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Raising a 'COVID puppy' no walk in the park

Lack of socialization with other dogs, people during pandemic has made raising a puppy challenging, says one Richmond woman

For many, the pandemic seemed like the perfect time to add to their family – or so the thinking went.

Dog adoptions soared during the COVID-19 pandemic – the BC SPCA reported last year that some animals, such as puppies, may receive 200 applications for the same animal – as people spent more time at home and isolated.

But it’s not just people who were affected by that isolation.

“I didn’t mean for it to be this way. I didn’t want him to be a COVID puppy,” said Richmond resident Allisa Ritchie.  

Ritchie and her family originally planned to get their puppy in November 2020 after travelling, but when those plans were cancelled due to the pandemic they ended up adopting Echo, a poodle, in August of last year.

It’s proven to be a challenge, she said, raising a puppy during the pandemic, which meant that Echo – now 11 months old and affectionately known as “snub puppy” – wasn’t able to meet many other dogs or people.

“My challenges were, that we had nobody in the house except the three of us – my son, my husband and I – and so he really didn’t see a lot of people.”

And out on walks, people would typically keep their distance from each other because of COVID-19.

While each breed and owner is different, Ritchie believes many new dog owners are having similar issues, as she and Echo have encountered other under-socialized dogs while out on their walks.

Ritchie said she and a friend, who also adopted a puppy last year, were able to arrange play dates for the two.

“So we both wore masks in our backyard and we let the puppies play because I knew they had to have some playtime.”

While Echo still shows fear aggression, and is nervous around children and skateboards, he has been improving and is getting better with other dogs. Ritchie found plenty of exercise – they go for two hour walks each day – helps, as does going to the dog park. She also constantly works to train him, and said there's lots of helpful resources online.

“I train him when we greet other dogs, so when I see a dog coming around the corner on the path, I make him sit, I give him a treat – he has to look at me – but the training just when you’re greeting is really helpful, because he has to sit before he greets.”

Ritchie said she may also start arranging backyard play dates with more dogs depending on people’s comfort level.

She also hopes new dog owners will help and be patient with each other and their dogs. Asking before approaching an unknown dog can also be helpful, Ritchie said, adding she found squatting down to the dog’s level can be a non-threatening way for them to get to know you.

“Let’s all work together – let’s observe basic COVID rules and get our dogs used to each other,” she said. “Move slowly. All this effort will pay off in the long run,” she added.  

  • With a file from Elana Shepert, Vancouver Is Awesome