Puppy and Behavioural Dog Training is an Essential Service

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We ask that the Legislative Assembly of Ontario consider animal training as an essential service during times of lockdown. It is in the community’s best interest to offer training where it can safely be provided. Pets provide support to our seniors, to families, to front line workers, and to those struggling with mental health during a lockdown. It is crucial that the mental and physical health of their pets also be provided for. In addition, most animal trainers are self-employed and are suffering financial hardship with their businesses closed and facility rental or maintenance fees ongoing.
 
In particular, consider reinstating training for puppies and animals (dogs and cats) requiring behavioural modification. These are essential services, not only for the health of the pet, but also for their families and the community. In the case of puppies, I refer you to the research referenced in this paper from the Ontario Veterinary College. https://drive.google.com/file/d/16DWIYTXhk0LPn64t-ZDt7kFHMoBNUeF1/view?fbclid=IwAR2lCNrGYLG58R8A6js0MdA9Wx5R0IKj1GimszygycXjXFUan318GeM0GNo
Here is an excerpt explaining the crucial value of socialization:
·       “Puppy socialization involves early exposure to a variety of different people, animals, places, and things
·       Early puppy socialization is necessary for the development of normal social and exploratory behaviour in dogs
·       Research suggests that inadequate puppy socialization can result in persistent fear, and sometimes aggression in dogs
·       The critical period for socialization begins at about 3 weeks of age when puppies become mobile and start to explore their environment
·       The puppy socialization period is generally thought to close around 12 to 16 weeks of age
Early research on socialization examined the effects of complete isolation of puppies from humans, and found that puppies that were not exposed to humans before 14 weeks of age developed an irreversible fear of people[1]. Although complete isolation of a puppy is unlikely, inadequate socialization involving limited exposure to particular stimuli can also have negative effects. For example, a recent study examined adult dogs that were not exposed to children at all, or only exposed to children after 12 weeks of age[2]. When tested for interactions with a child, these dogs were more likely to respond with overexcitement or aggression unlike dogs that received regular exposure to children during the critical period. In fact, in this particular study, no dog from the group that was socialized to children during the critical period displayed overexcitement or aggression during the study.
Another study found that dogs which attended puppy classes were more likely to be retained in the home than puppies that did not attend classes (90% versus 76%)[3].”
Another study published in the American Journal of Veterinary Medical Association (https://ovc.uoguelph.ca/news/pet-owners-aren’t-adequately-socializing-their-puppies-new-study-finds?fbclid=IwAR32WOsumQDX80p81binejihj9K5haTjnDU5zpjGyw1NgEk0dh6bsUDtwc0 indicated the following: “Minimal exposure was defined as providing interaction outside the home with other dogs fewer than five times every two weeks, and with people fewer than 10 times in that period.”
 
During the pandemic, this is clearly impossible for a pet owner to do without the assistance of a training/socialization class in which sufficient stimulation can be safely provided. Maximum group sizes can be set so that proper distancing can be observed, and all training schools have already implemented sanitation protocols and will continue to do so. Given the short window in which socialization is most effective, waiting for the lockdown to end is unfeasible.
 
In addition, behaviour issues can damage animal health as well as families and the community. Given the current situation of poor socialization, record adoption rates, changes in routine and increased stress and anxiety, behaviour problems are escalating and owners are desperate to receive assistance. This is not an area of education where the average owner has sufficient knowledge to make changes safely and humanely. Some behaviour problems may be reasonably effectively addressed through online lessons, such as separation anxiety or poor bathroom habits, however, fear and aggression issues are best addressed in person where the safety of owner and pet can be well monitored and triggers presented in a controlled and systematic manner. Class sizes and protocols can be the same as for puppy socialization classes or they can be restricted to one-on-one sessions.
 
From another perspective, that of a minor modification to current guidelines, both small outdoor classes and board and train facilities would make sense to be permitted. Given that boarding is already allowed with curbside pick-up and sanitation protocols, it is unclear why training of the same pets would not be simultaneously allowed. The trainer does all the training without the owner present and follow-up with the owner can be done virtually or one-on-one. This would be of particular benefit for front line workers who are already boarding or using daycare and have little time or energy to spend training.
In a similar vein, given that outdoor gatherings with up to five individuals are allowed under the current regulations as well as dog walking for exercise, it would help some trainers retain a modicum of income to allow them to teach up to four students outdoors. It might seem unlikely that outdoor training can take place in the cold, but some owners and trainers are so desperate for mental and physical stimulation that this modification would allow for carefully moderated mental health excursions.
 
We the undersigned petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to deem puppy socialization and behavioural modification as essential services during all provincial lockdowns in the province of Ontario, and allow curbside/contactless board and train services and small outdoor training classes for the safety, wellbeing, and care of animals per the PAWS Act of January 1, 2020.