Adopting a puppy during lockdown – behaviour issues

We were very lucky to adopt our puppy at the beginning of lockdown, or so we thought. Yes, little Francesca Louise – AKA Frankie-Lou – joined our family full-time on the
23 March 2020, just as lockdown descended on the whole country. And here we are again, this time in October entering Tier Two Lockdown. So what are the consequences for dogs and, maybe more importantly, adopting a puppy during lockdown at this crucial stage of their social development. With Frankie now approaching 10 months, this has been our experience.

Freya and Frankie in bluebells

A lockdown sister for Freya

A little sister for Freya turned out to be such a bonus during lockdown. We usually joined friends for walks at least twice a week; Freya loves to doodle dash with her doggy pals, but of course this had to stop.

You can’t explain the impact of COVID-19 to a dog. Freya’s paw tapping the car door as we walked past it and looking up at me to sign that she wanted to go and walk with friends was heartbreaking to see. However, we are lucky enough to live on an estate with large woodland and grounds, so at least we were able to go for interesting sniff walks.

Puppy sleeping

Naturally, Frankie couldn’t walk far so we settled her in her crate during the first few weeks so Freya and I could enjoy some time together.

Enjoying quality time with Freya
Quality time with Freya

The lockdown bonus was playtime – Frankie had come from a home breeder and had lived with her mum and siblings for 10 weeks. This meant she was used to rough and tumble play; it was this behaviour activity that ultimately bonded the sisters.

Separation anxiety issues for our lockdown puppy

So we’re coming to the real issue for Frankie because of lockdown: separation anxiety. When Freya joined us I took great pains to ensure that I limited the stress separation brings. However, from the outset Frankie was an attention seeker and hated missing out on anything Freya might be involved in. As a result, Frankie hardly had any prolonged sleeps as, unless I left the house to walk Freya, she just wouldn’t settle. Even then, because of lockdown, Mark (dog dad) was working from home and so there was always someone in the house.

On reflection, the first time Frankie was left in the house alone (although with Freya) was at seven months old. Result? Velcro dog.

Depressed cockapoo Freya
Freya was outwardly depressed

Lockdown dogs and mental health

Freya showed obvious signs of depression, retreating into herself and generally losing interest in life. She missed our friends and family calling in for coffee and lavishing her with attention.

And experiencing a dog pining for its ‘pack leader’ is devastating for any owner. Initially, Frankie barked in the hope I may have just forgotten to take her with me; then she cried, paced and then sat by the window waiting for me to return. Eventually she settled, but performed backward somersaults when I reappeared. All detrimental to her mental health.

Anxiety barking

But it wasn’t just Frankie, Freya also suffered with anxiety and stress during lockdown. She began to bark at everyone who passed by – even neighbours she’d known really well for years, maybe feeling the pressure to protect her sister as well as us. Freya was breathless after barking. She also began shallow panting and curling up in a tight ball; she was clearly super stressed.

Advice on barking says to establish when and why it occurs; the not so helpful advice for us was to remove access to any windows. Both our ground floor rooms have windows to the floor! What I needed to know was how to reassure Freya, and now Frankie, who was learning the same behaviour and had suddenly begun to bark at anything that moved, leaping on my knee for protection.

Latest research on dog behaviour during lockdown

The Dogs Trust surveyed over 6,000 dog owners in May 2020 to investigate the impact of COVID-19 lockdown measures on dogs and their owners.

The charity now predict that, as a result of the pandemic, up to 40,000 dogs could be at risk of abandonment. With 26% of those surveyed reporting problematic behaviours due to lockdown measures, The Trust is concerned that this could compound the issue further as owners feel they have no alternative other than to give up their dog.

Tips from a Novice

We were so busy dealing with the day-to-day issues that were arising from lockdown – setting up working from home, food (and bizarrely toilet roll) shortages, concerns how our family was coping, etc, that time went by and I missed a few key pointers.

The importance of downtime

I can’t believe I made the simple mistake of not putting Frankie ‘down’ for a long sleep twice a day in her crate. She regularly became over tired, along with super hyperactive. Having an older sister meant Frankie couldn’t bear to miss out on any activity Freya was involved in. As a result, she took the one eye open approach to her day time sleeping. I did crate Frankie when I took Freya for a walk each day to ensure she enjoyed our one-to-one time together, but this was fairly short because of Frankie’s toilet training needs.

Separation anxiety

Here I followed my own advice using my departure routine and initially leaving Frankie and Freya together for a short period of time using the ‘back soon’ cue Freya was already used to. By the time Frankie was nine months this had been extended to an hour while I went shopping and before Mark came down from the office to check all was well. We both also try to reward calm behaviour on return if either of us leave for any reason – we thought Freya was a crazy cockapoo, but Frankie beats her hands down on the somersaults of rapturous joy at seeing us even after 10 minutes!

Excessive barking

Please don’t make the mistake I did. I was so concerned that Freya’s over active barking was disturbing neighbours and household work patterns, that I attempted to stop her immediately by using command words. Frankie was also joining in, no idea why, but following pack mentality and then leaping on my lap for protection.

Once I researched best practice, I understood the reason why. Our lives had changed radically and this had affected Freya to the extent she became over anxious. We now only left the house for a local walk, when our normal routine involved travelling in the car exploring woodland, parks, etc, where she enjoyed meeting other people and dogs. 

And so I changed the way I dealt with Freya’s barking and began using the ‘what’s this’ game to distract her. It could be a toy, a chew, anything I thought she’d be interested in. Now when she barks, I get up and take a look – after all she is warning us. I then reassure that all is well using the ‘It’s OK’ cue; for her (and now Frankie) this is used for any situation where they need to be helped to understand there was no danger.

Puppy training

This is one area I was on top of. I’d kept all the guidance sheets from the Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme Freya attended, and so followed the same format for Frankie. If this is your first puppy, the Club’s website has all the information you need from toilet training to recall, and also includes fun games to stimulate their brains at any age! 

Puppy lead training
Frankie relaxing after her lead training exercise

And we’re definitely getting there. One thing we already knew with any type of behaviour training – be it dogs or children – consistency is the key. They need to know where the line is and anyone involved in a puppy’s training should help them understand this. No point in taking a good cop bad cop approach, it simply confuses them; dogs are clever and eventually they learn to manipulate the weaker of the pack!

Tips on helping lockdown behaviour from the experts

The Dogs Trust have some great tips for helping your dog’s behavioural issues during and after lockdown, along with BBC Scotland.