You may have heard that dogs born in 2020 are called epidemic puppies or dogs. These dogs have developed behavioral problems from growing up in confinement. If this describes your dog, he may need help navigating the world outside of COVID because he hasn’t been able to interact with other dogs during that important formative period. This resulted in mature dogs who struggled with socialization, hyperactivity and separation issues.
What is pandemic dog?
These young dogs, commonly known as “pandemic puppies,” were brought into homes during and after the peak of the epidemic. Similar to the human generation label groupings (i.e. Gen X or Gen Z), the timing of the Pandemic Puppies is a bit unclear, but is generally thought to be between March and December 2020.
Agreed Frontiers in Veterinary Medicineonline searches for both cats and dogs peaked in April and May 2020, for dogs it began to decline in July and returned to the average (compared to 2019) by the end of 2020. The ASPCA estimates that 1 in 5 households adopted either a cat or a dog during the spring and winter of 2020, and 90% of those dogs remain in those homes.
Pandemic dog socialization problems
Generation P’s biggest problems stem from a lack of proper socialization. On our side, epidemic puppies lived a very sheltered life for a year or more. Therefore, they have not received the necessary exposure and experience to help them navigate new situations with confidence.
Socialization remains one of the simplest yet most complex components of canine behavior, it’s also arguably the most important. In short, dog socialization is the process of adapting dogs to live comfortably with other people and dogs, places, objects and activities.
Dogs have very distinct points in their development where socialization occurs. A general estimate of this developmental window is 3 to 16 weeks, where the dog’s brain is most receptive to novelty. Proper socialization involves clearly positive experiences or potentially negative experiences that are transformed into positive experiences. In short, no negative experience and stellar rich experience. But Generation P’s slight lack of many of these experiences has led to fear and anxiety when faced with the new.
So how can you expose your fearful dog to new things? Don’t throw your dog into the deep end of the pool. Be her emotional support person and hold her paw while she learns to navigate new things in life, whether it’s meeting new dogs, people, or trying new things. Always work to create positive associations and set him up for success.
Socializing Pandemic Dogs
- Take it slow and don’t overdo it. Something new once.
- Learn dog body language to know if your dog is sensing it or not.
- Always allow your dog to choose to refuse anything at any time.
- Go at her pace, never force her.
- Do not lead (or drag) him into anything new or situation. Let him come if/when he’s ready.
- Give him time and space to figure things out.
- Support his choice. Praise, play, and treats help create positive associations
Pandemic dog socialization, no
- Never force interactions.
- Don’t break trust by forcing it. Always be willing to let it go and let him give up.
- Never scold or otherwise punish your dog for his reactions to new things and risk making it worse or breaking trust.
- Avoid doing it all at once or too soon. One experiment/dog/person/activity at a time.
- Dogs are always communicating, so don’t underestimate his efforts to tell you how he feels in any situation.
Finally, take the time to consider whether what you are asking of your dog is really necessary. For example, most dogs don’t really want to be social butterflies once they’re out of puppyhood. Focus on what makes your dog and family feel most comfortable and at ease and start there. So, if separation issues are a priority, address them first and put the rest of the issues aside for now. Working together and making improvements is sustainable in the long run.
How to socialize an Epidemic dog with other dogs
Although you can’t “redo” socialization, you can help minimize your dog’s hyperactivity, stress, and fear.
Do not force the problem or allow your dog to try or train the unwanted behavior.
- the lungs
Distance is your BFF when looking to introduce your dog to other dogs in a positive way. Follow these steps for dog socialization:
- Choose a neutral area that is safely contained.
- Minimize most (ideally all) distractions.
- Start with dogs on short leashes as far as necessary where your dog is interested but not overly so.
- Carefully gauge your body language as you slowly reduce the distance between them.
- If any of the dogs show signs of stress, stop and back off.
- Try again if the dogs are calm.
- If not, try another day or another dog.
- If all is well, drop the leashes, but keep them a little longer if you act quickly.
- Keep interactions short and sweet. End on a positive note.
If your dog can’t handle being indoors with another dog without hyperactivity, call a professional for help with proper desensitization techniques.
Pandemic dogs. partition problems
We were all used to communicating with each other and only each other for many months and in some cases more than a year. So when people with pets started going back to work (or working from home but coming back to socialize), our puppies-turned-teenagers were left alone for the first time and forever. Even the adult dogs and resident dogs were used to us being home with them 24/7. Then we weren’t.
As most of us settled back into more normal lives after lockdown, our dogs were simply left alone. As a result, many of these dogs developed separation-related behaviors such as:
- bark or howl
- Improper chewing
- house pollution
- suffocation, gait, drainage
- Destructive behavior
These behaviors may subside about 15-20 minutes after you leave, or things may escalate into full-blown separation anxiety. Separation anxiety in dogs is often used as a catch-all term for problems when dogs are left alone. However, true separation anxiety is a much more serious problem that can be likened to people having a panic attack. It probably needs the help of a professional trainer and even your vet, as medications may be part of the treatment plan.
Strategies for managing separation problems include desensitizing your dog to your absence and teaching and reinforcing calm behavior when you are home. This includes when you are about to leave, which can often trigger the fact that you are about to leave for dogs. Follow these steps to help with dog separation issues at home:
- Make sure your dog gets enough physical and mental stimulation every day. You have hobbies, devices, friends, work, etc. Your dog only has you. Fill her life with good things to make her happy.
- Break the day. Come home for dinner or arrange for someone to visit to play and cuddle while you’re gone.
- Minimize disruptions. Close the blinds, leave the TV on. Avoid stressing your dog by external things (unless your dog likes to look out into the yard or lay on the floor in the sun).
- There’s an app for that. Many apps help you monitor, talk, treat, and even interact with your dog while you’re away.
Dogs do not “get back at us” for leaving them or acting out of malice or anger. Separation behavior is usually directly related to the stress, anxiety, and even fear your dog feels when you leave.
Pandemic dogs. When to call in the experts?
Engaging knowledgeable and educated professionals along with your dog’s care complements any dog’s well-being. This is especially true for pandemic dogs.
If you suspect separation anxiety, consult with professionals. These professionals include a veterinarian, trainer, and pet care professional, as well as a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT).
Choosing an experienced, credentialed, rewards-based, no-force coach makes a big difference. You can find one in your area by searching the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).
Veterinarian visits help with your dog’s pandemic, especially if you can find a Fear Free Certified veterinary clinic. Fear Free Certified veterinary clinics and other Fear Free Certified professionals such as trainers, groomers, dog walkers and now boarding facilities are trained and required to provide continuing education to help alleviate the stress, fear and anxiety that typically come with these experiences. : We all use at least one of these services, so this is a simple way to help support your dog’s emotional and behavioral health.
Your dog didn’t develop his problems overnight, and he won’t overcome them overnight either. It comes down to this. you both needed each other during the pandemic, and while you love your dog, he probably needs you now more than ever. You may not have the dog of your dreams, but with support, patience, and lots of love, you can both live the dream together.