Back in March, when the country went into lockdown, Dogs for Good had over 101 puppies – future assistance dogs and community dogs – placed in the care of a fantastic band of volunteer puppy socialisers.  Covid-19 lockdown threw the normal schedule into a state of flux and the Dogs for Good puppy team had to ask more of their puppy socialisers than usual, as well as find new ways to support them.

Our puppy socialisers offer a loving home to puppies who are just leaving their mums at eight weeks and nurturing them right through until the time they are ready to start their special assistance dog training at around 14-16 months of age.  They brave chewed slippers, licked noses and endless food-reward negotiations not to mention early morning starts, toilet training and various training challenges along the way. 

Doubling Up

Often, Dogs for Good will place a new puppy with a puppy socialiser while they are still looking after an older pup and there is an overlap period of around two weeks.  Many were in this position; ready to say goodbye to their older puppy and wish them luck as they started their assistance dog training and then start focusing on socialising their new puppy.

“Lockdown changed things a bit,” explains Puppy Co-Ordinator, Helen Townsend. “We had to ask our puppy socialisers if they would continue to look after both older and younger puppy until the situation changed and we were able to move dogs on again. It was a big ask but everyone was absolutely brilliant and went above and beyond to ensure our puppies were looked after.” 

Puppy Coordinator, Helen Townsend

Pre-lockdown, the Puppy Team would visit puppy socialisers regularly to offer advice around the puppy getting to grips with basic training and exposure to the sights, smells and sounds of the outside world.  With lockdown in full swing, this was obviously impossible so again, the team looked for other ways to support.

“We set weekly challenges around tasks like ‘sit’, ‘down’, ’wait’ and ‘go to bed’, on the closed Facebook group,” explains Helen.  “We issue a guidance sheet and then ask people to spend a week working on the task and then send us videos of their progress.  It’s been absolutely fantastic – our puppy socialisers have all been amazing!”

New Puppy Socialisers

As well as existing, experienced puppy socialisers, Dogs for Good had a number of new people ready to take on a puppy.  “Ordinarily, we would go to people’s homes to carry out home checks, give them all the info they needed and set them up properly for the role,” continues Helen.  “Again, lockdown made those physical meetings impossible so we had to find new ways round it.”

The Dogs for Good Puppy Team turned to virtual platforms such as Zoom and Facetime to make sure the new puppy socialisers were inducted properly.  “We carry out home checks via Facetime and WhatsApp, set up Zoom meetings to give people the ability to receive information from us and ask us any questions that they might have.  Obviously, it isn’t quite the same but again, everyone was really positive, patient, kind and understanding.”

The team carry out short surveys at the end of the Zoom meetings to get feedback:

“You had a lot of info to get through this morning, I thought you did great! I also thought it was a very helpful meeting.”

“The current situation must be making your job very tricky at times. So far, all my interactions with Dogs for Good have been really positive and all the staff are coping with it exceedingly well.”

“We just wanted to say thanks for organising the meeting, we thought it went really well, although Zoom’s a bit weird at first and none of us really have any experience of this sort of thing. We’re now looking forward to receiving our first pup; it’ll be good to know we’re helping a puppy on the start of their life-changing journey. Stay safe.”

Puppy Classes

Abby Chung is another Dogs for Good Puppy Co-Ordinator and took on the challenge of hosting the usual monthly puppy classes online.  Usually, puppy socialisers would come together at the Dogs for Good training centre for a puppy class, gaining insight and guidance on puppy behaviour and training.  Lockdown means that this couldn’t happen so … “we had to look at alternatives,” says Abby.

After trialling a few different platforms, everyone decided that Zoom was best so Abby got to work.  “After the first class, I asked for feedback and we tailored things from there.  We decided to go forward with smaller classes that we’d normally have and also, people asked me to set a training challenge a week before so everyone could practice and show their progress on the actual Zoom class.

“It’s worked really well and everyone seems to be really relaxed and happy doing it this way.  The main problem seems to be making sure the puppies don’t nod off!” she laughs.

Abby has received some great feedback:

I thought it was really good – the puppies were relaxed and well-behaved in their own environment, and the activities reminded us what we should be doing!

Thank you for all you are doing in these difficult times!  It’s great to know you are still there for support as and when needed 

Recognising that some of our puppy socialisers and temporary boarders are missing out on the social side of things, Abby has also set up a weekly ‘social tea’ which will start this week. 

A social catch up between socialisers before lockdown, social teas currently happen online.

“It’s just a chance to come together for a chat, have a cup of tea, a biscuit, etc.  I’m also going to do a dog-themed quiz to add another element so hopefully, it’ll go down well and we can make it a regular thing.”

Temporary Boarders

The Dogs for Good Temporary Boarders provide a comfortable, loving home for our dogs in training for approximately four to five months. It’s a great volunteer role for people who would like a dog in their lives but can’t because they work full time.  Ordinarily, they would drop the dog off at Dogs for Good in the morning and pick up again in the afternoon.  Again, lockdown changed this role quite significantly.

“We had to ask our Temporary Boarders to look after their dogs full time during lockdown,” says Training Manager, Kelly Jennings.  “It’s not what they originally signed up for and lots of them are now working from home and also have children at home, so it’s pretty full on.

“But, each and every single one of them have taken it in their stride and been utterly fantastic.  I’ve been blown away by how understanding and supportive everyone has been.  All our dogs are thriving and some boarders have even worked with Trainers and helped iron out some behaviour issues.”

Trainer, Sara Smith has worked with boarder, Jennifer Small who is looking after Apollo.  “Despite never previously having an issue getting into a car, Apollo started to display avoidance in that area when he went out to his boarder,” explains Sara.  “I looked at his body language by video and could see that he genuinely was a bit nervous.  We put it down to a variety of reasons; change of home, change of car, change of handler – everything.  It all got a bit overwhelming for him.  He’s also quite a big dog and Jennifer’s car is a bit smaller than the one he’d been used to.

Dogs for Good Trainer, Sara Smith

“This sort of thing is not usually something we’d ask a boarder to work on as it can take weeks of patient work but we talked to Jennifer about it and said that we’d work with her via video and phone calls, take it gradually and be with her every step of the way,” says Sara.

The result is that over the weeks of lockdown, Jennifer has worked brilliantly with Apollo and Sara and, he’s now happy to get in the car and they’re all working on the final ‘boot shut’ part of the process.  “Jennifer has been absolutely amazing,” says Sara.  “As she’s worked with Apollo, her bond with him has strengthened and he’s more confident about getting into the car.  She’s said that she’s so proud of him and has loved working on this with him.”