During the pandemic, with more people teleworking, city shelters and rescues saw an increase in dog adoptions and fosters. Shelters emptied out nationwide. LA organizations are still receiving thousands of applications for prospective dog owners each week.
In a lot of ways, 2020 was a great year to get a dog. With so much time at home, many people were training, bonding with, and doting on their “pandemic puppies.”
But in other ways, getting a dog during quarantine led to specific behavioral and emotional issues, most notably separation anxiety and a lack of socialization. Many new owners are now seeking dog trainers who specialize in dealing with those neuroses, making dog training a booming business.
Marilyn Groves, a real estate agent who recently moved from Santa Barbara to Balboa Island, says that her 6-month-old King Charles Spaniel, named Maggie, is having issues with being alone. “She would think it would be great to go outside and go for a walk, and then come back in the house and pee or poop. She would cry if I walked out of the room. She was just very needy.”
Groves and her husband sought treatment for Maggie’s separation anxiety with dog trainer Anthony Sorosky. Sorosky has been in high demand ever since the pandemic hit, and says Maggie’s issues are fairly common these days.
He explains it: “I got my dog, and she's been with me 24/7 for three months. I haven't gone anywhere. I've been having my groceries delivered. And guess what? Now I have to go to the grocery store. I can't go to the grocery store.”
Sorosky addresses the problem several ways. First, he gets Maggie away from her owner and takes her to the beach, hiking trails, or a coffee shop, where she can meet new canines and people. Just like a homeschooled kid, time away from parents is a good thing.
Second, he teaches Maggie to be calm in high-sensory places, so she can do the same when Groves and her husband leave the house.
Sorosky charges about $300 per session and works for several celebrities. But he also takes charity cases at a subsidized rate. As he puts it, he has a sliding pay scale based on the size of your driveway gate, which can be quite big in Santa Barbara.
Mike Mooneyham, an audio engineer in Santa Barbara, got his 10-month-old Shih Tzu mix, Charlie Barker, to keep him company during the long days at home during the pandemic. But now, Charlie can’t meet a new person or dog without barking.
Mooneyham thinks she does this because she’s small. But Sorosky has a different explanation. It’s because she wasn’t properly socialized, which is another issue exacerbated by 2020. While we humans were social distancing, so were our dogs.
“The one thing she didn't have, because of the pandemic, was being out and about in public, having fabulous experiences,” Sorosky explains. “She loved people, she was wagging her tail. And then she had some questions about people that didn't get answered. So she still has that ‘I'm interested in people, but now I can't afford to risk it.’”
Sorosky’s advice? Exposure therapy. Place Charlie into as many human laps as Mooneyham can find. Hand her off to people. Meet a dog quickly, move on, and then come back to that same dog. Overwhelm her with new experiences.
Mooneyham is one on a long list of Sorosky’s new clients. The gross revenue coming into his business has doubled this past year, and he’s hired two employees to help him keep up. By teaching them the craft, Sorosky hopes that one day they can start their own businesses and take on their own clients. In fact, he hopes the current boom in the dog industry will bring in a brand new generation of trainers.
And with a devoted following, Sorosky isn’t worried about business slowing down as the economy opens back up. Groves agrees: “Next to my husband, I love Anthony more than any other man in the world. He's spiritual and he is kind. And he is magical.”
Just like a good therapist you would never leave, dogs and their owners stick with their trainers, even when the worst of the pandemic-induced behavior has worn off.