Pandemic Puppy: First 30 Days, The Blues, And Breakthroughs

Pandemic Puppy 101 Guide For New, Overwhelmed And Potential Pet Dog Parents

Hi! If you want to be a dog owner and want a dose of reality, you’ve come to the right place.

Trust me, you won’t see dog ownership through rose-tinted glasses after this.

This article’s going to be as real as it gets on puppy ownership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re going to cover:

Puppy Blues
Should You Get A Dog?
Setting A Routine
Training Your Puppy
First 30 Days With My Puppy

When I first started drafting this out, Rambo – my then 21-day-old toy poodle pup – played rambunctiously next to me in his playpen.

He’d barked at me once.

And whined on and off – partly out of frustration and partly to get my attention.

I cringed on the inside as I worried about the noise disturbing our neighbours, but I remained steadfast and ignored him so he learned that barking = him no attention.

This was just a 5-minute interaction out of our entire 24-hour daily routine.

And it was part of why I developed the puppy blues very early on…

On having and dealing with the puppy blues

In all transparency, there wasn’t a day in the first 2 weeks of getting Rambo where I didn’t slightly regret my decision.

The puppy blues, they call them online.

People I’ve spoken to and online forums I’ve checked out have shared similar sentiment and stories.

And I find this all interesting because while I…

  • am a dog lover
  • have owned dogs before
  • and went through a couple of months of research and years of consideration

… it still wasn’t enough.

I felt in over my head since getting and taking care of him while under the pandemic lockdown in Malaysia.

I felt like one of those irresponsible people who get a dog on a whim.

I felt anxious and mentally tired from worrying about raising him to be a well-trained and socialised dog, and me on being a well-trained dog owner.

And honestly, these feelings are normal. Even professional dog trainers can feel overwhelmed.

If you have these feelings, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed as a new pet parent.

Keep in mind that this is a big adjustment period for both you and your puppy, which is essentially a baby who has just been separated from its pack. So there’s no way that things will be easy-breezy from the start. And if they are, awesome! But if they’re not, that’s alright too.

The important thing is that you:

  • do your research to prepare and to manage your expectations (SUPER IMPORTANT)
  • have a plan going in (training, time management, care, etc.)
  • give you and your puppy time, care, and consistency

Should you get a dog?

Getting a dog is not the same as getting a pet fish.

It’s more like getting a child because of the level of care and attention that’s required. So it’s really not for everyone.

If you want a dog just because it’s cute, then you probably shouldn’t own a dog at all.

Here are a couple of considerations when thinking about dog ownership:

  • Breed of the dog
    • Will the breed suit your general lifestyle and living situation? Is it an active breed? Or a lazy breed? Will it grow to be huge or stay small? E.g. a Border Collie requires a ton of space, exercise, and mental stimulation, so it’s probably not the right fit for you if you live in a small apartment and don’t live an active lifestyle.
  • Buying or adoption
    • Are you buying from a breeder or a pet shop? A pet shop is not recommended as puppies usually come from puppy mills and you won’t know the general history or disposition of the pup’s parents.
    • If you adopt, are you adopting a pup or an adult dog? Keep in mind that an adult dog may come with behavioural issues – especially if it’s been kept around a ton of other stressed-out shelter dogs – so it will probably require some form of training and behavioral modification.
    • Whether you buy or adopt (always try to adopt first), just be sure to do ample research to manage expectations and prepare yourself for the dog you’ll be bringing home.
  • Costs
    • Vet fees, food, toys, collar and leash, crate/cage, pet bed, urine eliminator spray, hairbrush, treats, flea/tick prevention, supplements, boarding/sitting, grooming, training – these are just some of the things you will/may spend money on for your doggo
    • Initial startup costs can go up to RM4,000 if you buy your pup, or up to RM1,000 if you adopt.
    • Monthly maintenance could then be about RM200/month for food, treats, and so on.
    • Vet fees can be expensive if your dog has health issues, so consider getting pet insurance from a provider like Oyen, whose plans cost between RM499 – RM799/year.
  • Care
    • A tired dog is a happy and calm dog. The general guide is to exercise your dog for about 30 minutes twice a day. And if you can’t commit the time to do that, can you afford daycare or a pet sitter/dog walker? This costs roughly RM40/day.
    • Training your dog is also important so it understands how you want it to behave around you and others. Not having rules, boundaries, and limitations can stress out a dog because they don’t know what you expect of them, which can lead to behavourial issues.
  • Time
    • A dog is going to be a lifelong companion, at least in its lifetime, which typically lasts between 8 – 20 years. Are you ready for this commitment?
    • Dogs are not as independent as cats. They’re pack animals and want to be in your company. Can you set aside at least 3 – 4 hours of daily focused interaction with your dog? And if you can’t, can you afford alternatives like pet daycare or a dog walker?

Setting a routine for your puppy

Dogs are creatures of habit, so having a routine is great so that your dog knows what’s expected of them.

A good rule of thumb for a puppy is to rinse and repeat a 1-hour play/training session and 2-hour nap combo throughout the day.

Here’s our day for example:

Rambo’s daily schedule

  • 8am wake up, walk and play/train
  • 9am 5 – 10 minute breakfast then playpen/nap time
  • 1pm wake up, walk and play/train
  • 2pm 5 – 10 minute lunch then playpen/nap time
  • 5pm wake up, walk and play/train
  • 6pm playpen/nap time
  • 730pm wake up, walk and play/train
  • 8pm 5 – 10 minute dinner then playpen/nap time
  • 1030pm wake up, walk and play/train
  • 1130pm playpen/nap time
  • 1am bedtime in crate

P/S: Although I’ve listed training time under specific timeslots, it’s important to note that training pretty much happened whenever the opportunity presents itself throughout the day. And this is done in short spurts of about 30 seconds to 5 minutes. You want to make sure that training is fun and exciting to keep your puppy focused and willing to learn.

Training your puppy

It’s never too early to train your puppy and instill good behaviour in them.

Ever since Rambo came home with me, we started working on Sit, Down, Stay (though for us, the command word naturally changed to “Wait” instead), Quiet, Go Potty, Off, Leave It, Drop It, Heel, Roll, Spin, Place, and Paw.

I incorporate these commands into our everyday life, so now Rambo – being a little over 3.5 months old – is 99% potty trained (any error margin is usually my fault for not giving him the opportunity to go potty), waits for his food and to go out onto the balcony, quiets down right as he’s revving up to bark when I catch it on time, and so on.

Here are some dog training resources that have helped me:

  • Zak George – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZzFRKsgVMhGTxffpzgTJlQ
  • McCann Dog Training – https://www.youtube.com/user/McCannDogs
  • Nate Schoemer – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC08iaD15_KagfPe0N4y4jww
  • Puppy 101 on Reddit – https://www.reddit.com/r/puppy101/

It’s taken a lot of consistency and patience to get to where we are today. I probably have repeated “Wait” about 30 times throughout the day.

Here are some training tips that have helped:

Positively reinforce good and calm behaviour by marking it either with a clicker or with the word “Yes”. This is great when getting your puppy used to new experiences and sounds that may be scary for them.

Teach your puppy what you want them to do by first luring/shaping the behaviour, then marking with your command word. E.g. hold a treat in front of their nose and move it up till your puppy ends in a sit, then reward them. Do this repeatedly and eventually incorporate the word “Sit”.

Only reward once good behaviour is completed (e.g. dog is in a full sit not halfway down to a sit).

Ignore bad behaviour like biting and barking by facing away from your puppy or moving away from them. Bad behaviour = no attention or rewards from you.

Don’t scold your puppy when they do something wrong, especially if they go potty in the wrong place. This may cause them to go potty when you’re not watching so they don’t have to face your wrath. Instead, try calmly saying “No”, pick them up and move them to the right spot and say “Go Potty”, and reward them if they do go potty in the right place.

Don’t treat your puppy like a baby. For example, if your dog barks at another dog, don’t go on a whole “hey that’s your friend, why are you barking at your friend, be nice” spiel. They don’t get that. Treat them like a dog, period.

Take it one step at a time. Start training in a quiet, distraction-free zone first before moving on up to say, the outside world. This sets your puppy up for success, and you for less training stress.

Be consistent. If something is a no-no, it must be a no-no all the time. If you let them off now and then, this actually confuses your dog. It would be good to have a rundown of your house early on and decide on how you want your dog to behave (e.g. no begging or entering the kitchen area).

Start practicing separation. This is particularly important for pandemic puppies, because you’re home all, if not most of the time. But that will change when restrictions open up. So you want to start training your puppy to get used to separation so it’s not such a huge adjustment when you can start leaving home for longer amounts of time later on.

First 30 days with a pandemic puppy

Week 1

  • Day 1 to 3 – adjusting to night time schedule, whined for an hour on Day 1, then on and off again on Night 2 and Night 3. Pooped at 5:30am on Night 3, but adjusted to pooping after 8am on Night 4 onwards.
  • Whining sessions last between 5 minutes – 1 hour throughout the day as he slowly adjusts to his routine.
  • Day 4 onwards – sits in crate and waits for release command “Okay eat” to eat food.

Week 2

  • His first bath ends with a case of the puppy zoomies.
  • Whined because of washing machine sounds, so I worked on positively reinforcing the experience by giving him treats whenever he was calm/quiet during a washing machine cycle.
  • Barked for the first time on Day 11 at 1pm when running around.
  • Started barking a bit (typically 1 or 3 reps x 3 sets) to seek attention – usually around playpen/nap time.
  • Stops trying to run out to the balcony unless given the release command “Okay”

Week 3

  • Day 21 – goes on his first hour-long trip outside. Whined in his bag as we were buying treats at the pet shop, puked on the car ride home. Plus point of the day, he played on his own for the first time with his new Kong plush toy. Yay!
  • Started his new diet consisting of Origen puppy kibble mixed with Monge soft dog food. I transitioned his diet by the following ratios:
    • Day 1 to 4 – 75% old food, 25% new food
    • Day 5 to 8 – 50% old food, 50% new food
    • Day 9 to 12 – 25% old food, 75% new food
    • Day 13 onwards – 100% new food
  • Has a small tantrum on Day 23 with yippy barks during his playpen time.
  • Very nippy during leash walking training. Ouch!

Week 4

  • Starts to nail down proper heeling position (right side, looking up)
  • Much better reaction time with “Leave it” command – shows restraint from chewing shoes and curtains
  • Day 28 – jumps into his crate and settles down when I prompt him to do so during bedtime.

Rambo is 5 months old now.

And he’s already come a long way in a considerably short amount of time. I mean, it’s only been 150 days since he first joined us here on Earth.

Month 4 was a lightbulb month of sorts for him. And it was also when I finally stopped having thoughts of regret for getting him.

I saw remarkable improvement in his behaviour. And a lot of “A Ha!” moments for him where it seemed like he really understood that if he would get rewarded for offering desired behaviours like waiting, being quiet, etc.; and that he would get ignored and go unrewarded when he displayed unwanted behaviours like barking, biting, and so on.

That’s not to say that he has everything 100% down just yet, I mean, I certainly haven’t mastered the whole dog training thing.

But we’re both getting there, together.

Day by day.

And so will you. 🙂

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