This is Blue. Blue is a Bull Mastiff/Catahoula mix, and she’s 4 months old. She just started the Beginners Obedience course last week… and she is a perfect example of the impact covid has had on dogs.
Because of the restrictions about social gatherings and other social interactions, Blue was not socialized to people, the outdoors, or anything else. When I arrived for her first lesson, I was shocked to see her cowering in fear and trying to run away and hide. Despite giving her all the right calming signals, she did not even try to use her nose, nor did she try to approach me. She was too afraid. The result was that most of that first obedience lesson was spent working to build at least some degree of trust with her.
Yesterday was lesson #2. Because of the intensity of her fear at the first lesson, I expected she would likely feel the same way this time, too. But, she surprised me: When I entered the home, Blue barked at me… and then, from a short distance, she extended her nose to catch my scent. She recognized it, and approached me for a closer sniff. When she realized it was me, she erupted into a case of the zoomies. None of us had anticipated that response from her.
Blue’s owners honestly thought the zoomies was a bad thing. They said they didn’t know how to stop it. I explained what the zoomies are, and then I suggested we take Blue outside for a sniff session to help her release some of that pent-up energy. I was shocked when they told me she won’t go outside; that she’s too afraid of the outdoors.
I admit that I was skeptical about the degree of Blue’s fear. She is, after all, a puppy. So, I was completely unprepared for the full-blown panic attack she had when they brought her out the door and tried to get her down the three short steps to the sidewalk. To say she was terrified would be an understatement. She was pulling so hard on the leash to go back inside that she was almost choking herself. It broke my heart. This puppy has no experience at all with outside, or sniffing, or anything.
Seeing the severity of the situation, I took the leash. Blue was frantic, and her owners were tense and unable to help her. Once I had the leash, the very slow process began of building trust with Blue while at the same time, introducing her to the outside world by encouraging her to use her nose. It took 45 minutes, but Blue was finally able to find the courage to not only go to the main sidewalk, but to also travel 10 feet forward, to the next door neighbor’s house. It was a huge accomplishment for her.
Covid has had a very negative impact on socialization. This is true. And unfortunately, too many first-time dog owners don’t realize that restrictions don’t mean they can’t take their dogs out for a walk. A big part of socialization involves exposing the dogs to the outside world so they can experience all the sights, sounds, and smells in their environment. Not only does this help the dog become adjusted to the world, it also gives them much-needed mental stimulation, which in turn helps them release stress and pent-up energy.
Blue will be okay, but it’s going to take time. Fortunately, her lessons will be done outdoors, so she can keep building confidence while she’s learning to trust her humans.