We have a new phrase in the dog lexicon after the events of the past couple of years: the pandemic puppy. The phrase has nothing to do with physical health. It is more about the accidental timing that brought these dogs into our world.
I have a pandemic puppy. Her name is True Dat. She is a cavalier King Charles spaniel who came to us in early 2020 to carry on for our first cavalier, Angel, who had passed a year prior.
True was just a few months old, and like many puppies, she was not particularly worldly; everything was a new experience. Our approach was quite simple: get out to experience people, other dogs, children, sights and sounds.
The plan for True was training and socialization and enrichment activities, like our dogs before her, who ultimately became wonderful therapy dogs. We wanted her to grow up in a fun, embracing world to prepare her for that life. However, the pandemic changed things. We would walk her in tourist-rich Cannon Beach, Oregon, and we got a lot of people saying “Oh, what a darling puppy!” Followed by our opening, “Would you like to pet her?”
The answer too often would be, “Oh, no, sorry, social distancing,” and they were off to the beach. I think that was aimed more at the humans, but True didn’t know that. She just watched them walk away without any interaction. Her look saying, “Wait!”
Unfortunately, it’s not just True. There are millions of dogs who — with the help of responsible breeders, rescue, shelters, pet stores and more – found themselves in new homes over the pandemic often with people who were inexperienced pet owners.
My feeling is that the “established” dog-loving community has welcomed the new owners and their dogs into our world. We jump in to help and counsel wherever we can. We want these dogs to “stick” in their new homes when the day finally comes that we all go back to whatever “normal” may be, whether its back to the office, back to school or just back to our busy daily lives.
Training classes have popped up, offered by pet supply stores, kennel clubs, shelters, rescue organizations and other retail establishments. Virtually all these classes are worthwhile. In addition to the training, these gatherings give us a chance to share what our dogs are all about, how they do such great things for us every day of their unconditional loving, loyal, spontaneous, happy lives.
Along the way, we make our own new friends, some with dogs, some without. When we lived in New York City, we used to laugh about it and say that we might not know anyone in the neighborhood if it weren’t for our dogs. That is probably a fact.
True and I got involved in a “meet up” with other dogs here in our new home in Seattle, meeting regularly in the Seattle Center. Her friend from our neighborhood, Cheddar, gets the credit for bringing us in. We want True to have some “real world” moments without overwhelming her, and in the shadow of the Space Needle we have found ourselves in good company for that.
It’s about the dogs, of course, but I do find myself occasionally giving away my book when people tell me that they want to get into therapy dog work. I also encourage them all to watch our show, NBC’s National Dog Show Presented by Purina on Thanksgiving Day, to learn about dogs and responsible ownership, and to hear stories about the dog show world’s real dogs and real people. I tell them about the “alma mater” factor: to find their own dog’s breed counterpart in the show, and root for it.
True is getting there, she becomes more worldly every day, but it doesn’t just happen. We must continue to be aware of it, we must help make it happen rather than just hoping it happens. We are seeing the progress made by the dogs and their people every time we get together. But by now, everyone knows that it takes time and dedication.
New and experienced dog owners alike are seeing that our dogs are always there for us. The expression is unconditional love, and our spontaneous, loyal and loving companions are so good at it. The phrase “emotional service dog” has found its way into our jobs-for-our-dogs’ listings for some time now. My comment on that is that every dog is an “emotional service dog.”
I’m a member of the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, the Westchester Kennel Club and the International Kennel Club of Chicago, and we welcome input and interaction from the commercial interests that surround our world. Now is a particularly relevant time for those relationships to grow with the pandemic (hopefully) moving into the rear-view mirror.
So now, as we gradually get back to whatever “normal” has become, it is time to flip the plan. It’s time for us to take care of our dogs. Let’s be sure that they are getting everything they need, that they are indeed OK, just as they continue to watch over us.
We “dog people” are happy to welcome you to the family and we will continue to help whenever we can. It really does take a village, an animal-loving village.
Remember: socialization, training and enrichment activities. You are not going to make your dogs into robots, but you can make them into happy, loving and well-behaving members of your family.
In the meantime, hug your dog every day. After all, your own dog is the real Best in Show dog.
New York Magazine once called David Frei “probably the most famous human in the world of canines.” He is the dog expert co-host of NBC’s National Dog Show Presented by Purina since its inception in 2002, seen every Thanksgiving Day by more than 25 million viewers. It is the same role that he perfected in 27 years as the longtime (1990-2016) co-host of USA Network’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.