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During pandemic, your new dog has missed out on socializing

Nicole Villalpando
Austin American-Statesman
  • Weeks 8 to 16 are key in getting dogs socialized
  • Find ways that you can socialize your dog while being physically separated from other humans

Jen Ramey has fostered many dogs. Hops is her foster fail. He was 10 weeks old when he came to live with her in April and stayed.

The now-12-pound Chiweenie (that's a Chihuahua and dachshund mix) is terrified of humans. If he and Ramey hear someone's voice coming from their garage as they are walking by, he'll tuck his tail and start nervously pooping. 

It's taken a lot for him to get comfortable around even the woman he did puppy training with, and that required tiny balls of cheese and six weeks of trying. 

Hops has been more difficult to train than other dogs fostered by Jen Ramey. The pandemic has made it more difficult to socialize him. [Contributed by Chad Ramey]

It's been hard training Hops during a pandemic because the normal things Ramey would do for him would be to take him places with people or have people come to her house. She's had to get creative by having a doggy play group with humans and their dogs spaced out in each other's yards, or by taking him to a doggy day care once a week. That's has helped him work on separation anxiety from his humans, which Hops also has.

"He will holler as soon as I walk out the door," she says.

Think about it: Many of us have been home for months. Our new dogs don't know that there is a possibility we might leave for work one day. Ramey's been trying to make sure she does go out of the house without Hops from time to time to get him used to the idea that one day she will return to working outside of the house.

Dr. Ashley Opyt of Firehouse Animal Health Center in Kyle says that during this pandemic, she's been seeing more new dogs and puppies coming in without social skills.

"Primarily, we're seeing anxiety or fear of new people," Opyt says. "It's normal for dogs to be nervous at the vet, but these are very small puppies, and they are very, very nervous around people. That's not normal." 

Puppies have this key time period between 8 weeks old and 16 weeks old when they are most open to learning about other people and other animals and new experiences, Opyt says. After that, they become fearful of unknown situations and new people and animals, she says.

In normal times, puppies would be attending a puppy kindergarten class or their owners would be having friends over to see the new puppy. The puppy might be going to different places to experience new things, while still being careful to avoid unvaccinated dogs and soil and sidewalks where the parvovirus might be lurking until they receive their last vaccination at 16 weeks. 

People also would be leaving home more regularly. Just like Ramey is doing, Opyt suggests people leave the house without the dog often, even if they work from home, or using a crate to have the dog become more comfortable being separated from their person. Owners shouldn't make a big deal about crating or leaving the house to avoid getting the dog riled up.

She also suggests owners of new dogs (or dogs who have become too accustomed to only their owner) have people come over outside in a socially distanced way and maybe bring the dog a treat or interact with the dog while staying distanced from the people. Doggy day care, if that's a possibility, also can help dogs interact with other people and dogs. 

Hops is adorable, but when he gets around people, he gets nervous and poops. [Contributed by Chad Ramey]
Hops needs to get used to being around people, which Jen Ramey is trying to do in a socially distanced way. [Contributed by Chad Ramey]

If dogs are showing signs of aggression or their fear or anxiety is so bad they risk injuring themselves or the neighbors are calling about constant barking or the house is completely torn up, ask the vet for a recommendation for a behavioralist or trainer who can help the dog. 

Think of it like a human having panic attacks on a daily or weekly basis. That's worrisome in dogs as well. A vet might also be able to help with some antianxiety medicine (for the dog, not for the humans).

Repeated exposure to new things, new people and other animals in a safe way can really help dogs who become used to just being at home with only one or a few people during this time.  

That's what Ramey is hoping for with Hops.

"I still think that with time and more exposure to people, he'll get better," Ramey says.