Setting good habits early is key when it comes to good pet ownership, but during Victoria’s rolling lockdowns many new puppy parents have been putting off enrolling in training schools.
Attendance at some puppy training classes has dropped by 80 per cent
Virtual classes have been running but many owners are opting to wait for face-to-face
The first 16 weeks of a dog’s life are critical for embedding good behaviors and habits
At North Melbourne’s Lost Dogs’ Home there has been an 80 per cent drop off in the number of people attending puppy school.
”We were running at least five classes simultaneously before lockdown and now that has almost completely dropped off,” behavior trainer Seren Robinson said.
“This happened last year, too, and we end up with a lot of dogs that miss out on training and appropriate socialization in their critical period — before 16 weeks of age.”
Now there are concerns about what that will mean for the thousands of dogs adopted across Victoria during the lockdowns.
Many owners are waiting until the lockdown lifts to enroll their pooches in training, but Ms Robinson says online learning can be very beneficial for dogs.
“A huge part of the training process is a discussion of the dog’s behavioral history and setting up owners with the tools to continue their management and training at home,” Ms Robinson says.
“There are also unique benefits to training online as your dog is likely to be far more comfortable and less distracted in their familiar home environment.”
Pet adoptions peak during the pandemic
Narelle Fitzgerald and David Urban knew they wanted to adopt a Jack Russell at the beginning of the year.
“We’d just lost a dog last year just before the big outbreak and lockdown and he was a Jack Russell cross,” Mr Urban said.
“So, towards the end of last year we started looking for a puppy Jack Russell to grow up with our daughter.”
They adopted Tripp in February this year and, having previously owned a Jack Russell, they knew training would be a big part of welcoming the puppy into their family.
“The face-to-face was great because he got to socialize with other puppies,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
Once lockdown saw puppy schools shut, their family persisted with online training classes for Tripp.
“It was fantastic, better than expected really, being online. It really help set his foundational behaviors and helped us to deal with some of his challenges.” Ms Fitzgerald said
The most recent data on pet ownership in Australia comes from the HILDA survey, which was administered in 2019 before the pandemic began.
It showed pet ownership was on the rise, and dogs were the most popular pet of choice for Australian homes.
An expert researcher on anthrozoology, Professor Pauleen Bennett, says having a pet has filled a gap in the lives of many people.
“People are lonely. They’re socially isolated and having a dog or a cat to spend time with is awesome,” Professor Bennett said.
“The other reason is people have a gap in their life where they can’t travel, the normal things that they would spend their money on they can’t do at the moment so they’re looking for alternatives.”
Professor Bennett says they true benefits come not from owning a pet, but making the effort to include them as part of our lives.
“The benefits come from the fact that you spend time doing good things with your pets, the fact that you spend time relaxing, you spend time walking, you spend time engaging with another organism,” she said.
“It’s not the fact that you buy the pet, it’s the stuff that you do with the pet and the relationship you have with a pet that can really improve your mental health.”
How will dogs cope with lockdown ending?
When Melbourne is released from lockdown on Thursday, many workers will start making their way back to the office, leaving their furry friends home on their own.
“It’s going to be a big change for people. It’s going to be the same for your dogs and, in a lot of ways, you can’t really explain it to your dog what’s going on,” Ms Robinson said.
“So, it’s really important to get ahead of things and make sure we’re setting them up for success as early as you can.”
Ms Robinson recommends taking things slowly when making changes with your dogs’ routine, and to use plenty of positive reinforcement to ease them into the transition.
“Even if we’re not quite back to normal, there is still so much you can do with your puppies, and with your adult dogs, to build those skills about their independence and new experiences.
“So, once we do open up and things do change, they have already got those skills ready to go,” she said.
That’s exactly what Tripp’s family are starting to work on: taking it one step at a time.
“He shows a little bit of separation anxiety but, again, we’ve got those tools to try to address that now,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
“He’s a work in progress, but we love him anyway,” Mr Urban said.