Puppy buyer guide to getting a dog during COVID-19

Who says you have to socially distance alone?

by Cat Matloub, Esq. - Head of Partnerships, Community & Legal Affairs at Good Dog

Getting a dog is a big decision in the best of times; there are hard questions you need to ask yourself and major lifestyle impacts to consider, from significant new expenses to all those late-night walks in bad weather. In the midst of COVID-19, though, there’s obviously even more to think about, from access to veterinary care to how socialization works in the age of social distancing.

Everyone’s circumstances are different. For some people, this will actually turn out to be the perfect time to get a puppy; for others, fostering an adult dog for a few weeks — or even just supporting a rescue or foster organization — might be a better option. We want you to do what’s best for you and your family, so we won’t try to push you in one direction or another.

But no matter what you decide to do, thank you for being so thoughtful about the process. Together, we can and will build a better world for dogs, even in challenging times like these.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you consider getting a dog during the COVID-19 outbreak.

1. Look for breeders you can get to by car if possible.

Normally, geography isn’t really a barrier to connecting with a responsible breeder. Lots of people work with breeders located more than a short distance away, and there are usually safe, humane air transportation options available, like flight nannies or air cargo.

Right now, though, air transport is not easy to come by. Flights are limited, and many people either don’t want to fly or are being advised against it. Plus, airlines are placing increasing restrictions on the number of dogs in the cabin, on each flight, on certain planes, etc.

Given all those hurdles, we recommend focusing your search on responsible breeders closer to home — ideally ones just a short car ride away. (As a start, you can filter by location on our breed results pages to see breeders close to you.) But if you still want to see if air transport is possible — say, because there just isn’t a Xoloitzcuintli breeder anywhere nearby — please contact us at breederteam@gooddog.com. We’d be more than happy to help you navigate your options.

One more note here: The more flexible you are on timing, the better off you’ll be. Many breeders have wait lists or litters upcoming in the summer months and beyond, and travel restrictions will eventually ease. So even if you can’t get a dog right at this moment, you can still start working with a breeder to find the right dog for you.

2. Follow safety precautions during and after pickup.

There is currently no evidence that dogs or other pets can contract COVID-19, and according to the CDC, it doesn’t appear that they can spread it, either: Smooth, non-porous surfaces like door knobs and countertops are much better for transmission than porous materials like fur. But while the risks of contracting coronavirus from your new puppy appear to be minimal, there are still precautions you and your breeder will want to take to keep everyone safe.

The first thing to do is to talk to your breeder in advance. Ask what precautions they’re taking before the puppy leaves their home, whether they’re spacing out pick-ups to avoid overlap with other people, and how the actual handoff of your dog will comply with social distancing. Make sure you both have a firm understanding of the plan and of any no-touch procedures you’ll follow.

"You can't communicate enough in this situation," says Dr. Judith Stella, head of standards and screening at Good Dog.

If you’re driving to pick up your puppy, bring hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes with you, and try not to make any stops along the way. If you do have to stop, try to avoid touching smooth surfaces as much as you can. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for the recommended 20 seconds before you get back in your car, or to use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol if you can’t wash your hands.

When you get to your breeder’s house — or when they get to yours, if they’re delivering the puppy to you — make sure you stay at least six feet apart. Avoid physical contact. Don’t enter their house, or don’t let them enter yours. Once your puppy is home, sanitize anything that came with them (leash, collar, etc.) and throw any towels or blankets that were under their carrier into the washing machine. Then wash your hands again and give your new best friend a tour.

3. Make sure you have a plan for veterinary care.

When you get a puppy, you normally have to take them to the veterinarian for a routine exam shortly after bringing them home (e.g. within 72 hours). That exam — which typically includes a full physical and preventive care as indicated, such as vaccine boosters and deworming — is often a condition to the health guarantee in the puppy contract with a breeder. It’s also part of our Responsible Dog Ownership Code of Ethics. So having a plan for that care is a must.

In places that haven’t closed businesses or where veterinary clinics are considered essential, you might still be able to make a puppy appointment. But make sure to contact the veterinary clinic you plan to use to find out how they’re operating: hours, safety protocols, etc. If non-emergency care is still available, definitely schedule your appointment well in advance.

“Part of the goal is to keep pets healthy and prevent them from getting sick, so lots of vaccine appointments and preventative care are still going on,” says Dr. Jonathan Levine, a veterinarian based in Boston. “That being said, because veterinarians are changing the way they work and interact with clients, it is going to be a little bit harder to get an appointment.”

How will the appointment itself work? Expect a very short in-person interaction, during which you’ll most likely stay outside the vet hospital while someone wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) brings your puppy inside for the shots and exam. Then, says Dr. Levine, “there will be a pretty prolonged telemedicine appointment” later on to discuss things like training, socialization, and feeding. Those topics might also be covered via email or printed handouts, but owners often prefer spoken conversations.

Which brings us to another important point: Prepare your questions in advance, too.

“Owners should have a list of questions about having a new puppy ready beforehand,” says Dr. Levine, “because they’re going to have less time than usual to come up with them on the spot.”

Can’t get a puppy appointment where you are? Talk to your breeder. They should have a strong relationship with their own vet, and they might even be trained in giving shots and performing other basic procedures themselves. Responsible breeders are deeply committed to the health and wellbeing of their dogs, so they’d be more than happy to work with you to make a plan.

4. Stock up on the essentials.

Given the pressure on supply chains right now, it makes sense to have 1-2 months’ worth of food and other essentials on hand just in case. By “essentials,” we mean flea, tick and heartworm preventatives, plus any other medication your dog is currently taking; dog shampoo; ear cleaner; and — obviously — poop bags.

You should also have a dog first aid kit together. Emergency veterinary care may still be available where you live, but we would strongly recommend getting these items anyway:

  • Gauze rolls, non-stick wrap (e.g. Vet Wrap), non-stick gauze pads, medical tape or adhesive tape
  • Hydrogen peroxide, cotton balls, antiseptic spray or ointment (e.g. Neosporin)
  • Milk of Magnesia or activated charcoal (in case of accidental poisoning)
  • Loperamide (Imodium) for diarrhea, Calcium carbonate (Tums), Pedialyte
  • Eye wash or saline solution
  • Digital thermometer, scissors, tweezers and magnifying glass (to remove ticks)
  • Syringes or droppers for cleaning wounds and giving medication
  • Towel and muzzle

This list takes a standard first aid kit (like this one, recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association) as its basis. From there, says Dr. Stella, “we added things to directly address pandemic prep, as these items would be helpful if vet care isn't available or you had to telemed and treat at home.” So get all of it, then hope you never have to think about it again.

Finally, to go back to food for a second: You might be doing a ton of cooking right now since you’re home anyway, but be careful about feeding your puppy what you’re eating. For guidance on what dogs can and can’t eat, check out this article by the American Kennel Club. If you’re worried that your puppy might have eaten something poisonous, look it up here.

5. Understand that socialization and training will be tricky.

In some ways, socialization and training are the most complicated aspects of getting a dog during COVID-19. Yes, you’ll be home to train your new puppy, which is great. But puppy classes aren’t available, and you won’t be able to get in-person training for basic manners. (Trainers have shifted over to remote appointments.) That could lead to behavioral problems down the line.

Social distancing could also have lingering effects on your dog. Without the ability to have your pup spend time around other dogs and people — remember, fur can theoretically transmit coronavirus — “socialization may be harder later,” says Dr. Levine. (“It’s not a dealbreaker,” he continues, “but it’s something we’re all going to have to work through together.”) Plus, Dr. Stella points out that dogs that have never been left alone may be at increased risk of separation anxiety when their owners go back to work.

All that said, there are resources in place to help you give your pup the best possible start while this all plays out. We highly recommend this article on socialization in the age of coronavirus from Avidog, an organization dedicated to helping breeders and owners train and socialize their dogs. This course on potty training is great too. (Dr. Gayle Watkins, the co-founder and president of Avidog, is also one of Good Dog’s advisors.)

A few more tips:

  1. Since trips to the vet will likely entail PPE, try to expose your puppy to people wearing caps and masks. (Even if it’s just you in disguise.)

  2. If you can, take your puppy out to a safe area (e.g. a park) on a leash and let them experience new people, sights, and sounds from a safe distance.

  3. Have your puppy spend some time alone each day, even if it just means placing them in their crate in another room or leaving them in the house and "pretending" you’re going out for a while. This might help alleviate separation anxiety down the road.

You should also feel free to reach out to your breeder to get their advice. Responsible breeders stand behind their dogs for life, and given their incredible depth of knowledge not just of the breed but of your dog specifically, they’ll be one of the best advocates you can have.