As coronavirus forces change in our usual routines our dogs will inevitably feel these changes too. There are ways we can limit the impact that may affect our dog’s behaviour now and in the future when things get back to normal
Whilst working from home short term may seem great for you and your dog as your dog has more company this change can create long term problems with regards to separation anxiety issues. My advice is to try and keep up with your routine as much as possible with usual walking and feeding times. Most importantly to have some of the daytimes apart from each other. This can be achieved by working in a different room for a couple of hours here and there throughout the day. Taking a shower, getting ready for the day without your dog with you all the time, getting a drink without being followed, working in the garden. There are many opportunities throughout the day to leave your dog alone for short periods.
If your dog gets used to having their human(s) with them all day then unfortunately the chances of your dog feeling anxious when returning to normal routines can be high. Be mindful to not allow your dog to shadow you everywhere as you move around the house to assist with this, the use of dog gates and closing doors behind you whilst leaving your dog in a chill out area for a couple of minutes can make all the difference with some simple routines with some short alone times for your dog can help hugely in preventing the onset of separation anxiety.
If you are having to self-isolate your dog will still need to be exercised mentally and physically. Local dog walking services may be able to help or call upon family, friends and neighbours’ to assist if you are unable to leave your home. This enables your dog to get some valuable environmental enrichment and to stretch its legs.
In a lockdown situation, we need to think outside the box and dedicate some time daily to play games with our dogs within the garden and in the home. Games such as tug and retrieve, food searches around the home is another great game for you and your dog to play. Hide and seek ‘you’ out uses up some of that excess energy. Enrichment items such as puzzle toys, treat balls,Kong’s and chew items will keep your dog entertained and fulfilled.
Be imaginative with your dog’s daily food allowance by feeding from stuffed Kongs, Licki mats and snuffle mats or make up your own treat enrichment toys with boxes, plastic bottles and rolled up treat towels.
Regarding exercise you may find yourself walking your dog more which is great! as it is one of the less risk associated pastimes or on the other side of the coin not being able to go out for a walk and to be outside the home as much as usual. Therefore bear in mind your dog’s daily food intake and adjust accordingly. If your dog is not getting as much exercise then slightly lessen the amount of food, otherwise your dog’s weight will increase very quickly. If you are walking more then increase the allowance by a little too. Behavioural issues can be closely linked to diet and exercise regimes.
Due to sudden changes of routine you may find your dog’s behaviour also changes. Your dog may be shadowing you more, becoming needy for attention, generally unsettled, restless and anxious. You may experience an increased level of barking, destructive behaviour and hyperactivity. Dog’s recognise changes in their environment quickly and also changes in their owners behaviour, this can affect the dog’s emotional balance.
Dog’s can sense our stress and anxiety through smell, they know something different is happening, they can read facial expressions and understand different voice tones. Look to try and keep routines as normal as possible for your dog, refresh regularly on your basic training commands such as sit, come, stay and down, perhaps teach your dog a trick or two using positive reinforcement training. Enjoy some time with your dog as a stress reliefer for yourself, we are having to change but your dog is still there for you and is your best friend and the company of our dogs I strongly believe can help us through this social distancing time.
With school closures children will be at home and parents maybe juggling with the ‘work from home’ scenario, households are suddenly going from being very quiet for our dogs to busy and noisy. Your dog may become more excitable and aroused or possibly more fearful and withdrawn. Try to provide a quiet area for your dog to go where it is not disturbed and allowed to have day-time rest, this is what your dog is used to. Place a bed or a crate in a quiet area which is not a thoroughfare of people. Perhaps utilize a tablecloth or sheet over a table making a safe den for your dog to lie under.
If you have recently acquired a new puppy there is just a small window in your puppy’s early development for socialization and exposure to the outside world, restrictions maybe in place but you can still do much to help your puppy within your environment. Use this time to concentrate more toilet training as you are now with your puppy possibly more than you may have thought prior to COVID-19 outbreak.
Gradually expose your puppy to as many things that are in the home such as large and small household appliances, from washing machines, to electric whisks, bicycles, vacuum cleaner, umbrella’s, balloons, push chairs, mops, brooms and hairdryers, really everything and anything within the home. Be careful to expose gently so your puppy is not frightened.
If you can go out then carry your puppy or have short walks to allow your puppy to see as much as possible, other people, other dogs, children, cars, buses, and bikes. Utilize the internet to play noises at low background level of thunder, fireworks, and traffic noise, babies crying, children screaming and laughing, not forgetting animal noises such as a dog barking and farmyard animal sounds. If you can do, get your puppy used to being in the car, even if just a quick drive off and back onto your drive or up and down your road.
Making a sound therapy box is great way for puppies to get used to noises in a positive way. Fill a box with some objects and scatter treats within the box. For young puppies I would advise putting some material items such as a towel or blanket around the items to begin with so the noise is not too harsh. As you puppy gets used to the game you can gradually remove the material items.
Your new puppy will not be going to different places, such as family and friend’s houses, puppy class or cafés so by moving furniture around in your own home can really help your puppy get used to ‘the different’, possibly move a chair or table into the centre of the room or place something different in the garden. You will notice your puppy will spot the change and investigate, This investigation builds resilience in your puppy to accept new things more readily.
Place different items on the floor for your puppy to walk over, help your puppy and encourage with some treats. Materials such as cardboard, bubble wrap, matting, stones, and items such as step ladders or a broom which are placed flat on the floor, your puppy navigates across the items to get the treats this is building your puppy’s overall confidence to problem solve over floor surfaces.
Even within social distancing and lockdown restrictions your puppy needs build up a resilience, ‘a coat of armour’, by following the above advice you are taking amazing steps to grow your puppy’s inner confidence to cope with life.
We all need to adapt and get through these uncharted waters, life will eventually get back to how we remember but in the meantime we have to consider the after effects this will leave for our dogs who do not understand the reason for these changes in our routines. By following these advisements I hope we can limit these effects for our dogs so they can have an easier transition back to normal life when it happens.
Remote Behaviour Sessions and Training Sessions are readily available during lockdown Mandy Rigby at Yes! Good Dog Behaviour and Training.
Keep well and keep healthy