Adopting a dog during the coronavirus scare
How to socialize your pet during social isolation
Your timing isn’t the best, but you really wanted a dog. And now you’ve found out that you’ve got one, in the middle of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) health scare. The easy choice would be to opt out of pet adoption or turn down your friend’s puppy offer. Dog delivery puts you at risk of going outside around countless passersby and pet adoption employees before signing off on this dog’s veterinary wellness visit and exam, spaying or neutering procedure, heartworm tests, flea/tick treatments and other vaccinations. And if that’s not done, it’s your responsibility. But you’re already at home by your lonesome — or maybe with other family members — and had your heart set on getting a pet.
The truth of the matter is this health crisis shall pass, as did influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), H1N1 swine flu pandemic and ebola. Even the seasonal flu affects more than 1 billion people annually. And opting out now may result in you losing out on a dog you really want. You take all the proper precautions — staying at least six feet away from other two-legged folks — and now that you’ve got this dog at home, you’ve got to deal with one major conundrum. Regardless of what’s going on in the world, your dog doesn’t know it and the first few months of its life — especially as a puppy — socialization is a huge deal. Without it, you may have yourself one mean, antisocial dog.
But how do you do this when you’re already trying to dodge other people in the first place until the coronavirus numbers start decreasing (3,487 total cases yesterday and 4,226 cases today). Here are a few tips to help you socialize your dog inside your home.
Prioritize time to play with your new dog. In an ideal world, your responsible breeder has already started the dog’s socialization options in the first three months of his or her life. According to the American Kennel Club, puppies may voluntarily start coming up to people who are observing them within the first three weeks. You’re already in your own home, so make sure all of the closest family members who you need your dog to trust try to spend time with this dog. “Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age,” according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
Introduce this dog to all kinds of sounds, smells and sights in the neighborhood. For homeowners, a trip to the backyard is an easy way to do this. For apartment dwellers, this can become a bit of a problem depending on the neighborhood. If you’re adopting a puppy, hanging out and sniffing carpet and floors (tile, linoleum, hardwood) are good ways to get your puppy moving and curious. For older dogs who aren’t particularly new to this environment, they’ll still want to check their new home out. But eventually, they’ll want to go outside. While your dog can “see” as many people as possible on various television programs, that’s just not the same as touching and/or smelling a diverse group of people.
If you do not already live in a multicultural household, this useful checklist (“Some Thoughts About Dogs” socialization ideas) is going to be tougher to do. However, there are some things that you can indeed do from home — move a wheel suitcase around, open and close an umbrella, vacuum the carpet or a rug, wave a flag, dry your hair with a blow dryer, play an instrument, test out some grooming techniques, etc. These are not only things that will help your dog get used to your touch but also get used to changes. If you get into the habit of just sitting on your couch and watching TV all day, with the occasional trip to clean up after him, your dog will also start thinking that’s a “normal” day.
Consider a drive around the neighborhood. If you live in a community where you can quickly get to your parking spot or garage area, this is yet another way to help your dog get used to traveling. There are plenty of noises outside — ambulances, fire trucks, raindrops, thunder, lawnmowers, motorcycles, buses, trains — that can help your dog become comfortable with hearing them. So by the time you’re able to regularly walk your dog, this won’t be a completely new site to see.
Meetups via cars: So maybe you’ve had to distance yourself from some family and friends who you hang with every once in awhile. This is as good of a time as any to decide who else you want your dog to trust. Of course with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraging people to isolate themselves, you don’t want to bounce around from home to home. But no one is stopping you from having verbal conversations via speakerphone so your dog can get used to the sound of your social circle’s voices. Stop typing away on social media, texting and email and let your dog know who is on the other side of the computer or smartphone. And if you’re really serious about certain people, maybe meet up in neutral locations. Your dog stays in your car, and your friend stays in her car. But you two can talk via phone — on speaker — while your dog is checking out who your friend is in the next car. And if your friend has a dog, this is as good of a time as any for those two to meet, too, from one car window to another.
Clean your home regularly. The CDC has a checklist of home maintenance during the coronavirus outbreak. Unless you absolutely have to, skip the bleach cleaning altogether and stick to eco-friendly cleaning options. A curious dog — whether a puppy or a new adult dog —is a magnet for strong smells and tastes, and the last thing you want to do is expose this dog to dangerous toxins and poison. Fresh lemons (stockpile a bag), baking soda and vinegar are just fine. They also help control pet smells in your home. If you’re someone who likes candles and incense, make sure to light those as well so your dog is used to seeing the fire (enclosed environment in an inaccessible area only) and smelling those scents, too.
Contact a veterinarian about next steps. If the dog you’ve adopted does not already have all major shots, check with the veterinarian of your choice to find out how to safely get this done. As of now, there have been no cases of dogs (or cats) that have infected humans with COVID-19. For the one dog from Hong Kong who did get weak positive results, there is still no evidence from the World Health Organization (WHO) that dogs can spread the disease or become ill from coronavirus. However, there are plenty of other dog health precautions that should be taken into consideration. You may be asked to come inside on an individual basis — again, waiting in your car until the vet is ready to see your dog — instead of being in a waiting room. Depending on the age of your dog, some shots may be able to wait while others won’t. But you should inquire about what shots are and are not needed. In the meantime, this is a great time to sign up for pet health insurance online.