If your family’s got puppy fever, you’re not alone! Animal shelters have been reporting an increase in puppy adoptions since the start of the coronavirus pandemic last month. And with all of that extra time at home, experts say it’s the perfect time for many families to bring home a new puppy.
“Puppies need a lot of attention, so it’s really helpful for them to have all of that one-on-one time with their new family,” says Chelsea Jones of the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA) in Virginia.
It takes an average of 10 weeks to house train a puppy, and you’ll need to walk it every one to two hours (yes, really!) in the beginning. You’ll also need plenty of time to teach the puppy house rules, to socialize it with family members and other pets, and to teach it not to bark incessantly or chew up your favorite shoes. And, during the coronavirus pandemic, you’ll need to create an emergency plan for who will take the puppy if you fall ill.
You should also ask yourself whether you can afford a puppy. You’ll need to buy toys, food, a crate, a leash and other necessities. Then there are the adoption fees, shots and other initial medical expenses.
“The first and last year of a pet’s life are usually the most expensive,” says Jones. “The first year generally costs $1,500 to $3,000, and the average monthly cost is anywhere from $100 to $300.”
Are you ready to bring home a new puppy? Here are the steps you should take.
Adopt, don’t shop
The best (and cheapest) way to find a puppy is from a pet rescue or animal shelter. That’s because many pet stores and breeders get their dogs from puppy mills, which mistreat the animals. (If you’re intent on buying a pup from a breeder, visit the Humane Society’s website for information on how to find a responsible one.)
Though some shelters have halted adoptions during the pandemic, many have not—and they’ve come up with creative ways to help families find the perfect pup. They’re setting up Zoom or FaceTime calls between dogs and potential owners. They’re offering curbside adoptions and socially distant backyard meetings. And they’re doing more in-depth “matchmaking” by asking families lots of questions and choosing a dog for them based on their personalities and lifestyles.
“There’s a good chance that a family will end up with a really good fit during this time because they’re getting more guidance, rather than just picking a puppy because it’s cute,” says Jones.
Puppy-proof your home
Remember baby proofing your house before bringing home your newborn? You’ll need to do the same for your puppy. Store cables and wires out of reach, keep small objects and other items you don’t want your pup to chew off the floor, and keep plants away unless you’re sure they’re not toxic to dogs. You’ll also need to create a safe, non-carpeted space for your puppy to stay in the beginning.
“When you first bring a puppy home it should not have full access to your house, or you’ll be finding pee and poop in weird places for months,” says Jones.
The puppy’s space could be a gated off kitchen, a den or any other high traffic area of the home. Make sure there are plenty of toys, food and water there. Once the puppy starts learning the house rules and getting the hang of house training, you can give it access to larger portions of your home.
Prepare your children
You’ll need to teach your kids how to appropriately interact with the new pup. For toddlers, that includes the basics like not hitting or pushing the dog. Older kids should be taught not to kiss or hug the puppy and not to bother it when it’s eating or sleeping.
“Any animal, when it’s in a vulnerable position, can get scared when someone sneaks up on it or invades its space,” warns Jones.
Get help with training
Though in-person puppy training classes are canceled for the time being, you don’t need to go it alone. The place from which you adopt your puppy will give you advice and materials on how to train using positive reinforcement and rewards. Your veterinarian will also have resources available. And many places, including the AWLA, are now offering online classes via Zoom and other apps.
Plan for the future
Don’t forget that you and your kids will eventually return to work and school, so you’ll need to have a plan for when that happens. Find and hire a dog walker now, and start getting your dog used to being away from you so he won’t experience separation anxiety. Put the puppy in its safe space and leave for 15 minutes. Raise the time limit incrementally until the dog can be left alone for a few hours without barking or destroying things.
“Puppies need to learn to be independent and to self soothe,” says Jones.
If you do get a new puppy during the coronavirus pandemic, we’d love to see him or her. Share a photo on Instagram using #washingtonfamilymag and we may feature it on our page!