NewsNational News


Struggling with a reactive pandemic pup? Here are some training tips

Posted at 12:20 PM, Oct 26, 2022

A lot of people added pets to their families during the pandemic, but quite a few "pandemic puppies" lack proper socialization. If you fit in that category, you can get some relief by taking your dog to a training facility.

Heather Gillihan is a certified professional dog trainer with Zoom Room. It's an indoor dog training gym with locations nationwide.

"I could train your dog really well," Gillihan said. "That's not going to do you a bit of good if you don't know how to follow up, right? So we believe that it's more important to empower the owner to train their dog."

Gillihan says the first step to building a bond with your pup is having some empathy for their feelings.

"Think about it from his point of view," Gillihan said. "So he's on the leash. He knows he can't run. Dogs, when they get nervous or afraid, they have two reactions: fight or flight. The fact that the leash is attached means his only option is to fight. So he's not an aggressive dog, but he doesn't know what's coming at him. So his point of view is 'I am stuck. I can't run. So I better sound scary because what if he's a bad dog?'"

If you show frustration with your dog, Gillihan says that makes the situation worse.

"He's already nervous and afraid, and now the person he loves most in the world is fussing at him," Gillihan said. "So it just makes that dog even more scary."

Gillihan says the good news is that you can retrain a dog's brain to like other animals.

"Let him know you have some really good food, like some barbecue, something that he has never had before, but smells amazing. Let him know you have it. But he doesn't get it until we see a dog. So as soon as he sees a dog and before he can react, you say, 'Yes!' and give him that barbecue. Think about what happens in his little brain now. 'Hey, mom, there's a dog. Can I have my barbecue? Because there's one right there.'"

The other common trait with pandemic puppies has been separation anxiety as people return to the office. Gillihan suggests you get a camera in your house. If your dog is panting, sniffing and soiling the house, that's separation anxiety. Otherwise, they may simply lack coping skills, and you can help with that.

"No big hellos or goodbyes," Gillihan said. "Make it non-eventful. You're just walking out. There are things you can do to help them, though, if you're going to be gone for a while. Such as toys, stuff about you, toys, puzzles."

If it is separation anxiety, Gillihan suggests you visit a dog behavior specialist with a veterinary background who can use medications to help your fur baby.

"What those dogs need more than anything is to be able to settle the brain so that they can be retrained," Gillihan said.

Gillihan says it's possible to have a well-rounded dog at any stage in their life. She notes it just may take a lot of practice and dedication through a training regimen.