By Lara Shannon - Certified dog trainer, pet behaviourist, Author and Host of Channel 10’s Pooches at Play
One of the biggest fall outs from the 2020 Covid lockdowns for me as a dog behaviourist and trainer is not only the rise in puppy and dog ownership, but the behaviour issues that many dog owners are now facing due to not being able to attend puppy school and a lack of socialisation.
Importance of early socialisation
Positive early socialisation to as many people, environments, situations and objects that they will encounter as an adult in the world is critical during the first 12-16 weeks of a dog’s life to avoid anxiety, phobias, reactivity and other negative responses when they encounter them as an adult dog.
What many people don’t know is that anything that a puppy learns during this period is permanent and will be retained in the memory of the dog for life – good or bad experiences.
During the first 8 weeks they are still usually learning to be a dog and hopefully getting a lot of good socialisation experiences with their mother and siblings at the breeders or owners.
During this time they should have hopefully also started to be exposed to other people, children, dogs of all ages and different environments, but sadly all aren’t, or may come from puppy farms or have less than a desirable start to life, which can create a negative experience and in turn can lead to issues later.
Socialisation at home
That’s why it is important that when new owners get their puppy home they are socialised to all of these things as soon as possible with positive rewards based reinforcement to help create a positive association with anything new.
We should also do this with everyday items like vacuums, lawnmowers, bikes, skateboards, even exposing them to different surfaces ie: grass, tiles, puddles etc. and loud noises like thunderstorms and firework sounds.
If you haven’t been able to do this, it is never too late to start to introduce them to the big wide world slowly and positively. Refer to the links over the words above for some specific tips.
Join obedience classes
If you missed out on puppy school, join a local obedience class that have classes for all ages, as it is important to start or keep working on obedience training to help build a bond with your dog, provide good leadership, help keep problem behaviours at bay, and to help provide them with the extra mental and physical stimulation that all dogs need in their lives.
Provide daily exercise
While taking puppies out on long walks and runs on concrete or hard surfaces is not recommended, as their bones and joints are still developing, daily exercise outside of the home is so important, so find a nice grassy spot and ideally fenced so you can practise your recall, and get outside with your dog and start socialising.
Scenting’ is really important to a dog’s mental and physical wellbeing so being able to get outside of the home environment and sniff the ground around their neighbourhood should be encouraged.
There are also plenty of ways to keep your dog active inside the home as well and to help add some extra stimulation into their lives.
Preventing Separation Anxiety
Many puppies and indeed older dogs are now also starting to display signs of anxiety as owners return to work, after having their human family around them for most of the time.,
Lately, I have been consulting a lot on problem behaviours that are stemming from anxiety and boredom when left alone.
While working on your obedience training, start teaching them entertaining tricks such as waving, walking backwards, rolling over, speaking, and high-fiving. Not only is training fun and interactive, but it also teaches them problem solving and body awareness while improving fitness.
Fun brain games are also excellent to play indoors with your dog. Brain games like a treat treasure hunt around the home, playing hide and seek with your dog, teaching your dog to put their toys away, or even simple fetch and ball in the house are all ways to add some exercise and mental stimulation into their routine.
Routine and independence
Finally if you are heading back to work or your dog has mild anxiety, establishing a strong daily routine and some alone time to re-build their independence is important.
At home physically distance yourself from your pet between three to five times a day, ideally building up the length of time they are alone so they start to get used to it again. Do this by placing your dog or cat in a quiet room away from you, or in the backyard, and create a positive association with this by leaving them with a raw, meaty, appropriate-sized bone, a long lasting chew or interactive toy. Crate training can be good for this, as long as you train them properly and never send them there in punishment.
Whether you are a new dog owner, or an old hat at owning a dog but would like to help enrich their life or address some behaviour issues, check out Pooches at Play for plenty of training and behaviour tips in articles and videos from my TV show.
An extra resource, which I wrote to answer all of the common questions and issues I see and deal with day in and day out is my book Eat, Play, Love (Your Dog), available where all good books are sold, PETstock or the Pooches at Play online store.
Setting boundaries early, always rewarding desired behaviour and not inadvertently reinforcing unwanted behaviour, and being consistent and clear with what you want from your dog is key to helping keep dog behaviour problems from developing.
About The Author
A certified dog trainer, pet behaviourist, Author and Host of Channel 10’s Pooches at Play, Lara Shannon is passionate about improving the lives of companion animals. As a leading dog expert and pet food nutritionist, Lara’s debut book Eat, Play, Love (Your Dog) is the ultimate guide for any dog lover around the world.
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