Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Setting good habits early is key when it comes to good pet ownership, but during Victoria’s rolling lockdowns, many new puppy parents have postponed enrollment in training schools.

At North Melbourne’s Lost Dogs’ Home, there has been an 80 per cent drop in the number of people attending puppy school.

” We ran at least five classes at the same time before the lockdown, and now it’s almost completely dropped, ” behavioral coach Seren Robinson said.

“This also happened last year, and we end up with a lot of dogs who miss out on training and appropriate socialization during their critical period – before they are 16 weeks old.”

Now there are concerns about what that will mean for the thousands of dogs that were adopted across Victoria during lockdowns.

A woman squatting next to a brown and white large dog holds her by a loose leash
Trainer Seren Robinson says the first four months of a dog’s life are crucial to development.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Many owners wait until the lockdown picks up to enroll their dogs in training, but Robinson says online learning can be very beneficial for dogs.

“A big part of the training process is a discussion of the dog’s behavioral history and creating owners with the tools to continue their leadership and training at home,” Robinson says.

“There are also unique benefits to training online, as your dog will likely be far more comfortable and less distracted in his familiar home environment.”

A dog on a leash looks up at its owner
New pet owners are encouraged to consider online classes to train their puppies.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Pet adoptions reach their peak during the pandemic

Narelle Fitzgerald and David Urban knew they would adopt a Jack Russell earlier this year.

“We had just lost a dog last year just before the big outburst and lockdown, and he was a Jack Russell cross,” Urban said.

“So towards the end of last year, we started looking for a puppy Jack Russell to grow up with our daughter.”

They adopted Tripp in February this year, and since they had previously owned a Jack Russell, they knew that training would be a big part of welcoming the puppy into their family.

“Face to face was amazing because he came in contact with other puppies,” Fitzgerald said.

A man and a woman hold a small brown and white Jack Russell on their lap.
Narelle Fitzgerald and David Urban adopted Tripp into their family in February.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

When puppy schools closed at lockdown, their family continued with online training classes for Tripp.

“It was great, better than expected, to be online. It really helped set his basic behaviors and helped us deal with some of his challenges.” Said Fitzgerald

The latest data on pet ownership in Australia comes from the HILDA survey, which was administered in 2019 before the pandemic began.

It showed that pet ownership was on the rise and dogs were the most popular pet chosen in Australian homes.

An expert researcher in anthropology, Professor Pauleen Bennett, says that having a pet has filled a gap in many people’s lives.

“People are lonely. They’s socially isolated, and it’s great to have a dog or a cat to spend time with,” Professor Bennett said.

“The second reason is that people have a hole in their lives where they can not travel, the normal things they would spend their money on, they can not do at the moment, so they are looking for alternatives.”

A Jack Russell puppy licks his owner's hand.
Dogs are the most popular pet in Australia with increasing ownership.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Professor Bennett says that the true benefits come not from owning a pet, but from making an effort to include them as part of our lives.

“The benefits come from spending time doing good things with your pets, the fact that you spend time relaxing, you spend time walking, you spend time engaging in another organism,” she said.

“It’s not the fact that you buy the pet, it’s the things you do with the pet and the relationship you have with a pet that can really improve your mental health.”

How will dogs cope with the end of the lockdown?

When Melbourne is released from lockdown on Thursday, many workers will start coming back to the office, leaving their furry friends alone.

“It’s going to be a big change for humans. It’s going to be the same for your dogs, and in many ways you can not really explain to your dog what’s going on,” Robinson said.

“So it’s really important to get ahead of things and make sure we put them to success as early as you can.”

A white dog with a brown spot around one eye looks worn.  It looks a bit away from the camera.
Bulldog Lani is still looking for a new family in North Melbourne’s Lost Dog’s Home.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Mrs. Robinson recommends taking things slow when making changes to your dog’s routine, and using lots of positive reinforcement to ease them into the transition.

“Although we are not quite back to normal, there is still so much you can do with your puppies and with your adult dogs, to build these skills on their independence and new experiences.

“So when we open up and things change, they already have those skills ready,” she said.

That’s exactly what Tripp’s family is starting to work on: taking it one step at a time.

“He shows a little bit of separation anxiety, but again, we have these tools to try to solve it now,” Fitzgerald said.

“He’s up and running, but we love him anyway,” Urban said.

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