With social distancing in place, it’s no surprise to learn that animal shelters all over the country are empty. Shelter in place means everyone’s schedules are open and growing isolation is creating the need for new sources of companionship. For many the perfect time to bring home and train your dog is here thanks to social distancing. The weather is warm, it’s easy to be outside, and well… most people don’t have a lot going on these days.
It’s true, this is the ideal time to welcome a new dog into your home, but it’s also opened up a new set of training challenges. New owners need to train their dog for life post social distancing.
This article will cover common training challenges like socialization and separation anxiety and how to lay the groundwork for success when we all go back to work.
Master Bathroom Training While in Quarantine
New puppies need to go out first thing in the morning, after breakfast, after playtime, right before bed… and every hour in-between. We’re not kidding. If your puppy is under 6-months you’ll want to take them out every hour. The absolute best way to teach them where to do their business is with positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement means you give your dog a reward anytime they do the behavior you want to see.
That means every time they use the bathroom in the right place, give them a treat and say “YAY”. Celebrate them! If they have an accident, no need to do anything. If you yell at your dog for peeing in front of you, or worse stick their nose in it, they will have no idea what is going on. They will get scared and learn not to pee in front of you. They might try peeing in another room or under the bed because they don’t understand what you are asking of them.
On the other hand, if you take them out every hour for a bathroom break and you give them a treat for doing their business, they’ll learn really quickly that the grass is the best place to go! If they make a mistake, don’t make a big deal of it.
The trick to bathroom training is really crate training.
A new puppy should be eating or drinking, playing with you, or in the crate. If you follow this routine and take them out after eating and playtime, they will almost always use the bathroom in the right place. If you leave them unsupervised, you can expect an accident. Crate training is highly important for creating a sense of security and independence.
We know sometimes puppies have accidents when they’re really excited. You’ll learn the “look” or the “walk” your dog gets right before this happens and can quickly intercept. It’s normal for dogs to have occasional accidents for up to one year.
Create A Lasting Bond by Training Through Social Distancing
If you have a young puppy this will probably come easily. If you’ve adopted a dog from a shelter, you might need to do some more work. Training is one of the best ways to create a strong bond with your dog. Teaching your dog to sit, stay, and walk nicely on a leash are foundational to you and your dog’s communication with each other. Dogs are comfortable when they have structure and understand what’s expected of them.
Since you can’t take your dog to training classes, you may as well learn to make training fun.
Before lunch is a great time to teach your dog new skills using positive reinforcement. They will have already eaten breakfast and be getting hungry for their next meal. You can use their regular lunch kibble as training treats.
“Sit” is the easiest trick to teach.
Simply hold the food to their nose and lift it above their head so they need to look up. Most dogs will naturally sit. Reward them with the kibble. Do it again and say sit. When they do it, say “YES!” and reward them with the kibble. Get excited for them! Let them know they’re doing the behavior you’re looking for. If they need a little help to get what you mean, you can gently press their bottom down. Once your dog learns that doing the “right” behavior means getting a reward, they will be excited to learn new things with you. Exercises like these are perfect ways to train your dog while social distancing.
Make training sessions short to keep them fun. Our favorite resource for training your dog is Pat Miller’s book, The Power of Positive Dog Training. We recommend every dog owner keep a copy of this book.
Practice Socialization & Exposure Training While Social Distancing
Well, this one might seem tricky. Socialization is important for your dog’s development and for creating good behavior around other dogs. This is why many choose to take their dogs to puppy training classes or drop-in daycare. Keep in mind, your dog shouldn’t do any major socializing until after they’ve had their 6-month rabies shot.
There is debate over whether it’s more important to wait until they’re vaccinated or socialize early. Ideally you can socialize your dog with other dogs in your building or with family. But since you won’t be able to take your dog out like you normally would, you’ll need to get creative.
Puppies learn good behavior from playing with other dogs.
You might notice your puppy is doing lots of biting, right? Puppies learn bite sensitivity from playing with other dogs. When they bite too hard, the other dog yelps and walks away. That’s how dogs learn to play gently. You can do this too. If your playtime gets aggressive, simply “yelp” and calmly walk away. This lets your puppy know that when playtime gets too rough, it ends. To keep playtime going, they will have to be gentle.
The technique of walking away or simply turning your body away tells your dog that you do not like their behavior. When you combine this with positive reinforcement you dog will learn to complete the behaviors that get your attention.
This works for everything. If you want to teach your dog not to jump on you when you walk in the house, simply turn away and cross your arms. Don’t look at your dog until they sit down. When they sit, exclaim, “yes” and give them a pat. This will teach them to sit as hard as they can when they are excited instead of jumping.
Some other ways to train your dog while social distancing are by creating different situations for your puppy to react to.
Exposure to different things is very important while your puppy is still under 6-months. This is a time when they’re taking in everything for the first time. If they’ve only ever seen your home and you plan on taking them to your office in a few months, things you wouldn’t think about, like an elevator can be absolutely terrifying.
To set your dog up for success in the world, make a game of exposing them to a variety of things while they’re young.
You can have them walk on different surfaces, play funny noises, move pots and pans, or knock on your own door. Try to create noises and situations that will be common after quarantine so your dog can learn them when they are young. This article has 100 ways to socialize your dog in quarantine if you’re looking for more ideas.
It’s not just situations, it’s also people and accessories. If you got your dog in summer, put on a big jacket and hat so they can see what it looks like. Put on sunglasses and wear a backpack. Check out this helpful exposure checklist. Anything they don’t see in their first 6 months can be scary later and cause them to act out with aggression.
Teach Your Dog Independence During Social Distancing to Avoid Separation Anxiety
You might have got your dog for companionship, but the most important thing you need to prepare them for is independence. You’re spending all day with them now but you’re going to go back to routines and outings eventually and the isolation could be traumatic for your dog if you don’t prepare them to deal with it.
Depending on your dog’s breed and temperament they might be very comfortable alone. Or they might cry hysterically making your neighbors crazy and forcing you to get a puppy sitter and pay for doggy day care. Fortunately, there are very easy signs to look for and simple things you can do.
If you have what we call a Velcro dog, you’ve got early signs of separation anxiety.
This means your dog is a little shadow, following you from room to room. They sit with you on the couch, they lie on your foot when you eat dinner, they watch you go to the bathroom. Maybe they even sit outside the bathtub while you shower. It might seem adorable and melt your heart, but it means your dog is not comfortable being alone.
Crate training is great training tool to deal with separation anxiety.
Crate training may seem cruel to people, but to a dog, it’s a natural den environment where they can feel safe and secure. You’ll want to make your dog’s crate a positive place to be and never a punishment. Any time you are not playing with your puppy, you should put them in the crate. Help them get comfortable having alone time while you’re in the other room. Put them in the crate while you shower and anytime you’re otherwise occupied.
If your dog is mature and comfortable being home alone, you’ll want to make sure you keep it that way.
Just because you can take them for many walks per day doesn’t mean you should. Create occasions to leave your dog home alone for periods of time, like family walks or going grocery shopping. You don’t want your dog to be with you 100% of the time and develop a separation anxiety disorder when you go back to work.
If you have a dog with separation anxiety, this is actually the ideal time to train them out of it.
This short guide by Patricia B. McConnell Ph.D is 100% worth ordering. It can help you eliminate triggers and desensitize your dog to their fears of being alone. Things like opening and closing the front door. Picking up your keys and purse without leaving. Standing outside your front door and coming back, and eventually leaving for short bursts until you can go out for errands and dinners while your dog sits comfortably at home.
If you’re home with a dog, you know that the love and companionship they offer is unparalleled.
Keep in mind that while you might be having a challenging time, they are having the time of their life. Consider your activities during this time and make sure you train your dog for after social distancing. Help them with a smooth adjustment to life post-quarantine, because it’s going to come.