Dealing with post-pandemic dog behavior

By Cathy Madson

Trainers share positive coping strategies
Vet tech distracting puppy with ball during veterinary exam

The increase of pet ownership throughout the pandemic has been incredible. It not only reduced the number of dogs in shelters and rescues but also provided so many of us with comforting companionship and endless entertainment.

The flux in new ownership exploded the demand for veterinary care and clinics have been overwhelmed with new puppies and adopted dogs. Beyond needing medical care, pets can present with behavioral issues and clients might ask their veterinary professionals what to do for training.

Let’s look at the most common behavioral issues dog trainers see these days and ways you can educate your clients, all while saving time and energy, and increasing client loyalty.

Chronic mild stress

A year plus of constant stress, even if it’s categorized as “mild,” has been hard on dogs. With the sudden routine change, they had to get used to a near constant presence of their family in the home. While we assume many dogs enjoyed this, for others it increased stress levels. Small stressors have turned into more challenging behavioral issues, such as one of the more common responses to chronic mild stress—resource guarding .

Resource guarding is when a dog growls, lunges or bites to “protect” their food, toys or other possessions. While it’s possible to manage this behavior, it’s essential to have clients work with a behavior consultant for safety reasons – especially if there are children in the home. Treatment of resource guarding requires in-depth counter conditioning for the dog and canine body language education for the owner and family.

Chronic mild stress can lead to other behavioral issues, such as regression in potty training, destructive chewing, self-harm (such as licking or chewing on oneself), leash reactivity, and generalized anxiety. It’s important to encourage clients to seek out behavioral care not only for their dogs, but also for themselves. It’s stressful to be dealing with difficult dog behavior issues, especially when they are also adjusting to lifestyle changes. Increased mental enrichment activities, physical exercise, and building a community of support with their dog trainer goes a long way – for both dog and human alike!

Separation anxiety

For dogs adopted during the pandemic, the stay-at-home orders meant that they were with their people 24/7. All fine and good, until suddenly they are left alone when their owners go back to work. Without any positive exposure to alone time and learning how to cope and entertain themselves, many dogs will exhibit signs of distress and anxiety.

Separation anxiety can range from mild to severe cases, and often includes behaviors such as chewing, house soiling, barking, and howling. These symptoms can be especially difficult for clients living in apartments, as neighbors often complain about noise. But even more heartbreaking is the stressful emotional state of the dog experiencing separation anxiety. You may have clients asking about anti-anxiety medications and what they can do to help their dog feel better about being alone.

Treatment for separation anxiety involves in-depth and systematic desensitization, overseen by a certified canine behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist. During this treatment, a dog is systematically exposed to the “triggers” of their separation anxiety in a way. For example, if seeing their owner put on their shoes causes anxiety to spike, the owner will put on and take off their shoes, over and over. This is changing the association between putting shoes on and the owner leaving.

As the dog progresses, the owner with the help of the behaviorist adds more of the departure routine to the desensitization process. Eventually, actual absences are practiced with increasing duration. Anxiolytics can be extremely helpful when combined with these behavior plans, especially in severe cases.

Missed socialization

Social distancing meant that many new puppies missed out on crucial experiences during their socialization period, between 7 weeks and 16 weeks old. Many dog training facilities were closed, meaning no puppy play groups or training classes were available.

Lack of socialization during this stage of life can lead to fear, aggression, leash reactivity, resource guarding, difficulty being handled at the vet office or groomer, and generalized anxiety. It can be incredibly difficult to provide care to a dog that is difficult to handle or fearful of strangers in your clinic. And owners of these dogs often feel like they cannot take their dog anywhere because of how they react to new environments.

While nothing can replace proactive and positive exposure during the socialization period for dogs, a lot can be done with remedial socialization and training. During remedial socialization, a certified dog trainer or behavior consultant will help your client manage their dog’s environment to lower baseline stress levels. Then they will begin a systematic desensitization and counter conditioning protocol. Over time, with consistency and proper management, a dog can learn that certain experiences are nothing to be afraid of. Dogs can even go from hating being examined at the veterinary office to being active participants in cooperative care!

Resources for your clients

During the pandemic, many dog trainers and behavior consultants moved their services online – meaning anyone, anywhere had better access to a wealth of information and personalized support. There’s no waiting for training classes to have an opening (many are overbooked now that facilities are back to in-person classes) With virtual training workshops and coaching your clients can get the help they need quickly.

Virtual training workshops take a deep dive into individual behavioral issues that frustrate puppy owners. Often these topics can’t be covered at in-person classes because of time constraints or the inability to work with pets and their owners one-on-one.

Topics for a virtual training session might include:

  • Potty training
  • Crate Training
  • Socialization foundations
  • Puppy nipping and biting
  • Barking
  • Jumping and counter-sitting.

With self-paced curriculum, video examples, how-tos, and trainer tips, your clients will be able to tackle problems quickly and be set up for success! Online sessions can include live, virtual small-group workshops with a certified dog trainer, who can answer client questions and offer personalized troubleshooting.

For more complex behavioral issues, such as resource guarding, separation anxiety, or missed socialization, connecting with a certified behavior consultant in a virtual coaching session is a game changer. Virtual coaches can offer clients all over the world in-depth and ongoing support as they implement a training plan unique to their dog and situation.

Trying to provide your clients with training and behavioral help on top of veterinary care can feel exhausting. Even explaining to clients that their dog needs training support to make veterinary visits less stressful can be tricky. Luckily, you don’t have to do it all! Certified dog trainers and canine behavior consultants are here to support you. Being able to point your clients to trustworthy and science-based training and behavior resources means you don’t have to have all the answers for all the questions.

Resources from Preventive Vet

Give your clients a special 50% coupon code to use on any of our workshops! Visit www.preventivevet.com/veterinary/puppy-essentials-for-veterinarians to get the code and request free postcards to share with your clients.
Preventive Vet and Pupstanding Academy are offering a free virtual course, “From Pandemic Pup to Pupstanding Citizen!”  Taught by certified dog trainer and behavior consultant, Cathy Madson, clients will get tips and videos to set their dog up for success. Enroll for free at www.pupstandingacademy.com.
MWI Distinct Advantage members can get free evaluation copies of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips Series (Dog & Cat Health & Safety plus Dog Behavior & Training) by visiting www.preventivevet.com/mwi

About the Author

Cathy Madson

MA, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA
Preventive Vet
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