During the last two years the pandemic has put many restrictions on our day to day lives and has taken an element of choice away from us that we previously may have taken for granted.
Everything changed and limitations were put upon our lifestyle and there was an uncertainty to our health and wellbeing. It affected whether we were allowed to go out or not, who we were allowed to interact with, whether we were allowed physical contact or not and when, whether or how we worked or travelled.
When restrictions gradually began to lift, we were instructed to wear things to cover our faces and to sanitize our hands for a specific amount of time. We were told where to stand or sit, guided by arrows and floor signs. We were given boundaries when moving around places via set out routes. We were instructed on who, and how many people we are permitted to interact with.
By removing the freedom of choice from our life can create a low self-esteem and also lessens confidence in the ability to make choices in the future. When we feel frustrated, overwhelmed, confused, and stressed about the uncertainty around us then chemical changes occur in our internal system to help the body cope. This causes Cortisol, which is our primary stress hormone to increase and Dopamine, our feel-good hormone to lower. These chemical changes impact internally and become evident in the behaviour output we display.
With working with people in between lockdowns, sadly, I started to notice how people’s attention span seemed to have lowered, sense of humours were not as vibrant as before and there seemed to be a general lack of zest for life, people seemed less confident and at an all time low. The effects that occur within us when we have less freedom of choice hugely effect our emotional health. After months of repeated lockdowns and restrictions imposed it had really started to change how people behaved.
This brings me on to the similarities of how humans have become more controlling over our dogs’ lives in the past few decades, gradually chipping away with lessening the freedom elements for the species by removing their choices and having high expectations of how the ‘perfect’ pet dog should be.
We control what our dogs do in every aspect of their lives, when and what they eat, where they sleep, when and where they can toilet, walk and or run free. What environments they are exposed to and who, when and what the dog can interact with. We control when they engage with others, whether human or other species and when they do not.
Of course, we love our dogs, and our focus should be always to always keep our dogs safe, feed them well, keep them warm, allow them some daily exercise and guide them to to live within our environment. Isn’t this just how we have been treated through the pandemic? The Governments have been imposing regulations to keep us safe, we know this but how has this effected our behaviours? How have the restrictions made us feel emotionally?
Humans and dogs are both sentient beings with similar psychological and physiological needs. As choices are taken away from us a negative bias can take over, therefore in the dog’s world the same emotional shift will be taking place. There is a pandemic of behaviour issues happening in our dogs right now, guardians are struggling with their dogs behaviours. Has the micro managing and ‘perfect’ dog behaviour syndrome of the previous years taken over? I believe so.
As dog parents are we missing understanding our dogs in their entirety and not supplying the fundamental needs for our dogs to thrive? Do we need to educate ourselves more on how our dogs communicate? and discover what their needs are and how they relate to the world around them. Do we need to allow them more life choices? Allow them time to regulate their own behaviour within the environment naturally rather than us constantly trying to ‘fix’ them. This does not mean not guiding and supporting your dog to navigate cohabitating with us, and it does not mean you are not going to communicate through training, but there is a big difference between the exchange of information between both of our species to controlling another beings freedom of choice.
‘Expectation and Choice’
Do we expect far too much from our dogs’ behaviours while we limit their own natural choices within their lives? They are a different species after all with differing drives, sensory and environmental needs. We may view that our dogs are generally safe with us, living in our homes, resting on our settees, warm, fed and watered with having no immediate life-threatening dangers, therefore what is the issue? Is that all that is needed to provide a full emotional life experience?
We have adapted to a new way of life during the pandemic and dogs have adapted to living with us but that does not mean that there is not a need for things to evolve further now in our relationship between mankind and dog. For us to consider what the dog is telling us through the behaviours displayed. To allow more freedom whenever possible, to offer more choices in a dog’s life which bring contentment, enrichment, and fulfilment.
I remember the feeling many of us felt of elation when the first lockdown lifted and we could spend time out in open areas in the sunshine and meet up with people we had not seen for a while, and more recently the relief we felt when our planned Christmas Day with loved ones was not restricted. This created renewed positivity and optimism which helps us to build some more resilience to cope in other areas of our lives when we may be put under restrictions again and that is the same for our dogs.
I have written this article to highlight the need for us to be mindful of just how much control we have over the life of our dogs, how these limited choices can then affect the dog’s outward behaviours. The more we can do to fulfil instinctual needs with offering choices to the dog, the more life enrichment the dog will gain and this will reflect in the outward behaviour.
Areas to consider is how the dog gets food and what food is on offer. Freedom to move, sensory environments to investigate, choices of sleep areas and choices of interactions with others or the choice not to interact at all. When the dog can balance their internal systems with choice, they have increased acceptance of the other restrictions that living with us in society requires.
Allow dogs to be dogs whenever possible to recharge their internal systems, to make choices, grow in confidence enabling them to cope better in our human world. Just as we require the fundamental needs of being a human, they deserve the right to be a true dog whenever possible.
“Having the ability to choose creates positivity and optimism”
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