpet, etc.
- Self-mutilation by obsessively licking and/or chewing themselves
- Self-harm by chewing the wrong item such as an electrical cord or light bulb
- Surgery from chewing an item that becomes lodged or too dangerous to pass
- Dangerous attempts breaking out of confinement areas
- Health issues due to constant anxiety depending on how long you are gone
- Owners become prisoners to their dogs and cannot leave them
The good news is as long as you are aware, this mistake is easy to avoid by easily teaching your puppy how to be independent and confident with being alone. Properly introducing a crate at a young age is vital for safely teaching independence. Your puppy should love his crate and want to go into it. In order to achieve this “love for the crate”, every single time your puppy goes in the crate should be a positive experience. You can create positive experiences inside the crate by the following:
- Pups love treats, so only give them treats inside the crate. Start by just tossing them in and letting your pup go in to get it and walk right out. Next start tossing one in, close the door and toss several more in while the door is shut and then open and allow to walk out.
- Pups love to eat, so only feed him his food inside the crate. Again, start with the door open, and after 8-10 meals, begin to close the door while eating. You can break up his entire portion of food into smaller meals throughout the day to achieve this faster (4 meals a day).
- Pups love water when they are thirsty, so only provide him water in the crate. Come back from a walk and lead him to the crate to drink. Again, door open first and then shut.
- Pups love teething toys, such as deer antlers and peanut butter Kongs, so only provide them in the crate. Again, begin with door open and then shut. Gradually work up in time starting with 5-10 minutes to several hours.
- Never open the door when your puppy is demanding to come out. Start with catching your puppy being calm (even if by accident and calmly opening the door). Very important to only open the door for calmness. Also, reward calmness in the crate with more treats when you are there. A great tool to reward calmness when you are away (or pretending to be away for now) is the Furbo remote dispenser.
- With the exception of water from time to time and high value treats during socialization (you will learn about that next blog post) none of the above should happen outside of the crate. Why? Because great things happen in the crate. Remember, we want them to love his crate and want to go in. And when a puppy is learning to be independent, if they are given the choice of doing all the above right beside mom or dad or alone in the crate, 95% will choose beside mom or dad until there feel confident to be alone, and if you allow it….the cycle begins and will keep going like a freight train.
Using a crate (even if you are home) allows you to safely put him in one area of the house while you are in a different spot. It is important to go as far as actually leaving your house and sit in the car, so he can’t hear or smell you nearby. Start with shorter times such as 5 minutes and work your way up to several hours. Once you are up to max times per your pup’s age, this needs to happen several hours at a time every single day. Your pup should be up to 3-4 hours by 12 weeks. And up to 5-6 hours by 16 weeks. And nighttime should also be in a crate and adhere to the same time spans. Nothing is more reassuring than knowing your pup (soon to be adult dog) is happy and content while you are gone.
Now that you are feeling confident about preventing separation anxiety, let’s talk about the positives aspects of raising a puppy in the current state of home confinement:
- You may have a lot more time on your hands to focus on teaching your puppy.
- Many dog trainers have begun offering very cost-effective online programs that can save you a lot of money and give you great advice.
- Other puppy related accessories are being discounted in the current environment. At the time this blog was written the Furbo tool mentioned above was being offered at an $80 discount!
- Having a puppy right now and focusing on teaching it positive things is great for your mental health by reducing stress and anxiety.
- The lessons you are teaching your puppy right now, you will benefit from for a lifetime.
- The strong bond after all the extra time spent teaching and working together will be immeasurable for years to come.
- No matter the orders in place by your state, taking your dog for a walk is allowed.