After our dogs have had our undivided attention for three months, they’re going to get pretty comfortable with it. That’s why, now more than ever, it’s crucial to get some training in place.
Dog School tries to stop any common pitfalls people may experience with puppies, to try to prevent further behavioural problems down the line.
A lot of the skills we teach puppies are now being taught to older dogs to help them get used to ‘normal’ life again.
For example, lead skills have never been so essential with social distancing in place. Plus recall.
Even if your dog is trained to come back when called and walk on a short lead, re-enforcing it now is so important – respecting people’s personal space has never been so critical.
You don’t want to be dragged down the street into a crowd of people with your dog!
Usually, we see dogs and owners who need help with the basics.
Toilet training, sit and stay – the essentials. But now we’ve had more calls from owners describing dependent behaviours, which are easy to nip in the bud if you do the right training.
However, the changes in behaviour can be more subtle. I myself have a rescue dog named Muttley, who I rehomed in January. Prior to lockdown he was as good as gold.
We had a great routine at home that he settled into, which involved a walk in the morning, then being able to spend up to four hours happily alone when I went to work.
I assumed he was perfectly relaxed.
Working from home, I had all the doors open so he could roam freely about the house while I was in my home office.
But I went out shopping one day and went to shut him away – which we did no problem pre-lockdown – and he wasn’t happy.
He sat near the door while I was trying to close it, and as I left he was whining. He’d started feeling uncomfortable by himself.
A few simple changes worked a treat with Muttley. Firstly, it’s key to make sure the dog is used to not always having free rein to roam around the house, or endless attention.
Make sure they have a private bed area that’s theirs.
Add a few toys and treats, sit them in it and distance yourself from the room. The more they stay, the more treats they get.
Also start closing doors in the daytime if you’re in, or add a child safety gate on a few rooms, so they know they have their own space. If they bark they get nothing, if they stay quiet they get a treat.
One couple, Tyrone and Gavin, had rehomed a stray Pomeranian called Teddy last September, who was hugely dependent on them from the start.
So much so that one of them had to sleep downstairs with him to stop him barking, and if they popped to the shops Teddy would not only urinate and defecate inside, he’d make his paws bleed from scratching at the doors.
There was blood all over their floor and furniture.
One of our staff was able to get out to them before lockdown, and with months of careful training, Teddy slowly was able to be calmly left alone.
The boys said the trainer was like Mary Poppins. Previously they couldn’t even use the loo without Teddy being there!
So when Covid-19 happened, they panicked Teddy would become dependent again – and after a while of having their attention every day, he did.
We advised they quickly go back to their old routine.
This meant leaving him in the kitchen alone each day during the times they’d normally be at work.
It was hard work, with the couple both living at home in a two-bedroom house.
They had to creep silently up and down the stairs every day and bring food supplies up to the home office.
Going in the kitchen downstairs and showing Teddy they were home would have caused too much upset.
After two months of doing this, they cracked it.
He can now quite happily be left alone for up to six hours at a time, and learnt loads of commands that will help manage his behaviour when life goes back to normal.
The full impact of increased puppy sales during lockdown is yet to be seen for us at Dogs Trust. But we’re preparing for it.
Of course we want dogs to have their forever, happy homes, but if you’re struggling with a dog after lockdown, come to us for advice.
We can offer training to keep the dog at home, but if it’s an impossibility, while it’s hard to hand them over, there is no stigma. We’ll do everything we can to help.
This is the time to train. Especially as dogs might see more groups of people out in parks having picnics, and they may not be used to face masks.
Here are a few techniques to get them ready. Just don’t leave it until the last minute…
Your dog could be alarmed seeing people in face masks. Here is a simple exercise to start now, so they don’t become spooked if on public transport or busy areas.
1. Hold your hand over your face for a moment, and then reward your dog.
2. Hold your hand over your face and talk to your dog for a minute or so. Then reward.
3. Cover your face with a scarf or bandana for a little bit longer just around the house and talk to your dog. Reward.
4 Start to walk around the house with this face covering and reward.
5. Introduce the face mask. Let your dog see you put it on, wearing it to move around the house and talking in it. Reward.
6. Repeat with other family members and friends, and repeat this process in the garden and on walks.
Having guests over to your home
· Teach your dog to behave calmly when they hear the doorbell by ignoring a strong reaction and rewarding them with a treat when they are quiet.
· Ensure your dog has their own safe space to retreat to when you have visitors, remembering that they can find excitable human noises worrying (as, no doubt, you’ll be excited to see your friends and family after lockdown).
· Make sure you actively supervise your dog’s interactions with visiting children.
· Always remember to wash your hands regularly before and after interacting with your dog and ask your guests to do the same. A dog’s coat, lead, toys etc, could carry coronavirus just like any other surface.
· Do not be afraid to ask people not to pet your dog if you don’t feel comfortable or if your dog wants some alone time.
For more information and training tips, visit Dogs Trust