This week we met with Genie Tuttle, Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Yes, we had reached a tipping point, and it was time to bring in outside help. Teddy had started nipping at human visitors’ clothing and shoes, and from there it is just a hop, skip, and a jump to chomping down on someone’s hand or leg. Add to that Sadie’s and Teddy’s fear and aggression toward other canines on walks and their general laissez faire attitude toward parental instruction. Life with the pups was becoming difficult …
But here’s the thing: we aren’t the only ones. According to Dog Genie, a canine lack of socialization is epidemic. Longing for connection and possibly distraction during the past year, a lot of us opened our homes and hearts to adorable puppies, and it worked. Our pups loved us lavishly, curling up in our arms and our hearts while slowly taking over our homes—our safe place.
The only place Sadie and Ted went outside our home was to the veterinarian for their canine vaccines. Two weeks after our young dogs were fully vaccinated, we were finally able to take them for their first walk. We had also planned on taking them to puppy playgroups, but found out they were non-existent, a casualty of the pandemic. At that time, it was okay for humans to be outside as long as we socially distanced and wore masks. So John and I bought the babies matching harnesses and leashes, and prepared to leave our mutual safe have haven.
Once outside, the pups experienced the totally new concept of being tethered to us. As soon as they were accustomed to the leash, we ventured out into the neighborhood. All the new aromas and strange objects were fascinating to our canines, but then what was that in the distance? Other humans! And sometimes they had creatures with them. And here lies the crux of the matter: our young dogs, already experts on our moods, realized that as soon as we spotted these walkers, we tensed up and often crossed to the other side of the street. Maybe there was even a soupçon of fear in our desire to avoid the other walkers. To the canine brain, that must mean that these humans and the creatures with them were not to be trusted—and may pose a threat.
When we were in our home, our safe place, visitors were okay and welcomed with puppy enthusiasm. As the pandemic worsened, however, visitors became rare and then non-existent. No more children to play with or adults to wrap around their baby dewclaws. Over time Sadie and Teddy developed fear of other dogs and people, both in the greater world and at home when the rare visitor rang the doorbell. They had become reactive dogs.
So we contacted Dog Genie, who uses canine learning theory. We are learning several fun, pretty easy, and very useful positive strategies to correct their behavior, along with humane consequences like walking away from whining. Teddy quit whining in two days with that strategy. And let me tell you, the whining was getting to be like nails on a chalkboard. Fence-fighting with the neighbor dogs is improving. And here is an interesting tip: adopting littermates or two puppies at the same time requires time-alone activities with each dog—including solo walks.
So why am I writing about this? Remember last summer when animal shelters were empty and purebred puppies were selling at a premium? Sadly, some shelters are again filling up. I suspect there are many reasons, and chief among them is that many adoptive pups have not been socialized.
Our human social lives are expanding, and we are being pulled in a lot of directions—and so are our pups. Like John and I, many other pet parents are wondering how they can help their dogs adapt to a pre-pandemic lifestyle, where having company in your home or taking a walk was just part of life. I know that getting the training your dog needs may seem daunting. But there is help. I suggest contacting your veterinarian for a referral for a dog behaviorist consultant or find one from a trusted source. I believe that with a little effort, you will find your way to a fulfilling post-pandemic social life with your canine companion by your side. I promise you it will be worth the effort—and Teddy and Sadie agree!