As you will have seen on the news, there has sadly been a large number of puppies who have been re-homed or given up by owners who got them during lockdown and then found they couldn’t manage the dog when normal life resumed. I don’t condone this at all, but as someone who chose to get a puppy during lockdown, I know that it does come with its own set of challenges.
My husband and I had always discussed getting a dog, but knew we had to wait for the right time. When the first lockdown happened, we had not long left our London life for a house in the home counties, with space for a pooch when the time was right. We knew we were faced with months of working from home, as we both had office jobs in London that we commuted to. This is the point at which most people thought it was a great idea to get a dog. After all, you’re going to be at home for months on end, so why not get a dog that you can give your undivided attention to?
This is the first mistake many people made. Although lockdown was projected for months, we all knew it would end at some point, and this has been the main reason for many people surrendering their beloved pooches. The difference in our scenario was that my firm made the clear decision to commit to offering us full WFH flexibility forever. In a post covid world, going into the office would be voluntary, which is a game changer. This meant that I wouldn’t be leaving the dog for long spells alone 5 days a week, and on the odd day I did need to go in, we have a fabulous local doggy day care that he can go to. If this wasn’t the case with my job, then we would not have got the dog. Sadly, many people did make this mistake.
So, we decided to go for it. It looks months of research and contacting breeders to find the right fit, but we eventually were able to acquire our little pup in October. We’d done all the research about training, and felt ready for what was to come.
This brings me to my next point – no one and nothing can quite prepare you as a first-time puppy owner. Since having one, I have noticed you become a member of a sort of inner circle, and other dog owners just give you that understanding head nod when they see your cute bundle of fluff tearing up their lead on a training walk. It’s the “ah, we’ve been there” look. I recall one woman telling us how she remembers the era of the puppy teeth days, which I can only describe as needles stabbing your foot when they nip you. It’s all in play of course, but it hurts. Almost every puppy owner goes through the “have we made a huge mistake” phase, usually a few weeks in. You have to push past this, and keep telling yourself that puppies are 10% cute (when they’re asleep) and 90% hard work. They give back when they mature and become loyal dogs. Dogs and puppies are the same yet two very different things. I can only liken having a puppy to having a toddler, as they’re constantly mobile and everything is a hazard to them. Oh, but puppies also chew things. Everything. All the time.
I’ll start with the positives to having a puppy whilst being at home full time, as don’t get me wrong there are some! Firstly, toilet training is a doddle, as you’re constantly watching them to see when they need go, and can let them out as often as they need. We have an 8 month old lab now, and he has never pooped in the house. Of course, there were little wees inside at the start but that’s unavoidable as he needed to go every hour at first so we couldn’t always catch it. Being at home meant we had a lot of time to train him, and really fix a routine. We were able to avoid any catastrophic damage to the house as this usually stems from boredom or being left alone when they’re young, which we didn’t need to do.
One of the main problems that a lot of lockdown puppies have is separation anxiety, as it’s not normal or sustainable for their humans to be at home with them all day every day for months on end. We were very aware of not letting this become an issue, so we made a point to leave him for very small spells early on. Even ten minutes at first in the kitchen helped him adjust to being ‘alone’ whilst we sat in the lounge. People often feel bad for leaving young pups, but in reality you’re doing them a favour. We all have lives and commitments that take us out the house where your dog can’t always go, so slowly letting them get accustomed to being alone will help them in the long run. Obviously in lockdown we couldn’t go anywhere, so we would leave him whilst we popped out for our 20-minute walk (he had been walked already!) when the rules allowed it, and this meant he got some alone time. We also sent him to doggy day care when they re-opened, which meant he got used to not only us being absent, but he got used to socialising with other people and other dogs. Social development is crucial for dogs as they need to be comfortable around other dogs and humans. Some lockdown puppies haven’t seen many other animals or people, so they become very timid around them. Doggy day care also meant he got to run free in a safe outdoor environment, which to a dog is pure heaven.
One of the biggest challenges was the intensity of the situation. Being at home 24/7 was difficult in itself, and trying to work from home whilst care for a puppy was really tricky at times. His obsession with attacking feet went on for a while, and I found myself up from my desk every 2 minutes to see what he was doing, or stop him doing it! Work calls on mute with a puppy hanging off my sleeve become the norm, and my husband and I resorted to a shift routine to even out the care. We endured months of not being able to finish a TV show in the evenings, something which is now thankfully a distant memory. I must give credit to my other half – he handled the night time toilet trips for which I am forever in his debt. I should add that this was largely due to the fact that I needed my sleep, as I had decided to get a puppy whilst being pregnant. That’s another story, but having a partner able to do more of the heavy lifting was a huge help. Working from home in lockdown with a puppy meant there was just no escape at all, which was hard. Many people have suffered from the lack of alone time during the pandemic, and I believe this is something we all need every now and then. When you’re at home constantly with your job, partner/family and puppy (or children!) at some point I think most people have been pushed to boiling point.
We’re now 6 months on, with a much better-behaved lab, a baby due in a week, and freedom on the horizon as far as covid goes. The rules are relaxing and we can’t wait to enjoy some normal life whilst adjusting to our new little family. The last year has brought huge changes for us, and my heart goes out to all the lockdown puppies who no longer have their homes. I hope they all are all given to lovely new families who can accommodate their needs.