A lack of clear direction from the province during the pandemic as to whether dog training is or should have been an essential service will lead to greater difficulties with dogs, according to local trainers. The problem is compounded by the increase in the number of dog owners over the past year and a half.
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The lack of dog socialization opportunities and proper training is turning into increasing cases of fear aggression and separation anxiety. They have become major problems during the pandemic, and the situation will only get worse, say dog ââtrainers and new dog owners, placing the responsibility on the shoulders of the province.
âThe problem is, the government is not aware of these things,â said Carol Neil of Soul2Soul Dog Training. âThe window of socialization in all dogs starts at three weeks and begins to close between 12 and 14 weeks. Most people don’t know this and therefore every time we stop by not all of these puppies are socialized. Now, a year later, we are literally seeing epidemic amounts of fear aggression in these teenage dogs who are now nine months, a year old, a little older.
Fear aggression occurs when a dog feels threatened by an unfamiliar person or animal, but cannot escape the situation. Instead, he attacks. Separation anxiety occurs when a dog is distressed by the absence of its owner. This distress causes them to exhibit destructive behaviors such as chewing or scratching, or acting in the form of barking, or even urinating or defecating.
Neil and other dog trainers say lack of clear direction from Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Alberta Biz Connect means puppies haven’t received the right training at the right stage of their development. The pandemic has strained businesses with restrictions and intermittent closures, leaving new dog owners in the wild.
Neil is joined by Kerry Peddle (of Kerry’s Canine Creations and Training) and Kaytie Stack, who runs K9 Awareness – a dog training center on Rowland Crescent where trainers such as Neil and Peddle offer their services.
âThis is a 2,000 square foot facility, and we are quite capable of keeping people 15 to 20 feet away: one authorized person per dog, masks, etc. We have hand sanitizers, and yet every time we turn around there’s nothing on the website to give us direction. You won’t see dog training anywhere. Every time someone contacted Biz Connect, or AHS, people got different responses each time. It has been a difficult year, âsaid Neil.
Biz Connect is the government agency responsible for providing “workplace advice and support to businesses and nonprofits affected by COVID-19 to operate safely and support their recovery.” A look under his Guidance documents The page shows industry-specific instructions for everything from libraries to industrial work camps, equestrian events to schools, and weddings and funerals to warehouses. Animal training operations do not exist, nor does an âOtherâ category exist, but the page says: âThis guide covers all workplacesâ.
âWhen you contact AHS it seems like different people have different opinions on whether the courses should be up and running, and then someone else says, ‘No it can’t be. “It hasn’t been very clear where we fall into which category,” Stack noted.
âThere is a gap between Biz Connect, which is the reach of businesses during COVID, by the restrictions. They seem to blame AHS for the answers, and AHS seems to blame Biz Connect for the answers. We don’t know where the information is coming from, âcontinued Peddle. âOne person gets, ‘Yes you can do it,’ and another person gets, ‘No you can’t,’ and all of a sudden nothing can be done. “
âThe biggest concern I have is that they really haven’t recognized some aspect of the training industry as an essential service,â Neil said, adding, âThere are definitely some aspects that are. such as the socialization of puppies, especially during COVID. There are a lot of factors that go into creating things like fear of aggression. One of the main causes that we know may be the cause is lack quality, positive socialization experiences and exposure to people unfamiliar to the puppy, dogs, etc.
The three have even started offering “very special” drop your puppy “socializing gatherings so that the puppies can get that much needed exposure to unfamiliar people under their supervision.
âWe certainly don’t want to just take our puppies to dog parks and put them in high risk situations in terms of attack by other dogs and things like that,â Neil said.
Tjana Jennett saw how the interruptions in her puppy Chihuahua Blake’s socialization training affected her behaviors. He was getting along well while the coaches were up and running last summer and early fall, but that was before public health restrictions changed things for the worse. âOnce cuddly with everyone, Blake has become very fearful of people. Everyone wants to touch him and reach out to him, but some of these COVID animals are afraid of the unknown, âJennett wrote in an article on Soul2Soul’s Facebook page.
âWinter came and he didn’t walk a lot of dogs so he got a little aggressive,â she said, recounting how his puppy vaccinations went from great to first, to pee and to click for the second.
His sterilization was a whole different story.
“They must have pulled him and dragged him. They had a good time with him,” she continued. âThey said, ‘Right now he should be trained. He shouldn’t be doing this. He is aggressive and he tries to show his strength. Right before they grabbed him and took him from me – because I wasn’t allowed in at all at the time, or my son – he peed. I thought he likes to protect us, but to pee is a sign of nervousness.
Neil was able to work one-on-one with Blake. Over the course of several sessions, the puppy was able to get back on track with good socialization and better behavior. The Chihuahua will be one year old next month.
Jennett has heard of other people having similar issues with their “COVID puppies”. Some situations are exacerbated by how people were made redundant or worked from home at first, but then had to return to the workplace, leaving their animals alone.
Stack, Neil and Peddle are still concerned. Not all puppies were able to get these extra sessions with trainers. They expect to see aggression and separation anxiety issues in the future. They hope they can rectify more issues now that things are opening up again.