After a year in the life of COVID-19, we are able to sit back and assess how this global pandemic has effected the world of dog ownership. You may not be a 'coronial canine' owner, but you likely know at least one. The demand for canine companions has sky-rocketed over the past year creating an entire generation of what are referred to as 'pandemic puppies'.
So what caused this influx? Perhaps you always wanted to own a dog, but due to the time restrictions of a work and social life, it just never felt feasible until you started working from home? Maybe you began to feel lonely and isolated and craved the closeness of a friend you didn't need to wear a mask with and stay 6 feet apart from? How about the constant pressure from your kids who have been stuck at home without access to friends and craving a little excitement? Or, maybe after watching a dozen Marley And Me type movies on Netflix you couldn't imagine life without a furry BFF? Whatever the reason, you are not alone.
Never, in my 15 years of professional canine behaviour work, have I seen so many shelters and rescues EMPTY, breeders with uncommonly long wait-lists and random mixed-breed puppies selling for thousands of dollars on Kijiji. The demand is high and the supply, here in North America, can't seem to keep up.
What is left to be seen is the extent of the fallout as supply increases (with breeders and rescues trying to play catch up) and as the difficulties of dog ownership start to become apparent to individuals who may not have done sufficient research before bringing a dog into their homes. There is also the very real problem of the potential lack of planning and preparation for the 'coronial canines' to transition into a post-pandemic lifestyle. It's also important to note that many of these 'pandemic puppies' are now teenagers which comes with it's own set of unique hurdles.
The question now becomes, how can we prepare and educate ourselves to best support this generation of our canine counterparts?
1. Assess the dog's individual daily needs: quiet time, alone time, independent activities, enrichment activities, physical & mental exercise, social time & rest.
2. Develop a sustainable long-term plan: You must look beyond the now and consider what will be different post-pandemic. What will change in the daily routine? Where will your dog be contained when you are away from home?
3. Teach your dog what his/her role is in different situations: To do this, you must first understand what it is you would like the dog to do, not what you DON'T want him/her to do. (For example; when visitors arrive, when left alone, when food is left on the coffee table, etc.)
4. Examine your dog's current experiences, temperament, breed traits and skill set, have REASONABLE expectations: If you haven't taken the time to teach your dog a specific skill in a specific context, don't expect them to be successful. You must consider your dog's breed characteristics and temperament and then work with their strengths.
5. PRACTICE! Provide your dog an opportunity to go through the motions with support: Break down the bigger skills into smaller bite-sized pieces and celebrate the small achievable goals.
6. Connect with a Professional for guidance: If this all just seems like too much, too daunting or if you feel that things have already taken a turn, contact a reputable behaviour & training professional. Seek support before you give up.
Many dog owners have found themselves rich in a resource they previously had a shortage of...time. Use the time wisely. Unfortunately, without providing the above outlined needs, your 'coronial canine' may end up being rude, socially inappropriate, hyper-vigilant, anxious or stressed. It's hard to picture that this adorable fuzzball that saved you from loneliness, gave you purpose and unconditional love could ultimately become a 'less than ideal' version of him/herself. Now the reality kicker... your 'coronial canine' may also become aggressive, dangerous to society, re-homed, surrendered to a shelter or even euthanized. Without getting to dark and twisty, this is already happening.
Good intentions don't always equal good choices.
With this new-found abundance of 'at home' time (imposed by the requirement for social distancing), owners have an opportunity to use their home time for the betterment of their dogs and to prepare them for the next phase. Stay savvy and...above all, please stay safe.