The effects of lockdown and ongoing government restrictions are becoming apparent in the type of puppy and adolescent-dog behaviour problems being presented to clinical animal behaviourists, the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) observes.
Lack of socialisation opportunities (including visitors to the home), along with puppies receiving 24/7 attention, appear to be the main causes of undesirable behaviours such as attention seeking, territorial behaviour, separation issues and fear of other dogs, people and new places – which can also lead to aggressive behaviour. In addition, the rise in unscrupulous breeders to fulfil the demand for puppies in the UK has also had a behavioural impact: Puppies raised in a deprived environment, taken away from their mum too soon, lacking decent nutrition and/or are sick when delivered to their new home will struggle to adapt to the challenges of everyday life. To make things even worse for lockdown puppies, group training classes have been unable to run and many owners have avoided seeking preventative advice in the form of online classes.
Dr Anne McBride, Chair of the APBC, which represents an international network of highly qualified and experienced animal behaviourists, says: “Our members are seeing an increasing number of puppy owners (and owners of adolescent dogs from puppies obtained during the first lockdown) experiencing specific problems.
“In some ways lockdown 1.0 was an ideal time to welcome a new puppy into the home,” explains Anne. “Caregivers were present to help the puppy settle in, and exposure to people and dogs outside the home could be conducted at the puppy’s own pace as public abided by the 2-meter rule. However, having their owner(s) present all the time means many puppies have not learnt to cope when left at home alone. In addition, receiving constant undivided attention during puppyhood leads to a high expectation of getting what they want, when they want it. Now that life has partly returned to normal, these young dogs are struggling with the fact life doesn’t always work like that! Lack of visitors to the home during a puppy’s sensitive period of development can also lead to anxiety-related behaviours such territorial barking or other attempts to repel these ‘scary’ apparent ‘territory-invaders’.
“Our advice would always be for new puppy owners to be prepared to seek preventative advice from qualified professionals, and vets are in the perfect position to be able to recommend this. Online classes have proven to be advantageous for many puppies and owners, and outdoor 1-2-1 sessions can be conducted under the guidelines given by the Canine and Feline Sector Group (the CFSG advises government on behalf of the sector). As our welfare charities feel the strain from lack of funds during COVID-19, they are also experiencing an influx of adolescent dogs with behavioural difficulties as a result of owners not receiving the guidance that all new puppy owners need. Of course, changes in our lifestyle can affect other pets too – our cats, parrots, ponies etc. There is help available for all of these.”
Preventative advice and help for emerging or existing behaviour problems can be sought from an APBC member on the website.
Useful links for owners of dogs and cats are available from the CFSG.
The RSPCA provides advice on finding a responsible breeder.
The Animal Behaviour and Training Council lists qualified and professional Training Instructors are available on the website as well.