These are unprece­dent­ed times, and every aspect of our lives has been affected.
While humans deal with their loss of free­dom, finan­cial stress, and health issues, our
com­pan­ion ani­mals feel these changes in dif­fer­ent ways.
Our pets are hap­py to sud­den­ly have their peo­ple around so much, but there are
chal­lenges for them that need to be addressed. Your dog’s cur­rent age has an impact
on how these new iso­la­tion expe­ri­ences will affect them.
Young Puppies
Puppies under 16 weeks are in a high­ly sen­si­tive social learn­ing stage, dur­ing which
they learn crit­i­cal skills and accep­tance. While they will ben­e­fit from the extra
atten­tion from fam­i­ly being home with them, this doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly trans­late to
real-world experiences.
Some skills, such as house-training, may be improved through this family
involve­ment. Other skills, such as accep­tance of strangers, can become more of a
chal­lenge. We saw this when par­vovirus first hit back in the 1980s and puppies
were not being social­ized at all. A year down the road, data showed that there was a
large spike in behav­iour­al issues.
Creative solu­tions will need to be designed to help address the very real lack of new
inter­ac­tions. It is rec­om­mend­ed that pups meet and inter­act with 50 new peo­ple in
their first 16 weeks, in order to build a com­fort lev­el with a wide range of types.
After 16 weeks, pups are far less accept­ing of new peo­ple, so we’ve got to help them
now as much as pos­si­ble. Walks in the neigh­bor­hood with your pup­py on a 6- to 8-
foot leash can let them say hi while you both still keep the appro­pri­ate distance.

There is sig­nif­i­cant evi­dence that dogs often see men as being scari­er than women,
and research sug­gests that the dif­fer­ence in a man’s stride may be a cause, while
their low­er voic­es may also be per­ceived as more threat­en­ing. Whatever the reason,
it is a real fac­tor and needs to be addressed accord­ing­ly. While out on a walk, ask a
man to stand side­ways and toss your pup a treat, or ask them to crouch down and
allow your pup to approach them while ensur­ing your dog stays at least 2 metres
Kids also have a dif­fer­ent way of mov­ing that can be scary for pups, so going outside
to parks once they’re open again and stay­ing at a good dis­tance can help a lot.
Find safe oppor­tu­ni­ties where you can help your pup­py observe a lot of different
types of peo­ple from a safe dis­tance. If it is safe for you to do so, sta­tion­ing yourself
in a park­ing lot of a gro­cery store or hard­ware store can pro­vide some great
expe­ri­ences, includ­ing rat­tling carts, slid­ing glass doors, and peo­ple mov­ing toward
and away from you.

Trash day is an excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ty to prac­tise hav­ing your pup watch something
nov­el – from the safe­ty of your front step! The trucks are loud and big; the people
wear bright vests and cre­ate a lot of com­mo­tion, pick­ing up and throw­ing things.
Calmly watch­ing with a loose leash and treats can help con­di­tion your pup­py to this
expe­ri­ence. Start while the truck is a few doors away, as the noise is quite loud and
Learning bite inhi­bi­tion – the prop­er use of pres­sure in con­tact with oth­ers – must
be learned before 16 weeks of age. While it is ide­al­ly taught from inter­ac­tions with
oth­er pups in play, it is still pos­si­ble to build what is known as a soft mouth with just
human inter­ac­tion. Work on cre­at­ing a “gen­tle” or “soft” cue when engag­ing with
your puppy.
Teaching them the cue “gen­tle” when lick­ing soft food from the palm of your hand is
a great place to start. Tug-of-war is a real­ly excel­lent game, but at this stage, with no
oth­er pups to inter­act with, I do rec­om­mend refrain­ing from it until after 16 weeks
of age. For now, we want to teach pup­pies to engage with toys, hands, and other
dogs softly.
You’ll have a life­time to teach tug fun, but only up to 16 weeks to get a soft mouth!
Playing door­bell games is a great thing to prac­tise with dogs of all ages! We want to
help them learn to not get over­ly excit­ed every time they hear them, includ­ing on TV
shows! Start with a soft knock from a fam­i­ly mem­ber and then toss a treat toward
your dog’s bed to teach them to move away from the door. You can play this game
with a record­ed round of door­bells, slow­ly increas­ing the vol­ume, so that it stops
being such an excit­ing cue.
Once you are able to inter­act and be in pub­lic in a more nor­mal man­ner, don’t rush
new expe­ri­ences. Let your pup­py choose their own pace when approach­ing a novel
thing and the dis­tance to observe it from. Be aware that just because you know
some­thing isn’t a threat doesn’t mean that it isn’t scary for them. Fear is an
emo­tion­al response, not a ratio­nal one, and the goal is to slow­ly change your dog’s
per­spec­tive about an experience.
You should pay care­ful atten­tion to your puppy’s body lan­guage dur­ing any greeting
or new expe­ri­ence. If they are crouched down, have their tail down or tucked under,
have their head low­ered, or are putting the brakes on before approach­ing, then you
need to stop! Giving your pup a chance to observe while remain­ing sta­tion­ary will
often help them be will­ing to approach. If they con­tin­ue to resist, move ful­ly away
from the sit­u­a­tion and note that you need to start from a greater dis­tance next time!
Mature Dogs

Is your dog hap­py to have you home but bored? If you notice that they are getting
into trou­ble more often, it may be because they don’t have enough stimulation.
Being a couch pota­to may be nice for you, but most dogs need more to engage them.
Get creative!
Balance boards, kids’ tun­nels, tod­dler play struc­tures, balls in a plas­tic pool, and
jump­ing through hula hoops are all easy ways to keep dogs of any age engaged!
Some great owner-oriented games include hide-and-seek and recall games where
you call your dog back and forth between fam­i­ly mem­bers. Not only does this
increase their love of hear­ing the cue “come” by prac­tis­ing it in such a fun manner,
you’ll tire them out as well!
Teaching new tricks rather than obe­di­ence skills tends to keep things light and
hap­py. While a sol­id “stay” cue is high­ly desir­able, a hap­py pop up in the air or fast
spin is so much more fun! Smiles for us, which trig­ger our endor­phins, and physical
exer­cise and release for them. A true win-win!
Try to main­tain a sim­i­lar rou­tine to when you are away at work, to avoid the stress
of a big change to the sched­ule. The departure-to-work time is often the most
stress­ful part of the day for dogs, so try to prac­tise sep­a­rat­ing your­self from them
every day at the same time. Even just an hour or two alone each day will help to
keep your dog on a reg­u­lar sched­ule. Do some yard work or take a walk on your
own, so that your dog isn’t becom­ing too depen­dent on hav­ing you in the home at all
times. Avoid allow­ing them to fol­low you every­where in the home with the use of
gates or by clos­ing doors.
When we do return to our reg­u­lar sched­ules, it will like­ly result in an adjustment
peri­od for every­one. We are like­ly to be more tired and have less time for our pets.
Ease your pets back into your usu­al sched­ule as the day of return to work
approach­es by increas­ing their alone time.
Good luck, stay safe, and try to enjoy your time with your dog!

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