In Daniel Bortz’ recent New York Times article, Pandemic Pups Swamp Trainers, he cites the American Pet Products Association’s number of 12.6 million households that took in pets between March and December. That’s a whole lot of new dogs locked into homes with their humans 24/7 during the past year.
Before the pandemic, they would have needed to hire daytime walkers or find pet-friendly workplaces. Under current circumstances, they are getting time to bond, and the dogs are helping to ensure that their humans get outside at least a few times a day.Daniel Bortz, The New York Times
We adopted our Lab rescue, Kumba, through Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida in February. This sweet dog was weak, anxious, and had aggressive tendencies around other dogs, which Alison Chambers of Complete Canine Training had just begun helping us with when the world went into lockdown. Here’s what we’ve done over the past year on our own to address these issues, and advice from Alison on how crate training may be the single most important thing we can do for our canine friends.
Alison has found that, counterintuitively, the pandemic has done wonders for dog socialization.
The six-foot mandate has given dogs exposure to people, dogs, and places without being expected to interact. Being able to keep neutral — what I call ‘elevator behavior’ — is a great skill to give our dogs.Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training
Having that space sure helped Kumba, who was docile and sweet around humans but nervous and downright aggressive around other dogs. Getting him accustomed to seeing other dogs without reacting was the first step.
Alison taught me to interpret Kumba’s reactions and reward him when he let down his guard as she and her dog walked parallel to us and at a distance. Although the pandemic cut short our in-person training, I continued the process in the subsequent months as I walked Kumba through our community. I looked forward to seeing other dogs as a training opportunity, instead of fearing the encounters. Slowly, Kumba relaxed, and one day he made his first dog friend: Reese, a wonderful little bundle of golden/dachshund happiness. Adam, the community’s friendliest French bulldog, and Leo, a new pug down the block, are also Kumba’s pals. My best friend, Coni, and her Goldendoodle, Linda, now take weekly walks with us. One day, they will be friends.
Kumba had been abandoned by his family at a shelter in Puerto Rico, so having his humans leave was traumatic. For the first few weeks, we hardly noticed: I was was home 24/7, and my husband left only periodically to do pandemic hunting and gathering. But on March 13 we were gone for several hours — picking up a car we’d ordered — and he barked non-stop (a neighbor told us) and chewed through whatever he could find, including this book. Clever dog.
Since then, we’ve made huge progress. Although Kumba came to us crate-averse and people-connected, he has learned that he gets a chewy treat when we go out (a filled Kong which we reserve for this special occasion), that his bed is his home, and that we’ll be back. We clear clutter to make it easier to behave and there is less and less amiss when we return. He no longer barks. And his greeting!
Alison is a huge proponent of crate training. At some point in their lives, dogs may need to be confined, in a kennel, in a vet’s office, at a friend’s. In our recent conversation, she got me thinking.
Being home all the time isn’t normal to us, but our pandemic dogs think it is. However, their humans’ constant attention may give us emotional support, Alison says, but can make them attention-demanding. The close bonds that have formed between house-bound humans and our canine companions may actually hamper our dogs’ well-being. In making dogs our emotional support, we forget that they need our support to become independent creatures, able to self-soothe and have down time.
A separate kennel gives a dog space to become independent.
Before the pandemic, I used to tell people, get a dog, then go on vacation so the dog becomes accustomed to being in a crate. A kennel becomes the dog’s home, for eating, for down time, for resting.I know that people resist confining their dogs, but they are truly den animals — anyone who has seen their dog digging in their bed or making a hole in the backyard or at the beach has seen den behavior.Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training
She recommends that people begin crate-training by having their dogs eat their meals in them, as well as be in them to rest after walks, after training, and randomly. If you’re working at home, put the crate in another room so the dog has their own space. This way, the kennel is not just the place you put your dog when you are leaving the house.
Which, now that we are vaccinated, we can do a whole lot more safely!