By a show of hands, who is looking forward to going back to ‘normal’? Our arm is raised sky high and we’re almost positive yours is too. From blissfully enjoying lunch with co-workers to meeting a group of friends for Happy Hour to just walking around a grocery store without wondering if you are following the arrows correctly, it’s safe to say we’re ALL looking forward to better, healthier and safer days ahead… right!?
Well, ALL… but our dogs that is!
How much more time did you and your family spend with your dog this year in comparison to years past? Did you do more with your pup than ever before? And we aren’t even referring to the people who welcomed new ‘Pandemic Puppies’ into their homes in 2020 and early 2021… Do you know how many families enjoyed puppy love for the first time? How many shelters were nearly emptied? How many breeders were sold out within days and still have extensive waiting lists?
While the team here at QK greatly appreciates the job security and admires the increased interest in dogs, there were unfortunately also negative effects that the pandemic and ‘stay home’ lifestyle has had (and continues to have) on the ‘Pandemic Pup.’
The loss of boarding revenue was difficult for Quinebaug Kennels, with a 50% to 70% decrease in numbers from previous years due to travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and understandable hesitation to take a trip anywhere that wasn’t deemed necessary. However, the opposite was true in our training numbers. The ultimate QK goal was to operate primarily as a training facility and 2020-2021 ultimately helped us achieve this, a goal accompanied with the responsibility of hiring and mentoring new trainers to join our team to meet the busy, but exciting demand.
The people who were fortunate enough to secure an adorable new puppy or dog this past year were able to enjoy their constant, loyal companions and spend time bonding with their new pup as a part of the family. The trend for many families, because they were home more often now, was to avoid crates and just have the dog be with a family member in the household instead. These dogs also weren’t able to travel as much, even if that just meant a trip to the dog park or local hardware store, as we were confined to the home and both humans and canines fell into a more solitary lifestyle.
While being at home around family seems like every dog’s dream, it actually can become and sadly has become quite the nightmare. When early training and socialization fails to happen, as it has this past year, dogs don’t experience adjusting around other humans or get the opportunity to play and interact with other puppy friends, both of which are crucial for their development. They also don’t acquire the positive effects of crate training. The use of a crate is not a punishment for a dog. Instead, it is meant to be a nook, a safe haven, for them to relax and sleep. The crate helps develop patience, and forced alone time is invaluable for a developing pup. In this respect, it is much like self-soothing for a baby or a toddler learning to play independently.
I personally have never truly believed in the term ‘Separation Anxiety.’ Instead, it is my belief that a dog who whines, cries, chews or destroys the house because the owner has left is simply a dog that was never taught self-control, patience or was forced to have respective downtime. Instead of being able to relax in their presence alone or in the comfort of their own crate, an untrained dog often kicks into a protective gear when the family leaves the home.
When a dog truly embraces the role as guard dog (which we will see from more confident or dominant dogs), then they will do an incredible job when it comes to home security. They’ll bark at intruders, squirrels and unfamiliar noises, perhaps assertively pacing or aggressively surveilling their surroundings, all in the name of ‘Home Owner’ and ‘Family Protector.’ The dog may assume the role to not just protect their home, but own it.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true when a dog too young or too mature is left loose at home. This is also the case with a dog that lacks leadership and is more submissive in nature, which was not corrected with the proper training. The family leaves the home and the dog escalates into a state of stress. This dog is the one you see reflected in the movies, the one who chews the walls, destroys furniture, rips the pillows apart… all because they are panicking at their new role of home protection.
From an ‘oh my, I’m not old enough, strong enough or wise enough to guard this home’ to a ‘how dare my owner(s) leave me, now it’s party time’ mentality, the pups that incessantly bark, scratch and become unruly are simply spoiled, by no fault of their own, and never learned to harness or enjoy the off switch.
If a young dog was encouraged to enjoy alone time in the form of crate training, they would develop a sense of peace in confinement, whether that meant in a crate or in an entire home alone, and enjoy the security and protection that comes from being sheltered in. Not only is crate training the easiest way to housebreak a puppy and keep them safe from chewing or consuming dangerous household items, but it also assists in the growth of a dog’s ability to successfully live around others and alone for periods of time.
Just as children adapt and develop better with a sense of structure and security, so do dogs. With appropriate training, the ‘rules’ of being locked up or confined to the home won’t trigger a need in the dog to roam the house in an attempt to guard or protect it. They learn from a young age to accept that the owner is the leader and what ensues is a dog that will willingly go into their crate to rest, sleep or just enjoy a bone or some quality alone time. They accept this confinement whether their owner is home or not, simply as part of the rules. A child learns to take comfort and relax while sitting at a dinner table or a school desk, following the etiquette that accompanies being still in a structured location. It is no different for a dog.
When I scroll through the dozens upon dozens of new QK Obedience Assessment Forms, there is certainly a trend with owners who stop using crates too early or who may not use them at all, whether at home or in the car when traveling. There’s also a general lack of socialization with other people or pups during the first eight months, which is crucial for a dog’s development. These animals have been extremely housebound and sheltered during such formidable behavior-shaping months and sadly, may suffer the consequences of the COVID lifestyle if not corrected as soon as possible.
It has been incredible to see the increase in first-time dog owners, and we’re excited that families embraced the opportunity of the ‘stay home’ philosophy provided them and added a new member to their pack, whether that was a puppy, a rescue dog, a re-homed dog, etc. With many working from home and children learning virtually, the general thought was ‘we’re here, we’re home and it’s the perfect time for a pup!’ While the closeness of a family unit with a new dog has been an amazing and beautiful part of life this past year, there must also be a balance for your dog that includes rest, downtime and periods of time to learn patience and solitude.
This could be as simple as not always allowing your pup to sleep at your feet while you’re working on the computer or having your pup rest while you’re making dinner instead of hovering around in the kitchen. Following you around the house and having nonstop interaction and attention from humans in the household is actually detrimental for their growth and mindset of an independent, relaxed dog. A puppy that operates as your shadow will only result in a dog that doesn’t like to be left alone and the result? Separation anxiety. This type of interaction can ultimately create a neurotic, needy and human-dependent dog and that end result isn’t fun for you or your canine. Just ask yourself… what’s going to happen when ‘normal life’ starts to return and we leave the house for hours at a time and these pups face alone time? Is your dog ready for it?
The team at QK is here to help, however we can. While we truly wish we didn’t have to face these canine anxiety issues, we can assess the interactions you share with your dog(s) in order to help resolve the behavior issues at hand. We can help to re-program your dog with our bootcamp classes or in-house training so that they’ll learn to accept confinement, operate with a true respect and obedience for their owner and embrace their on and off-switch based on the human’s schedule as we revert to a more ‘normal’ lifestyle than we’ve had this past year. We’re here to help mold, reshape and create a happier, healthier and more well-rounded dog as we believe, ‘a tired, trained dog is a happy dog.’
If you want to learn more about Separation Anxiety and how you can best fix this situation from home, schedule a Zoom with Jennifer Broome (JBroome@qkdogs.com) or schedule your QK Training today.