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behavior and training

Dog socialization for pandemic pups

If you adopted a puppy in 2020 or 2021, they may have missed out on normal experiences for early life socialization.

Updated August 25, 2021

Created By

Emily Johnson,

📷 by Caleb Woods

Editorial Note (August, 20th 2021): This article addresses the concerns of social behavioral issues and separation anxiety that some dog owners have observed as the world continues to recover from the global pandemic, COVID-19. This guide to socializing pandemic pups was reviewed by our panel of licensed veterinarians.

Dog adoptions during COVID-19

If you adopted a ‘pandemic pup’ during quarantine, trust us, you aren’t alone — in fact, a staggering 3 million people were estimated to have adopted a pet during COVID-19. With most people working and living from home, it provided ample time to raise and care for a puppy.

But now that some pet owners are going back to work or school, they’re noticing that their dogs are having a hard time adjusting to a new routine. On top of that, if pups were adopted in 2020 or early 2021, they’re likely heading into the challenging ‘teenager’ phase of doghood at the same time.

Early socialization is vital to a puppy’s development, but COVID-19 and social distancing prevented many pet owners from exploring and trying new experiences with their pup. Most of these dogs spent lots of time indoors with their owners and families — Now that they’re experiencing more of the outside world, it can be very overwhelming. Social activities that seem like no big deal to us humans — meeting new dogs, interacting with strangers on the street, or even visiting the vet — can be stressful on a dog with little early socialization.

Some dogs are being returned after adoption

The hard truth is a lot of owners have struggled with the effects of quarantine on their dogs. The AKC estimates that 73% of first-time dog owners who adopted a puppy during the pandemic have at least considered rehoming them or turning them into a shelter. A recent U.S. Today article also noted that, so far in 2021, owner surrenders are up by over 82% compared to 2020. That being said, these percentages show a small drop in surrenders compared to 2019.

If your dog is suffering from behavioral issues as you transition back to your pre-pandemic routine, don’t worry — your puppy (and your sanity) isn’t doomed! Here are some of the common behavioral issues seen in pandemic pups, plus some ways to help overcome them.

Common behavioral issues seen in pandemic pups

Separation anxiety. Thanks to quarantine, your pup is used to having you around nearly 24/7, but that routine is probably drastically changing for them. People who are going back to the office or school have to leave their dogs alone for hours at a time. It can be extremely stressful on a dog who isn’t used to it and can lead to symptoms of separation anxiety — this goes for both puppies and adult dogs.

Fear and uncertainty. Facing the outside world can be overwhelming for a dog who hasn’t been introduced to it at an early age. This can cause fear and insecurity toward new experiences or people.

Leash aggression. Dogs who haven’t been walked regularly on a leash can become leash aggressive when approaching a new dog or person. Most of this stems from a combination of frustration and over-excitement — and a dog who lacks the proper social skills. Owners will understandably want to pull their dog away from the situation, but that just worsens the problem by not showing the dog how to correctly interact. 

Jumping up. Dogs who get over-excited are known to jump up on new people when introduced. They simply can’t contain their excitement or nervousness, and they show it by jumping or running around (hello, puppy zoomies). 

Excessive barking. Barking commonly comes from a couple of sources: anxiety, boredom, or communication. If your dog is alone for long periods of time, they may be anxious and bark because you’re gone. If your dog is bored or you aren’t paying them as much attention as before, this could also cause them to “woof.” Sometimes, dogs bark as a response when they hear other pups or different sounds in the area (lawn mowers, airplanes, or delivery trucks).

Biting. One of the most extreme behavioral issues is biting. This typically stems from fear and owners should seek professional help immediately.

📷 by Beth Macdonald

8 tips to help socialize your dog post-pandemic

1. Don’t wait to get help

If you start noticing any of the above behavior problems, it’s best to not wait for it to get out of hand before reaching out for help. There are professional dog trainers and behaviorists that can help you, especially ones who specialize in separation anxiety or biting. And it’s important to note that just because you need help from a trainer doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a dog owner.

Over $8.1 billion was spent on training, boarding, grooming, and walking in 2020. It’s estimated to increase to $9.7 billion by the end of 2021. Needless to say, a pandemic is uncharted territory and you aren’t the only one who might need a helping hand. If a professional trainer isn’t in your budget, there are plenty of things you can do at home to start the training process. Try reading up on some training tips and articles by certified professionals.

2. Supervise dog-to-dog interactions

Meeting new dogs can be intimidating if your pup is used to being the only pet in the house, or is accustomed to your other pets. When introducing your pup to new dogs, always supervise the interaction and keep an eye out for any aggressive behavior. And be sure to bring plenty of treats to reward your pup if the interaction goes well!

👉 It’s important for all owners to be aware of shy or fearful dogs in public as more dogs are being trained to socialize post-pandemic.

3. Avoid the dog park for now

If your pup wasn’t around many other dogs during the pandemic, it’s best to avoid going to dog parks for now. It can be very overwhelming and your dog may be nervous or scared in that environment. Plus, if your dog hasn’t been properly socialized yet, they could potentially pick up on other dogs’ bad behaviors that could pose problems later on. When you’re able to socialize your pup in less stressful scenarios and they seem comfortable, then you can possibly start easing them into dog parks.

4. Have one-on-one doggie playdates

Going along with avoiding dog parks, start with having one-on-one interactions with other dogs. If your friend or a family member has a dog, invite them over for a doggie playdate! This makes socializing much less stressful on your pup, can prevent negative experiences while socializing, and can be a great resource for other training needs.

5. Don’t encourage on-leash greetings

Meeting other dogs on leashes can be dangerous for both you and your pup. Canines tend to act differently on leashes than they would off-leash — they might pull, jump on the other dog, or get your leash tangled up in the other dog’s leash.

It’s best to be on neutral ground (neither of the dogs’ homes) in an area with a fence and let the dogs meet off-leash. This is certainly easier said than done, especially if your pup spots a dog on your walk around the neighborhood, but this is the safest option for owners and their dogs.

6. Introduce them to lots of new people and places

While you don’t want to overwhelm your dog by doing too much too fast, it’s extremely vital for your pup to have exposure to new people and a variety of situations over time (once your puppy has all of its vaccinations, of course). It’s super beneficial to practice commands (like “sit”) and training in new surroundings and social situations that they wouldn’t maybe see regularly — skateboards, bicycles, strollers, people wearing sunglasses, trains, loud cars, etc.

👉 Keep treats with you, so if your pup meets a new person, they can reward your dog with a treat. This especially helps dogs who are very food motivated.

7. Praise your dog for positive interactions

It’s helpful to always carry treats with you while working on socializing with your pup. Any time they have a good reaction toward a stranger, a new dog, or any sort of distraction, give them a treat as positive reinforcement. If your pup isn’t super food motivated, verbal praise and a pat on the head can work as a reward just as well.

8. Prepare your dog for alone time

With people going back to work and school, chances are you won’t be able to stay home to be with your dog 24/7. The best way to prepare them for this change is to do it slowly. Start by leaving them alone for 5-10 minute intervals and work your way up from there. Leaving them alone for hours right away can ultimately lead to your pup having anxiety and other possible behavioral issues.

👉 It’s important to remain patient with your pup, socialization is a long process that doesn’t happen overnight.

How to help ease your dog’s separation anxiety

There are many ways you can help comfort your pup if you’re going to be away from the house.

Create a safe space for your dog — Giving your pup a safe space to call their own can help ease their anxiety, especially while you’re away. This could be crating them with their favorite toys, using a baby gate to block off parts of the house, etc. (a lot of owners will use an area without carpet, just in case of accidents).

Provide enrichment toys — Toys and bones can help keep your dog engaged and distracted while they’re alone, redirect their energy, and prevent boredom (rather than chewing on your couch). It can also help create a positive association with you leaving. Try giving them interactive toys, like this interactive slow feeder, to make them work mentally. You can also give them healthy chews to gnaw on while you’re gone.

Create a schedule — Your dog is used to a certain routine that you’ve had throughout the pandemic, and it’s about to change. Help prepare them by getting them onto a new schedule: wake them up, feed them, and take them out to potty around the same time every day as it relates to your new daily routine.

Consider doggie daycare — If you’re worried about leaving your dog alone for long periods of time, consider taking them to doggie daycare during the week. They’ll be nice and tired for you by the time you get home! (this is also a great way for them to make friends).

Dog-proof your home — If you got a puppy or young dog during the pandemic, you’re probably already familiar with “puppy proofing” your home — keeping things off the floor, hiding your shoes, closing doors to certain rooms, etc. The same goes for when you start leaving your dog home alone as you move into a new schedule. They can be notorious for using their boredom or their anxiety in destructive ways, so be sure to keep any dangerous items out of reach (electrical cords, cleaners, medicines, etc.)

Give them a calming supplement — There are a variety of calming treats and supplements that could help ease your dog’s anxiety as they get used to you being away.

👉 Always check with your vet before introducing a new supplement to your dog’s diet.

Can CBD help your dog's anxiety? 

There have been studies that show CBD can be beneficial for a variety of conditions. And while a lot of dog owners have been known to use CBD to help ease their dog’s anxiety (from fireworks, thunder, separation, etc.), the FDA hasn’t approved the use of CBD in pets.

If you want to try CBD for your dog, you can ask your vet for advice on what products to use. As a starting place, be sure to look for products that have a certificate of analysis (COA) and products with low CBD/no THC. Canna-pet is a great option that’s veterinarian-approved.