March 17, 2023


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We Need to Talk About Pandemic Puppies

Let’s set the stage with this statistic: during the COVID-19 pandemic, 23 million cats and dogs have been brought into human homes. The puppies in this group were coined “pandemic puppies” – and since work and life have begun to return to normal, the behaviors of the puppies that were born into the pandemic have been brought under the microscope.

But here’s the thing with pandemic puppies. In the way that most people use the term (to describe puppies born during the pandemic that have demonstrated separation anxiety or poor socialization skills once the world opened up), I believe there is no such thing. I truly believe that this is a term that allows us to place blame on something external (the pandemic) instead of acknowledging the role we played in how our puppies developed.

Let’s get into it.

What is a pandemic puppy?

The term “pandemic puppy” was initially coined to describe puppies brought into homes during the pandemic, beginning in early 2020.

What largely distinguishes these animals is that they were brought into generally sheltered environments. A large percentage of new dog owners spent most of their time at home, and environments like dog parks weren’t an option anymore. Many new puppies spent significantly less time around other dogs, and less time separated from their families.

And again – the environment pandemic puppies grew up in has been treated as the cause of issues like separation anxiety once the world opened up. But…..

Separation anxiety existed long before the pandemic

As humans, we’ve projected a lot of our issues related to the pandemic on our pets. Though it’s slightly counterintuitive, it’s essential to keep in mind that the pandemic is not the sole cause, or even really a cause, in the issues we are seeing in pandemic puppies.

Separation anxiety (as an issue that our canines experience) has been around long before the pandemic. And the root cause of separation anxiety has nothing to do with how much time during your day you spend with your dog, whether or not you’re working from home, or the existence of the pandemic. The root cause of separation anxiety (and most, if not all, undesirable behaviors) is the lack of an alpha leader in the pack.

The pandemic was actually a positive influence on puppy socialization

Contrary to what many think, the pandemic actually provided many positive side effects for pandemic puppies – especially when it comes to socialization.

Before the pandemic, most new puppies were exposed to an overwhelming amount of new people and new dogs with little to no boundaries on walks, in dog parks, and in their own homes.

Many new dog owners think that they’re doing their puppies a favor by exposing them to new influences at a young age – but what they’re really doing is overwhelming their young puppies, creating negative experiences, and failing to protect their canines (a role that is crucial for the alpha leader to take on). This lack of protection creates a rift in your dog’s trust in you at a very early age.

The concept of boundaries and personal space have largely been lost when it comes to our canines. But it is our responsibility to allow our dogs to have agency over who they’re interacting with and when. In so many ways, we’re setting our dogs up to fail when we surround them with so much stimuli too early in their development.

If you allow other people to continually invade your dog’s space, it promotes the idea that humans as a species are threatening – and by extension, communicates to your dog that as a leader you are not managing these external threats and taking charge. This often can result in your dog losing respect for you as a leader – and showing them that you’re not a true alpha in their eyes.

The pandemic protected most puppies from this overstimulating and disrespectful approach to puppy socialization. Dog parks were no longer accessible, people and dogs kept their distance on walks – and young puppies benefitted from being able to explore the world with safe boundaries.

Understanding the right time, place, and methodology to expose your puppy to different stimulants is crucial to raising a well-socialized, calm adult dog.

How to socialize your pandemic puppy

So what does it mean to take responsibility for your canine’s behavior and encourage positive socialization with your pandemic puppy?

The ultimate goal of socialization is to help your puppy develop a healthy, neutral relationship with other animals and humans. Inherently, canines are very social creatures and socialization is a very important aspect of their lived experience that we can assist and harm if not managed carefully.

Remember – in many ways, we projected our experience of the pandemic onto our dogs. Many of the behavioral and psychological issues we see from our dogs are not a result of the pandemic itself, but instead, our own issues that we projected onto our dogs and the lack of leadership we provided in our homes.

The height of the pandemic was a time full of loneliness, isolation, and general negativity for many people. And a lot of people ended up bringing canines into their homes to fill the void caused by this abrupt change in the world and the loneliness inside. Naturally, this projection had largely negative effects on these puppies that were tasked with filling such a void.

The key to righting any wrongs we may have done to these pandemic puppies is to assume the alpha leadership role and taking the weight off of the animals in our lives that never could have filled this void for us.

Read next: The Ultimate Guide to Getting a New Puppy

Your pandemic puppy needs you to assume the alpha role

The issue was never the pandemic; the issue is always the lack of an alpha leader in the pack. It’s time we stop blaming the pandemic for our own issues. Embody the alpha in your canine relationships and embrace your role as a leader.

In my work, I see so many dog owners take on a reactionary role in their relationships with their canines – rather than the role of a leader, protector, and provider. I often see people trying to program their puppies like a computer, fueled by misinformation about how to befriend and create healthy behavioral patterns in our puppies.

Socialization is about creating healthy relationships for your dog. The pandemic undoubtedly did change the way this occurred, but really highlighted the issues with socialization that have been present for decades.

Pandemic puppies are a great example of both the positive and negative elements of socialization that were magnified during the pandemic, though notably, it really is not the pandemic itself that led to behavioral and psychological issues in many of these dogs.

What we project onto our dogs is so impactful. In the pandemic, this discourse was largely harmful as we projected fear and isolation onto our canine companions during key socialization periods. Through your status as an embodied alpha, redefine your relationship with your dog and explore the nuances of socialization.

Alphas are not part-time. A true leader shows up in that embodiment every day. You have to ensure your dog is electing you as their leader. Not just for a walk, or for a day, but every moment, every day, all year round.

As a dog shaman and canine behaviorist for over 25 years, it’s my mission in life to restore the sacred bond between human and canine. If you’re struggling in your relationship with your dog and are ready to step towards alignment and alpha embodiment, I’d love to support you.
Book a consultation today.

separation anxiety in dogs

Sasha Armstrong

Founder of Canine State of Mind

A place where dog parents can learn more about canine behavior and how to create the environment for a closer relationship with their dog.



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