Consider Virtual Dog Training for Your Pandemic Puppy


Raegan Delgado, 40, was told Bolt was a “mouthy puppy” when she met him at the Paw Works rescue facility in Camarillo, Calif.

After two separate three-hour trips to the rescue, Ms. Delgado, her husband and three daughters decided to bring home Bolt, an 8-month-old pit bull mix through an at-home trial called “foster-to-adopt.” They liked his sweet eyes and the goofy ear that flopped across the top of his black head.

But the boisterous 45-pound dog was hard to handle. “Right from the beginning he was jumping and biting,” said Ms. Delgado, a behavioral analyst who hasn’t owned a dog since she was a kid. “The whole reason we wanted a dog was for my girls to take care of him.”

The Delgado family is one of many families bringing a new pet home during the coronavirus lockdown. One would think pet rescue groups would be elated, but many are concerned that this current boom in pet adoptions and fosters could lead to an explosion of returned pets when families return to work and school. “We have found a lot of people applying for dogs are not necessarily people who would be applying in normal circumstances,” Krystelle Sun of New York City’s Hearts & Bones Animal Rescue said. “We’re trying to weed out those applications.”

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it has experienced a 70 percent increase in animals going into foster homes through its New York City and Los Angeles programs compared with the same period last year, with more than 1,500 online foster applicants. Best Friends Animal Society’s Lifesaving Centers across the United States have seen a similarly drastic surge. At its Salt Lake City facility, according to the organization, 329 pets have been adopted since March 13, compared with just 96 during the same stretch of 2019.

Like the Delgado family, many of those new dog owners will need help teaching their pets the rules of the house, a task that has been upended with social distancing. Paw Works connected the Delgados to the trainer Bernardo Perez of Road Dogs Dog Mentoring, who guided the family via daily text messages and phone calls.

They implemented a three-strikes rule. Bolt gets three chances to calm down before being sent to his crate for a time out. For example, if Bolt is jumping and mouthing, they tell him “down.” If he gets hyped up again, they go through the same routine. If three tries at the “down” command fail, he gets sent to his crate. After three days, the training worked.

Dog training is especially important in these unusual times, as new pets will quickly get used to spending all day with their humans. “We’re living in a time where we’re not in real life,” said Larissa Wohl, pet rescue expert for the Hallmark Channel.

Even though new pet owners may now be able to spend all day with their dogs, Ms. Wohl urges recent fosters and adopters to work on boundaries right away. It’s important to occasionally physically distance from your dog, at times, in another room. Just 10 minutes apart can help the dog learn to self-soothe. Also spend time getting the dog used to different stimuli: grass, street grates, loud noises, different people (from afar). Teaching the dog to “sit” and “wait” for dinner instills impulse control and the pecking order of the house.

“Training in general, whether it’s teaching them to stay in a spot or wait for a treat, exercises their brain and wears them out,” said Ms. Wohl.

The internet is full of free training resources such as Austin Pets Alive!’s YouTube channel and Instinct Dog Behavior and Training’s online school. Rescue organizations are usually happy to offer guidance on integrating foster and recently adopted dogs into their new homes. And many private dog trainers have responded to stay-at-home orders by moving their business to digital platforms like FaceTime and Zoom. Consultations start at around $150.

Abigail Arnold-Ochs, 35, restarted training with No Problem! Dog Training virtually while sheltering in place. Monte, one of her two dachshund mixes, who had already gotten her a warning for his barking, had regressed with the uptick in deliveries to her apartment building in Santa Monica, Calif.

In the first session, Ms. Arnold-Ochs was reminded to give Monte treats when they hear footsteps to desensitize him to noise, and to redirect his focus with commands like “go to bed” and “down” to help him relax. They have made substantial progress through their quarantine sessions, she says: “What’s needed is way more apparent when you’re stuck in the house with them 24/7.”

Without training, Ms. Delgado said, she wouldn’t have been able to work through Bolt’s rambunctious behavior — and form a deep bond with him in the process.

This week, the Delgados officially adopted Bolt, and changed his name to Caspian after Prince Caspian of “The Chronicles of Narnia” series. Practicing soccer with the playful puppy has become the highlight of Ms. Delgado’s quarantine. “If I could keep the ball away from him, I’d be like World Cup level,” she says.



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