Downeast Dog News

Thoughts on the Pandemic & Our Dogs

By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | Jun 02, 2020
Photo by: Debra Bell

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, at least for a time. Unfortunately, many of the changes have great potential to impact our dog’s lives and not necessarily for the better.

Puppy Socialization & Habituation

Social distancing, restrictions on group meetings, and stay-at-home orders make sense as the world faces this insidious virus. Unfortunately, these temporary restrictions make it very difficult to meet the developmental needs of a puppy during its critical period from 8 to 16 weeks of age. It is during this time that a puppy is very open to well-planned and controlled exposure to everything we expect it to encounter during the rest of its life. The more we expose puppies to, the better adjusted they will be. For example, if they have not had a positive experience with a man with a beard before 16-weeks of age, they are likely to perceive bearded men as being dangerous.

Socialization is about exposing our puppy to a wide variety of living things, which is difficult during a pandemic. Habituation is about exposure to novel objects, sounds, scents, surfaces, and more, which is equally critical during these eight weeks. I encourage anyone with a puppy to find a way to work with a local trainer on this essential process. Many of us are offering online programs specifically to meet this need. < FMI – & & >

Pandemic Specific Acclimatization (Facemasks)

It is unlikely that most dogs were socialized to people wearing various types of facemasks while they were puppies. As a result, they may be finding the “new look” on people frightening. We are teaching our current puppy headstart students the importance of socializing their puppy to people wearing facemasks of all kinds and will continue to do so in the future. Although dogs older than 16-weeks of age are past the socialization period, they may still need to be slowly acclimated to facemasks. The following link describes an acclimation process suitable for puppies and older dogs. It also discusses why dogs often find a covered face to be threatening. < FMI – >

Alone Training to Prevent Separation Anxiety

Dogs, like humans, are social creatures; at least most of them. Most dogs and humans enjoy and thrive by having ample opportunities to interact with their own species as well as others within their family circle. When we remove a puppy from its mother and littermates on “gotcha day,” we become part of that puppy’s inner circle. One of the first things we teach our students in our puppy headstart class is the importance of teaching their puppy how to cope with being left alone. < FMI – >. I warn them that a perfect recipe for creating a dog with separation anxiety is to bring it home just after the kids break for summer vacation. The dog gets constant attention for several weeks. Then when summer vacation is over, family members go back to school and work, and the dog is left alone. It is a situation where the dog may not be able to cope. The stay-at-home requirements of COVID-19 may last longer than the typical summer vacation and have the potential to create a perfect storm of separation anxiety cases. It is a concern of pet care professionals from around the world.

I encourage anyone that is working at home during the pandemic to be practicing Alone Training with their dog daily. Otherwise, when you do go back to work, you have the potential to be dealing with a dog with separation anxiety. Dr. Calder recently discusses this in the past two issues of DEDN < FMI – & >. This medical disorder causes great suffering for the dogs that experience it and is much easier to prevent than it is to cure.

Social Distancing & Dogs

For me, social-distancing has had more than a personal health benefit. It has allowed me to discuss social distancing from the dog’s perspective. Unlike western culture, where a direct approach to greeting one another is considered normal, dogs have a more subtle, less “in-your-face” approach. Unfortunately, we often force our dogs to greet one another as we do and allow them to be off-leash when we should not. As I noted in my column one year ago, dogs running off-leash and not under control can be very frightening to other dogs and people. Please, think of others when you allow your dog off-leash. It is the right thing to do. < FMI – >

Please, take care and stay well!


Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( ) in Bangor, ME, where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC), and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and is committed to PPG’s Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at the Apple Podcast app, and at Don’s blog: The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.