It’s no secret that we as humans crave affection. Whether it’s a hug from your niece, a reassuring touch from your partner, or the eager excitement as the neighbour’s dog bowls you down to deliver your second shower of the day, it’s the small moments that we take the greatest pleasure in. Moments that—before a pandemic—would have been taken for granted, all but lost in the motion of our daily lives.
By now, a significant amount of the Canadian population has been vaccinated. Positive Covid cases have declined, and we’re back in the green. Finally, comes the chorus of relieved sighs across the country.
But it was a long journey to reach this point. It was a year and a half of strict safety measures, exhausting health precautions, and enough hand sanitizer to fill the great lakes. It was a year and a half of not being able to see any of our friends or loved ones, and for those who switched to remote work, even our coworkers. It was a year and a half of missing that often overlooked sense of touch from our lives, unable to get something as simple as a hug while our social contact switched from people to pixels worldwide.
It was a long year and a half. We couldn’t see anyone. We were lonely.
So what did we do? Well, what any sane person would do when they’re stuck at home and can’t see their loved ones. We brought our loved ones home to us—we got puppies! After all, our contact with people was limited, but nobody said anything about Rover and Fido!
Nationwide, everyone and their grandmother were adopting new pets, so much so that the colloquial term “pandemic puppy” was coined. And chances are, you know somebody who was taken in by its thrall as well. Countless shelters were thrilled to announce empty kennels for the very first time, and breeders were suddenly faced with an overwhelming demand for furry friends. We had found a solution, and by the heavens, we were sprinting towards it with open arms!
Bringing home these new bundles of joy, we were only too happy to puppy-proof our homes and spoil these critters rotten, overjoyed for a new pet project to keep ourselves busy with. Things were finally looking up. We’d cracked the code. We had found a faithful companion to stay by our side, one who would spend those long and lonesome quarantined days together with us. All was smooth sailing… at least for a while.
There was just one small detail that the vast majority of us had overlooked in our search for companionship. Because puppies don’t stay puppies forever, now, do they? And they, like any other babies, are most certainly not immune to the terrible twos!
We were quickly finding out the hard way that puppyhood, with all of its sleepless nights and exhausted days, was actually the easy part. Because now, doe-eyed Clifford had lived up to his namesake and grown to the size of a small house. And suddenly, we were finding ourselves getting dragged around on walks, coming home to find destroyed furniture, and trying to quiet down an endless cacophony of barking. The gremlins had sprouted up and become all too mobile, faster than we could ever hope to keep track, and we were facing challenges unforeseeable and innumerable. The chaos never ended! It was all we could do not to just pack up and ship out, in the hopes of finally having some peace and quiet once again.
If this is starting to sound familiar, you’re not alone. Not by a long shot. Many people who adopted during quarantine were first time dog owners, and a lot of the challenges that make even seasoned owners hang their heads in defeat have quickly become a unanimous discussion around the watering hole of local dog parks. Constant barking, jumping, yanking on leashes, nervous peeing, and, although rare, arguably the most notable: aggressive behaviour. But why was all of this happening now? And what could we do to fix it?
You may have heard by now that the various challenges that many families are facing due to Covid have been having a distinct impact on the social and emotional development of children. What we didn’t expect was for the same thing to happen to our precious pooches. Just like children need face-to-face social contact to develop in a healthy way, so do our dogs. And during that critical period of development as our puppies started growing up, they just weren’t getting it. We were keeping ourselves safe by quarantining, and maintaining social distance even while outside, which meant that for many dogs, the only way they could meet other four-legged friends was at a distance. They never got the chance to develop those proper social skills—just like what our kids are facing. And often, they developed some frustrating habits that feel impossible to break.
The good news is that there’s still hope! Whether your dog is still in the throes of puppyhood, or has long outlived this pesky pandemic and is already a seasoned senior, it’s never too late to start training out those undesired behaviours. The core tenets of any successful dog training rely on consistency, clarity, timing, and — most importantly — rewards! After all, don’t you like a well-deserved treat for a job well done?
Finding a trustworthy dog trainer to guide you can be difficult, but it boils down to finding a qualified and experienced trainer who shares your values and treats you — and especially your pup — with respect. Many trainers still promote archaic methods like prong collars, shock collars, and penny cans, or who criticize the use of praise or treats as a reward for good behaviour. But the downside to methods like these is that they intimidate your dog, damaging your bond with them, and don’t teach what it is they should be doing instead. Conversely, methods such as positive reinforcement and clicker training make training your faithful friend leagues easier. They do this by increasing the dog’s motivation, which makes them want to pay attention to you — and, more importantly, what it is you want them to do.
So even if your pup has fallen victim to bad habits brought on by the quarantine, the most important thing to remember is that it’s never too late to fix it. And by working together with a qualified trainer and your handsome hound, you can learn the tools to turn those terrible twos into something significantly more enjoyable.
So, go ahead. Teach an old dog new tricks. And who knows, maybe one day your perfect pup will be the talk of the town!