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Covid 19 advice for puppy owners

BVA Advice sheet for puppy owners

If you do not have a puppy at the moment but are thinking about getting one, we suggest you
not to do so at this present time. There are significant restrictions on the ability to follow best
practice regarding rearing of young kittens at the present time and it would be better to wait
until the current COVID-19 situation is resolved and social distancing measures are no longer
necessary.
If you have recently welcomed a puppy into your household, then you may be worried about
the impact of the restrictions related to the COVID-19 outbreak on your puppy’s development
and well-being. These guidelines are intended to help you and offer advice at this
challenging time.
Physical health considerations
There are necessary alterations in availability of routine veterinary services, including
vaccination, at this time and it is very important that you contact your GP veterinary practice
to discuss what is available in terms of caring for your puppy’s physical health. Please do not
go to the practice premises without speaking to the practice first as they must operate within
the government guidance on social distancing and non-essential contact.
Physical needs of your puppy
If your puppy has not been vaccinated, or you are self-isolating, you may find that you are not
able to take your new puppy outside in the same way due to the current government
restrictions. It is important to remember that physical exercise can still be provided for your
puppy at home and you can continue to make preparations for when the time comes that going
for a walk becomes possible. You can start the introduction of a collar and lead and ensure
that this is a positive experience for your puppy. Take short walks around your property and
in your garden, provided that you have a private outdoor space which is not shared with other
dogs from neighbouring properties.
Emotional needs of your puppy
The first few months of your puppy’s life set the tone in terms of their behavioural and
emotional development. Socialisation and habituation are important learning processes at this
time. They enable your puppy to accept the people, animals, objects and experiences in their
environment as normal and above all to be happy and relaxed around them.
Learning about the environment
There are a number of ways in which appropriate exposure to the physical domestic
environment can be provided within the household. For example, your puppy can see and
hear the vacuum cleaner, lawnmower, hairdryer and other household appliances and can be
given a range of different toys to introduce unfamiliar movement, textures and sounds in a
non-threatening way. The most important thing is that your puppy is always happy and relaxed
when these things are introduced, and is not overwhelmed by them. So work at your puppy’s
pace.
If you are self-isolating or your puppy has not been vaccinated during the COVID-19 situation
you will not have the opportunity to take your puppy to locations outside the home.
Nonetheless there are still ways in which the external physical environment can be brought to
your puppy. For example, sound files of a large number of different sounds in the outside world
can be freely downloaded and used (e.g. Sounds Sociable from the Dogs Trust Website
(https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/dog-behaviour-health/sound-therapy-for-pets).
There is an accompanying booklet for Sounds Sociable that you can also download and this
gives additional advice. If you live in a household with babies and small children it is very
important for your puppy to learn that the noises that they make are also normal. Sounds files
called Sounds Soothing are also available from the Dogs Trust website link above and can be
used to introduce child related noises in a way that encourages your puppy to be happy and
relaxed in their presence.
Even if you are self-isolating, a limited degree of exposure to the outside world can be
achieved, while maintaining safeguards for your puppy’s physical health, by taking your puppy
to the door of your property. It is very important to make sure that they are suitably and
adequately controlled to ensure that they cannot get out before you open the door. The puppy
can sit at the door threshold and be exposed to sounds and sights outside, but obviously these
will vary considerably depending on where you live and are likely to be somewhat limited at
the moment given government restrictions on outside activity.
If you are not self-isolating and and you have a small puppy whom you can easily and
comfortably carry (from their perspective as well as yours), it is possible to take the puppy out
when you go for your one daily session of outside exercise, even if they are not yet fully
vaccinated. It is important to follow government advice and stay close to home but you can try
to vary your route so that your puppy gets a variety of experiences. Allow them to watch people
and dogs (from a safe distance of a minimum of 2 metres) and get used to traffic and different
sounds. It is important to be careful not to overwhelm your puppy and remember that if they
are not happy and relaxed they are not benefiting from the experience. If your puppy is
showing any sign of struggling, you should go home immediately. Make sure that you continue
to observe the social distancing guidance and you stay at least 2 metres away from any other
people. If you find that the sight of your puppy is encouraging other people to come too close
to you, you need to step back, and return home. Vaccinated puppies (and older dogs) can be
walked on a lead close to your home provided that the social distancing guidance is followed.
Under current restrictions it is not possible to take your puppy out for trips in the car for the
purposes of habituation but you can still get your puppy used to the car while it remains
stationary on the driveway or outside your home. Put your puppy in the car regularly and
practise turning on the engine. As always it is important that your puppy is happy and relaxed
during this experience and you can help to achieve this by giving them a tasty chew or food
dispenser, such as a Kong®, while they are in the car.
Providing appropriate experiences while staying at home
The most significant restriction for puppies during this COVID-19 situation is in terms of the
limited variety of people that they can encounter. It is very important to follow government
advice and therefore your puppy will only be able to directly interact with yourself and members
of your immediate household. This is not ideal but there are a couple of ways in which you
can provide a wider experience for your puppy, while observing social distancing rules at all
times.
1. If you have a garden and neighbours who are dog friendly you can speak to them over
the fence (provided that you are 2 metres apart) and your puppy can see and hear
them, but not physically interact with them. You can play with your puppy or give them
something tasty to chew on while you chat with your neighbours. This will help your
puppy to be relaxed and also decrease the potemtial for them to get frustrated because
they cannot physically interact with the people.
2. You can alter your physical appearance and that of your household members by using
glasses, hats, different clothes, walking sticks etc. You will still smell and sound the
same so this is only a limited exposure to human variation but it is a start. Remember
the most important thing is that your puppy is happy and relaxed when encountering
you in these different disguises. If your puppy is overwhelmed or appears worried at
any stage you should remove the disguise immediately, and allow the puppy to calm
down in its own time. Do not make a big fuss at this time as this may make matters
worse. You can however drop some treats onto the floor or a favourite toy and wait
for the puppy to access these in their own time.
Other ways in which you can help to ensure appropriate emotional development for your puppy
during the COVID-19 situation include:
1. Ensure your puppy gets used to being left alone. This is more difficult while people are
restricted within their homes but you can create some time alone for your puppy by
them being in a different room if that is possible. If you do not have another room you
can have short periods of time when you do not interact with your puppy and you can
consider a playpen or indoor pen for your puppy to make this easier to achieve. When
your puppy is alone remember to take steps to make sure that this is a positive
experience for them, for example by providing them with a toy to play with or a tasty
chew or Kong. Introduce periods of separation gradually and keep them short but
frequent initially.
2. Get your puppy used to novelty – you can get your puppy used to different items and
surfaces at home. Initially put out some different surfaces on the floor in your home
and place some of your puppy’s daily food ration on the floor around them. Various
items can be used, such as car mats, bathroom mats, carpet tiles etc. but make sure
they are safe for your puppy before using them. Leave your puppy to investigate the
different items of their own accord. Once they are used to the items being present you
can place some of the food on the item to encourage your puppy to walk across the
different textures.
3. Get your puppy used to handling – you can still create a positive association with
handling whilst you are at home, in fact you may have even more time for this than
before! Start off with really gentle stroking, and build up to brushing etc. followed by a
treat. You can also introduce health handling and procedures in the same way, such
as tooth brushing, looking at eyes and ears, opening the mouth and examining feet.
Even though you are at home and may have more time please remember that handling
should be done in short frequent sessions and not for long durations. It is also
important not to be too intense and to stop if your puppy shows any signs of being
overwhelmed or worried. The most important thing is that your puppy is always happy
and relaxed.
4. Use your time together to teach your puppy the things you want it to do when it is an
adult. You can train them to verbal cues using food rewards and there are many good
examples of this on social media. In the interests of helping your puppy’s healthy
development, do not use training that involves physical correction (such as pushing
your putting into a sit) or any form of aversive training aids, such as rattle cans, water
pistols etc, or loud verbal correction, even if it also uses rewards. At the present time,
face to face training classes are not available but some reputable and suitably qualified
dog trainers are providing remote advice using suitable technology. Ask your
veterinary practice to advise you where you can access this information from reliable
and trustworthy sources in your local area. Finally, remember, it is not just about
obedience training, it’s about getting a well-behaved and sociable puppy, i.e. one who
does more of what you want when you want it, without being asked. So look out for
behaviours you like, and remember to reward them. There are some videos about
training and problem prevention available at https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/helpadvice/training
Establishing a good relationship with your puppy
In addition to the need for appropriate socialisation and habituation, the early months of life
are also crucial for establishing a good relationship between you and your puppy. Being
consistent and interacting with your puppy in ways that enable them to learn to predict what
you are going to do and what you want are key to this. Avoiding any interactions which your
puppy finds unpleasant, such as shouting or using things like water pistols or rattle cans, and
using things that your puppy finds rewarding, such as food treats or play, is also really
important to developing a heathy relationship. If your puppy does show signs of being scared,
however unjustified that may seem, you should not ignore your puppy. Quietly acknowledge
them but then show, through your own behaviour (a happy voice and playful action), that this
is really nothing to be scared about. Do not however force your puppy to engage in the activity
or interaction; instead let it do things at its own pace.
Written by RCVS recognised specialists in Behavioural Medicine
Sarah Heath FRCVS, Daniel Mills FRCVS, Lorella Notari MRCVS and Rachel Casey MRCVS

RCVS Accredited Practice
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