Your guide to getting a dog during COVID-19

Tricky? Yes. Rewarding? Absolutely.

by Good Dog - Staff

Getting a dog is a big decision in the best of times, with hard questions to ask yourself and major lifestyle impacts to consider. In the midst of COVID-19, though, there’s obviously even more to think about: access to veterinary care, socialization in the age of social distancing, and much more.

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, shelter or foster organization — might be a better option. Everyone’s circumstances are different, 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. For tips on socialization during the coronavirus outbreak, check out this article from Avidog, an organization dedicated to helping breeders and owners train and socialize their dogs. Their 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.

6. Consider fostering a dog in need.

Not sure about getting a dog right now? Think about fostering instead: taking care of a shelter or rescue dog for a few weeks (or months) until they find their forever home. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have, and it doesn’t come with a lifelong commitment. Plus, the shelter or rescue typically provide supplies — food, treats, leash, etc. — and vet care, so costs are usually very limited.

“The easiest way to get into fostering is just to dive in,” says Cam Swenson, a partner operations lead at Good Dog who has fostered over 30 pups herself. The first 24 hours will always be the most challenging, but things will get easier from there as your four-legged guest settles in. Try to make sure your foster gets some exercise every morning, but definitely follow their lead — if they’re shy at first and would rather not, don’t force them into a situation they’re not ready for. (Mental stimulation is also a great activity: slow feeders, training, etc.)

Keep in mind that dogs of different ages have very different requirements. Puppies have to be taken outside every hour or so for potty training, but they adjust quickly to households. Younger adults and adults potty train easily and are typically very well-behaved. Seniors are the most low-key; they usually need less activity and more snuggles. But all dogs are individuals, so it’s a good idea to check with the rescue or shelter they came from to see if they know about any behavioral issues, special needs, or other specific accommodations.

Of course, fostering isn’t always easy. According to Anna Lai, the director of marketing at Muddy Paws Rescue, patience is the single most important quality a pup’s foster parent can have.

“Having a dog is so exciting, you have expectations about them snuggling up to you. You imagine all these scenarios,” she says. “Understand that the dog is going through a huge change. They’re going through a lot, it’s very overwhelming.”

When the going gets tough, remember: You’re saving a life. And as the person who will soon know your foster pup better than anyone, you have a huge role to play in making sure they end up in the right forever home. So be as honest and transparent as possible with applicants for adoption. (Writing a fun, unique bio and taking great pictures can help, too.)

Fortunately, foster organizations nationwide have recently reported a surge of interest. “Our sign-up rate for foster applicants is through the roof,” says Sarah Brasky, the founder and executive director of Foster Dogs NYC. But given how quickly the situation with COVID-19 is developing, more and more dogs will need new homes in the weeks and months to come — so don’t give up if you can’t find the right foster for you right away. Just reaching out and making yourself available whenever you’re needed could mean the world to a dog very soon.

“We still have transports on the schedule in the upcoming weeks, the upcoming months,” says Lai. “We just can’t say for sure how many dogs are coming. And in order to take in dogs, we do need to know that fosters are available in advance.” That’s especially true for bigger dogs and bully breeds, who tend to have a harder time finding foster homes.

Having trouble finding a foster near you? Email us at help@gooddog.com. We’d be more than happy to help.

7. Look for other ways to help shelters and rescues.

Of course, fostering isn’t right for everyone — but you can still make a big difference for dogs in need. Here’s how.

First, consider making a donation to a shelter or rescue. “Times are really tough right now, and money is getting tighter and tighter, but every fundraising event for the next 6 months has been canceled,” says Lai. NPR reports that layoffs have already hit many of these organizations hard, which means they’re being forced to do their best for the dogs in their care with skeleton crews. Plus, as funding dries up, they’ll have a harder time supporting foster parents. (Lai says it can cost Muddy Paws up to $28/day to get parents everything they need.)

Some shelters or rescues might actually need supplies more than cash, so check their sites or Facebook pages to find out what they’re looking for. But donations aren’t the only way you can help out these life-saving organizations. You can also make a huge impact by giving a dog a ride.

“We have had numerous rescue cases over the years that were 100% possible because someone stepped up to drive a dog from A to B,” says Brasky. “Volunteering as a local driver can make the difference between a shelter dog finding a home or remaining homeless.”

After all, dogs don’t just need homes — they need a way to get there, too. And in places where people rely on public transportation or rideshares, it can be hard to figure out how to get a pup from place to place, especially bigger ones. (“In a city like New York,” quips Brasky, “we can get almost anything we ever need, except a cab with your 70-pound new foster dog.”)

Have a car at your disposal and don’t mind giving a dog a lift? Reach out to a rescue, shelter or foster near you and ask if they’re looking for drivers. Foster Dogs NYC operates a “Foster Forum” on Facebook where people can request or offer rides and other kinds of help; many groups have similar pages. Just make sure to be careful about avoiding personal contact and sanitizing everything — the tips from section #2 above apply here, too.