Dogs Trust is warning people to rethink buying a dog during lockdown, amid concerns that a huge wave of people will abandon or seek to re-home their pets.
Sunderland dog-trainer Dom has released a selection of books packed with expertise, and he is now known as the King of Canine Common Sense. He spoke to us last year about his book, Rescue Dogs Rehoming Remedies, so we wanted to catch up with him for some advice.
Why do you think so many puppies were bought in lockdown?
I think lots of people who have wanted a puppy for a long time, or liked the idea of having a puppy, saw the lockdown as a great time to do so purely because they were able to spend an extended period of time at home. I think boredom played a part and some people saw a puppy as a way to alleviate the monotonous routine that lockdown forced upon us. Also, many people were lonely and we know that dogs are great companions and stress relievers, and owning a dog forces you to do more exercise.
A lot of rescue centres struggled to operate during lockdown so in many ways it was easier to get a puppy, if you could afford one.
Why do you think so many people are giving up puppies bought in lockdown, and what advice would you give to owners considering doing the same?
The main reasons people are giving up puppies bought in lockdown are actually very similar to the reasons people gave up puppies before lockdown. They don't feel like they can cope, control and give the puppy what they need. Once the puppy gets to six months old, he loses his puppyish cuteness, becomes more demanding, needs more exercise, and if the puppy isn't given what it needs then undesirable (sometimes destructive) behaviours start to occur.
Sadly, the easiest option at that time is to give the puppy up.
The key to preventing this happening is to think of your new puppy as a dog who will only be small and cute for a very short time. Your dog is only a puppy for about 5 percent of its total life-span. Before you get the puppy you need to realise you're going to have to devote 45 minutes to an hour of every day of the rest of your puppy's life to give him what he needs. So, you need to quickly get into a routine where you give your puppy everything he needs in a way that fits in with your lifestyle. A set routine of short walks or playtime and exercise with a little bit of training, and you'll train your puppy to be a great family member.
What is the best option for those who can’t cope?
First of all, you need to realise that in most cases you've got the dog you've created. So, if you haven't given enough exercise, done any training and allowed your puppy free rein to do whatever they want, then it's no wonder you have a difficult dog now.
That might not be what some people want to hear but it's true. It's like I can't complain about putting on weight if I ate too many mince pies over Christmas. It can be fixed though – usually by putting a new routine in place where you start giving your puppy what he needs. Dogs essentially need some nice food and a warm bed so they feel safe. They need appropriate exercise. For this I'd recommend playing fetch, tug-of-war or fetch with food and toys, rather than allowing your puppy to play with other dogs at the park.
There's lots of puppy training classes available, and even during lockdown, many trainers are offering online puppy training classes which I'd highly recommend.
If you're struggling and you don't know where to start then hiring a reputable dog trainer to come and give you some practical advice would be the next option. Look at it as an investment in your relationship with your puppy, and an opportunity to press reset on your puppy experience, and start again.
Failing that, if your circumstances have changed dramatically and you really can't cope at all, then seek out a local rescue or a breed-specific rescue who may have a waiting list of people they can match your puppy up with.
What lessons can we all learn from this?
Getting a puppy, or rescuing a dog, is a life-changing experience, for you and the dog. So, you need to think long term and ask if you really have the time to devote to being a dog owner. I think we'd benefit from making people apply to have a dog licence before they get a puppy, just to slow the process down and make people think more before they acquire a pup.
Why is it important to make sure a puppy has a good home?
Owning a dog can enhance your life, and for me owning a dog has completely changed my life and my career. Ultimately, we should want to keep dogs and owners together, and have less rescue centres. That starts with ensuring more puppies get the right owners and stay together, ideally forever.
Following a simple but structured routine with your puppy from day one will give you the best chance of having a long and happy life together.
In the puppy book I wrote in 2019, The Perfect Puppy Project, I lay out simple advice for inexperienced owners to help them avoid these problems so they can easily fit a new dog into their busy work/life schedules. I even have a Play, Eat, Sleep, Repeat formula that allows the owners to get into a routine where the puppy learns to adapt to a busy family home.
What are your top five tips for continuing to care for your pet?
1) Get into a routine with your puppy from day one using my Play, Eat, Sleep formula. Invest in a crate which, if you fill with a comfy blankets and some suitable chew toys, your puppy will see as his 'safe place.’ Then spend some time playing with your puppy, let him out for toilet break and pop him in his crate with some food (or even better, a food dispensing toy). Your puppy will sleep for an hour or two then you can repeat the formula.
2) Get out and about with your puppy straight away. Many vets will recommend you shouldn't walk your puppy until after his second inoculation, but that prevents you from giving him the crucial socialisation he needs. Instead carry your puppy in your coat and introduce him to all the sights, sounds and smells in your neighbourhood. Your puppy will grow into a confident, fear-free dog.
3) Never scold your puppy for toileting indoors. If you use a crate and follow the Play, Eat, Sleep, Repeat formula then you'll experience way less mess indoors as your puppy won't want to mess in his crate. As long as you remember to let him outside to toilet often, go outside with him (use a brolly if need be) and praise him every time, you'll crack housetraining him in a couple of weeks.
4) To prevent separation anxiety, get your puppy used to being alone from the first week you get him. Many owners make the mistake of spending every second of the first couple of weeks with their puppy (or as in lockdown, every second of the first six months), then when they go back to work, the puppy is distressed and anxious which can lead to whining, howling and destructive behaviour. Use the time your puppy is sleeping in his crate to leave the room they’re in.
5) Most major puppy problems occur when you start exercising your puppy outdoors. The trick to having a dog that sticks to you like velcro (and never runs away) is to play with your puppy often, and everywhere you take him. Teach your puppy that the best thing to do at the park, beach or woods is to play with you. Simple games like fetch and find it, using his favourite toy will do. Ignore clueless but well-intentioned dog owners who see your puppy as a potential play-thing for their dog.