Caroline Gresham and her family have been thinking about adding a new member to their family for a couple of years.
So her family, like many others, decided that now might be the chance since they are spending more time at home.
“Zachary (Dad) spent an hour one day pretending to be a dog for the kids. After that he was like, ‘It’s time. We’re getting a dog,’” Gresham said.
They adopted Penny, a 4-year-old pit bull mix and have had a great experience so far. They do, however, wish they could get some professional help in one area.
“She goes a little crazy on walks when she sees another dog. We’d like to train her to walk better.”
Their story probably sounds familiar to many new dog owners. Sheltering at home has its advantages for adopting and training new pets, including more time for walks and play.
But in-person training classes with professionals are restricted, and social-distancing rules mean you can’t socialize a new dog at a park.
Here are a few things that new owners can keep in mind to help train their new best friend while stuck at home.
Fido has a meeting in progress
Like meetings, parties and family gatherings, dog training has pivoted to video conferencing. There are plenty of online resources and videos for training tips, but Mark Spivak, a professional dog trainer for over 30 years, says to make sure you’re finding the right resource for your dog.
“Each dog and family are unique. Internet media and books pose the disadvantage of not customizing instruction for the characteristics of the dog and family,” said Spivak, president of Comprehensive Pet Therapy. “Moreover, videos and print media do not provide feedback.”
Live video training classes offer owners a chance to learn more about how to best train their dogs, even though the dog is not getting a hands-on experience with a professional dog trainer.
Victoria Stilwell, dog behavioral expert at Positively.com and star of the TV show “It’s Me or the Dog,” however, says that the best time to start is still now.
“Don’t wait until we can all get out again,” she said. “We don’t know when that’s going to be, so start now.”
Socializing your dog with new people and other dogs is an important aspect to get them adjusted. It’s especially important for puppies. But there are things you can do to help your pup get used to a new environment while staying safe.
“You can still expose your dog to riding in the car. You can still take your dog for a walk,” Stilwell said. She says if puppies have had their vaccinations, then you can put them in your arms and carry them out for a walk.
“Remember socialization is not just about touching. So just by going for a simple walk, that is exposing your puppy to a whole load of different experiences. They are seeing different people, they’re seeing other dogs.”
Don’t forget alone time for socializing your new pet. While being available right now for your new dog’s every barking command can be great, you do not want separation anxiety when you do need to leave them alone. Stilwell suggests leaving your new dog in a different room a little bit every day.
Spivak says that giving dogs time inside their crate can be helpful for housetraining puppies and breaking in older dogs to new homes.
“The crate reduces the probability of housebreaking and chewing errors during times when the family can not supervise the pet.” And, Spivak adds, “At least until the dog becomes comfortable with new routines, outdoor toileting areas, and existing household pets.”
Time to teach old (and new) dogs tricks
Whether you have a brand new puppy or an older adult dog, use some of your extra time at home to teach your dog new tricks and skills.
Spivak says even though you may have time for long training sessions, dogs work better when the sessions are broken up.
“Obedience training practice is best conducted in multiple short sessions. While working from home there is more flexibility to apply several five-minute sessions versus a lengthy half-hour session.”
Also, keep in mind that dogs are learning even when you are not teaching them. No matter the breed or age, if you put in some time and effort, dogs will probably surprise you with what they can learn. Stilwell says that she’s been teaching her Chihuahua to help her find her keys.
The Gresham family says they might still seek some professional help once they are able to meet trainers in person again, but overall their new family member has been a welcomed addition.
“She’s perfect for the kids.They play with her all day. Overall, it’s been amazing.”