The Pandemic Puppies Are Coming! Addressing Anxiety & Crate Training
By Annalisa Berns
The rush to purchase and adopt dogs during the pandemic was “out of the blue”— just like the pandemic itself. No one expected the surge in demand for companions during quarantine. Dogs provide companionship at a stressful time, and a reason to get out and go on a walk. People reported that they had always wanted a pet, but their schedule wouldn’t fit having a dog. Now, with working from home, they thought they would have the time.
Rescue groups and private breeders alike experienced higher than usual requests. Many shelters and rescue groups saw dog adoption numbers double. Sometimes, sadly, with matching requests from owners to surrender their pets due to loss of jobs and homes.
But, what happens when first-time pet owners bring home a dog during a pandemic? There are bound to be quite a few “pandemic puppy” problems!
Separation anxiety seems to be the number one issue. With owners at home more, their beloved dog gets used to them being by their side around the clock. This can be calming for both owner and pet—and a positive means of support during an uncertain time—but it quickly becomes distressing for both upon the first day back to work in-person, or the first extended stay away from home.
Here are a few tips for dealing with separation anxiety or lack of crate training in the boarding and daycare environment:
1. Train staff on behavior issues related to separation anxiety and crate training.
2. Screen clients by questioning the owner to make sure your service is a match for their dog and their expectations.
3. Educate clients on the use of a crate for safety and how it benefits their dog, both at home and in boarding.
4. If you have a dog in boarding that hasn’t been crate trained, tire them out, then pair high-value treats with their crate or kennel. (submitted by Cassandra Bauer, Grand View Canine Care)
5. Try shorter stays in daycare.
6. Bring in a trainer or behaviorist, or offer more one-on-one time for pets that need additional help—which is possibly a new avenue for revenue. (submitted by Mike Cramer, pet service provider)
Some dog owners might not be aware of an issue at home, while others may begin noticing some signs that a problem is in the works. For example, when having an online video meeting and the dog barks nonstop after being closed in another room, instead of directing the dog gently to its crate which it should be accustomed to, the owner might have tried a crate abruptly or as a punishment.
There are many different scenarios where a pet needs to be comfortable in a kennel or crate.
Cassandra Bauer, co-founder and staff member of Grand View Canine Care in Arkport, New York, said, “I encourage all of my fosters and clients to keep up on crate training just in case there is a need in the future (need for crate rest after an injury, heaven forbid a family emergency and the dog ends up in the care of an Animal Control Officer, etc.). There will be much less stress or risk on many levels!”
Bauer makes a point of including the importance of crate training as part of ongoing conversations with clients. She finds that using text messages to communicate helps, and says “it hits home more.” She also posts on the business Facebook page to remind clients.
When Mike Cramer, a pet service provider, has dogs in his care with crate or kennel issues he communicates clearly to the pet’s owner. “I want the client to understand we are assisting them [by providing information about crate training] so that there is not a bigger issue when they return [to boarding].”
If a dog has anxiety or an issue with being confined and needs additional training, Cramer offers a discount or other incentive to encourage the client to bring their pet back again. He also recommends recording the pets’ stays via security camera to aid in credibility and provide information on how the dog behaved.
Find a way to communicate with clients that works best for you. Invest time in making a flyer, social media post, informational video or newsletter to remind pet parents of the importance of crate training. Always brand your educational materials with your business name and contact information.
Here are some talking points and basics of crate training to share with clients:
1. Explain how crate training should be a normal part of getting a dog used to a new home situation, and how it makes boarding a better experience for their dog.
2. Advise clients to pick a crate that is big enough for their dog. The crate needs to be “their” spot in the house and have ample space for the pet to stand up, turn around and sleep comfortably in.
3. Talk to clients about where the crate is located in the home. A quiet spot where the pet can feel safe is ideal.
4. Every dog is different. Emphasize that owners need to be flexible to meet their own dog’s needs.
5. Recommend supervised use of treat-dispensing toys, noise machines or playing calming music to help drown out outside noises.
6. Educate owners never to use a crate as punishment or for long-term confinement.
Remember, most new pet guardians don’t have the knowledge and expertise that you do. There is a learning curve that comes with being a first-time dog owner. In addition, there are perpetually new developments in the fields of best care, training and practices.
In this time of change, consider what best practices are working for you and your clients. Maybe it is time for some modifications to adapt to changing needs—which may even bring more business opportunities to your facility. Consider highlighting training or enrichment as a perk or add-on service, or adding crate-free boarding options if your space and logistics permit.
Part of having a successful pet service is sharing your expertise to improve not only the lives of furry family members, but of their owners, too.