Paws and reflect before adopting that 'pandemic puppy,' experts warn

This might seem like the perfect time to get a dog — everyone's home and you've suddenly got plenty of time on your hands. But don't rush into anything, canine experts warn.

Sure you've got the time now, but what happens when we all go back to work?

Just look at that face: The coronavirus crisis has prompted many families to join the #COVIDPuppy movement. Dog experts suggest sober second thought. (SPCA)

Have you noticed all the new puppies in your neighbourhood and social media feed? Have the kids been haranguing you for an adorable Aussiedoodle or miniature dachshund?

Pandemic puppies may be the new sourdough, but local dog experts are cautioning families to think long and hard before buying or adopting a dog during the lockdown.

On the surface, there's a persuasive argument for embracing a #COVIDpuppy: suddenly, there's an abundance of that precious commodity, time.

"It's so much easier to do house training when you're actually present," said Kim Cooper, a professional dog trainer with Best Friends Dog Training in Ottawa. "These dogs do need to go out for walks, and it gives us a reason to get out of the house."

Kim Cooper and her dog, Grief. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Frances Holmes of Ottawa's Paws 4 Thought dog training school understands why families are drawn to the idea right now. "It's certainly a distraction for the family. It gives them things to do [and] somebody to play with."

But sooner or later, we'll all go back to school and work.

"Most of the dog trainers on the continent are anticipating quite a fallout after this is all said and done. We're expecting to see a dramatic rise in the number of cases of dogs presenting with separation anxiety," Cooper said, calling that the "massive pitfall" of the #COVIDpuppy movement.

The level of attention most families are able to shower on dogs during the lockdown is simply unsustainable. 

"Because we're home all the time, our new dog probably is never crate-trained, or never left alone to fend for himself," Cooper said. "He gets used to having undivided attention."

Having a puppy around is almost like having a toddler. They need a lot of attention. Once life goes back to normal, what happens?- Frances Holmes, Pause 4 Thought

Cooper said even longtime dog owners are talking about how "our dogs have become much more clingy over the last month. And we're hypersensitive to the issue. We're doing our best to maintain schedules for them."

Frances Holmes and her then puppy, a border collie named Disc. (Catherine Mirsky)

Cooper recommends having dogs nap in another room or in a crate. "Rather than lying on the sofa while you're typing on the computer ... every day the dog [should] spend some time somewhere else in the house, without you."

And once families return to their normal pace? 

"My biggest worry is … will there be time for the puppy?" Holmes asked. "Are they going to be wanting to send the puppy back? Put it up for adoption? Having a puppy around is almost like having a toddler. They need a lot of attention. Once life goes back to normal, what happens? 

Kim Cooper predicts there will be a rash of separation anxiety in dogs, once families return to post-pandemic schedules. (David Ridgen/CBC)

Another pandemic pitfall is the lack of opportunity to socialize a puppy in a normal environment.

"Getting them to see the traffic, getting them to see people," Holmes said. "It is very hard to socialize puppies right now."

"Probably the only [social] situation you're going to get is it's taking them into the vet for their vaccines," Cooper agreed. "If his whole experience with strangers is they jab him with needles, they're not going to be thinking very highly of strangers."

Impulse control

Cooper especially cautions against acquiring a puppy on a whim. 

"Impulsive buys or impulsive adoptions tend not to go so well. Whereas if someone goes through a process of several months of considering, shopping, looking around [and] waiting for that right dog to come, they're probably going to be more successful."

Why were those puppies not spoken for already? That's a bit of a warning sign.- Kim Cooper, Best Friends Dog Training

Another concern is where families are finding these dogs. 

"It is common to wait months to get a puppy from a good breeder," Cooper said. "Why were those puppies not spoken for already? That's a bit of a warning sign.

"We call those people backyard breeders," she said. "They may have the best of intentions but maybe they don't put all the effort into selecting their breeding stock [or] doing health checks."

Kim Cooper, pictured with her dog, Recce, is a professional dog trainer. (Jancy Watkins)

The bottom line for Holmes: "What's going to happen when this is all over? Not so much today, but what's going to happen six months from today. Think about that before you make your decision."

"This is not to say that someone shouldn't consider getting a dog right now," Cooper said. "But be aware of the problems that can come about if we don't think long-term."

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