Lockdown Pups Hit Adolescence
A year into the pandemic, we chatted to our friend and expert animal behaviourist, Rosie Bescoby about how the many pups raised in lockdown are doing now that they are teenagers.
What have puppies missed out on owing to the pandemic?
The main things that puppies bought during the pandemic have missed out on are visitors coming to the house and getting used to being left home alone. Face-to-face puppy classes were also unable to go ahead, and whilst online classes continued to run and were a great success, many new puppy owners did not see the advantage of these – this meant that a lot of puppies missed out on their owners receiving professional guidance to help them through the trickier puppy and adolescent behaviours. Puppies also were more likely to be exposed to a greater number of deliveries to the house and a busier family home with children off school and adults working from home. Some may have behavioural problems.
What signs should owners look out for as a result?
Puppies who were obtained during lockdown may be more likely to exhibit ‘territorial behaviour’ – barking at people passing the house or coming to the front door. This is owing to them thinking that barking is successful at getting rid of potential invaders from their territory (delivery men hand over a parcel and walk away, and no one was really entering the home). They may also be anxious about unfamiliar people coming into the house because it is not something they really experienced during their sensitive period of development. This might manifest as barking at visitors or not being able to settle at all with new people coming into the home.
There will be some puppies who really never experienced spending any time at home alone, not even in another room away from their family members and they may bark, howl or whine when left at home alone, destroy items, or go to the toilet inside when they would normally avoid doing this. They might just generally struggle to settle they'll pace or constantly look out of the window.
On the other hand, some dogs might find it difficult to settle when family members are home because they are so used to constant activity from noisy children for example. These dogs can become overtired and if they are not left alone they may become defensive of items that they value such as food, toys or their bed area.
Is it too late to introduce adolescent dogs to things they have missed?
Ultimately, these dogs will have to adjust to visitors coming into the house – whilst some of us don’t have that many visitors, it is inevitable that there will be times people will need to enter the property. Depending on how much the dog might struggle, it may be sensible to manage the dog’s behaviour by preventing exposure to the visitor (pop them in another room with a stuffed Kong or something else to do) or by exposing them in a controlled manner (e.g. having them away from the front door whilst you let the visitor in, bringing the dog through on a lead and giving the dog something else to do to occupy them such as a tasty chew whilst the visitor is present). Training can also be conducted, such as associating the sound of the doorbell with something tasty arriving in the dog’s bed, and teaching them to settle in their bed whilst the visitor is present. It’s also possible to teach a dog to settle at home when the children are play fighting, for example.
Teaching a dog to remain relaxed when they are left at home alone is possible at any age, but it can take time. The support of a qualified behaviourist and sometimes psychoactive medication might be needed to achieve this. In the meantime, introducing the dog to very short periods of owner-absence and gradually increasing the length of time they are left - as long as the dog remains relaxed the whole time – can be beneficial.
The important thing to recognise is that there is help out there and you don’t need to struggle alone – but there is so much conflicting advice online and from well-meaning friends and family, you need to ensure the advice is appropriate and not going to cause more harm. It is unlikely for dogs to naturally grow out of the types of behaviours highlighted here as a result of the pandemic, without guidance and training so that they learn not to feel worried and exhibit more desirable behaviours. Take a look at the Animal Behaviour and Training Council for qualified and experienced trainers and behaviourists.
A regular contributor to DogLife360, Rosie Bescoby is a Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist with a degree in Psychology and Zoology and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling, based in and around Bristol and North Somerset. Rosie is a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and registered as both a Clinical Animal Behaviourist and as an Animal Training Instructor with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council.
If you've bought a puppy more recently, you might like to read Rosie's article about Raising A Pup In A Pandemic and if you focussed on training, get tips from a professional and watch our Dog Master Class video tutorials with Lucy Heath, eg how to train your dog to stay.