We humans are adjusting to lockdown life, maybe enjoying the absence of deadlines and the stresses of work. Some of us may be going a little stir-crazy with the restrictions. Looking for a positive in a negative situation, we could see this enforced period at home as the ideal opportunity to start the dog training we’ve never had time for before, or to brush up on training that got lost in the busyness of everyday life. Forward thinking, we can also use the time to put in place some strategies to minimise, or even negate, the possible fallout our time at home may have. To that end, we have put together some helpful hints and tops for you and your canine Coronavirus companion/s.
Helping your dog with the recent changes and managing the return to normality.
I may well be jumping the gun here, discussing returning to normality, as I suspect things may never quite be normal, and things may well look very different after Covid-19. Many of us will embrace the change and roll along with the newness and the created opportunities, much like some of our dogs. However, some dogs, who may struggle with resilience or change or simply the lack of predictability, this time may be the source of much stress.
Many owners are already concerned that their dogs have embraced them being at home a little too keenly, and they may struggle with the return of lengthy departures. Here are some simple tips to help with the future and current stressors of your dog;
Establish a routine and stick to it.
Develop set times for exercise, sleeping, interaction and play. Predictability will help to reduce attention seeking and the frustration of not being able to access you all of the time.
Dogs, on average, sleep for approximately 13-16 hours of the day (more for puppies, 18-20 hrs) They are what is called Polyphasic, which basically means that they nap throughout the day. Many dogs are struggling to achieve the required sleep while their owners are mooching around, baking cakes and snacking. Our food-based behaviours can keep your dog on scavenger alert.
Ensure your dog has a safe, defined space, away from you, for sleeping and enrichment activities,invite your dog to settle in there, whist you start to perform your go to work ritual, getting smart clothes on, make up, even perfume if it is normal for you. Collect your phones, pack your bags, and then leave your dog in their normal “stay at home space”. Depending on your living space, leave through a door, or just go into an inaccessible part of the house, a bedroom perhaps, read a book or log into Facebook (always good for losing time) then after a short period, return as you would normally do when returning from work (except the car travel) Gradually extend the time frame your dog is away from you, always ensuring you return before your dog becomes distressed.This is very important, we do not want your dog to rehearse distress, we want to work within thier comfort zone.If you notice your dog does show signs of anxiety, then reduce the departure time to a bare minimum. Building up to using your weekly shopping journeys to the fullest extent, by dressing for work!
Cognitive and physical enrichment;
Dogs who become bored, or who are unable to exhibit normal behaviours, have an increased likelihood for behavioural problems. Although I frequently suggest enrichment ideas for my clients and their dogs, I do so following an assessment of their needs. I ascertain their motivators, paying very careful attention to resource guarding if in a multi dog household. In order to implement an enrichment plan, confinement or segregation areas may be required in multi dog households. During the Covid lockdown, enrichment is a fabulous way to ensure your dogs do not becoming bored or self-employed whilst on reduced walks. It is always a great way to occupy your dog while you are on a business call, or to create a safe space for your dog to be in, away from you and where you are working. With dogs, predictability is the key. Creating a routine for time alone and added enrichment will help to;
Prevent separation anxiety
Reduce attention seeking behaviours
Provide cognitive stimulation and help dogs to cope with reduced physical exercise.
Improve sleep quality
Form a positive association with being behind a gate or door.
Have fun with outdoor sandpits, (which can be covered up to prevent badger and fox marking). I usually ask the owner to hide the dog’s favourite toys in there and encourage them to dig in that place.
Scatter feeding is a great way for dogs to utilise their greatest asset…their nose! In a clean unsoiled area of the garden, using part of the dog’s daily ration of food, scattered onto the ground, so the dog slows down its eating and uses scent as a way of locating their food. •
Snuffle mats are good if there is no suitable outside space.
Treat searches. Again, tapping into a dog’s natural instinct to search/hunt/scavenge.
Paddle pools for dogs that enjoy water.
For rainy days or limited space, or to help with a “settle” behaviour, toy feeding- such as from a Kong© Once stuffed, with part of the dog’s calorific needs, these can provide periods of calm, problem solving.
Food dispensing toys are often wobble, or cube shaped, so that the dog has to move the toy somehow, in order for the food to drop out. I prefer the ones in which you can vary the size of the hole, and so affect the ease or difficulty of the delivery.
An empty cardboard box with scrunched up paper and treats hidden inside can be a cheaper DIY option.
Food puzzle toys.
Hiding your dog’s toys around the house, so that they can spend time finding them. If you have children, or there is more than one of you, playing hide and seek can be great fun for your dog too.
Clicker training/positive reinforcement of tricks and training is a great way to reinforce the bond with your dog/s. Choose one of the amazing online training courses we offer, to really help your skills improve while on lockdown.
Air dried natural chews, antlers, tendons, knuckle bones, hooves etc all provide great enrichment. Not just nutritionally, but mentally too. Chewing, figuring out how to hold and turn chews, all lead to a great chemical change in the dogs (a bit geeky, but happy to expand on this if anyone wants to know) Just because our exercise allowance has been reduced, doesn’t mean that the quality of our dog’s walks should reduce. Allowing dogs to spend longer times sniffing on walks, is a must. Dogs gain so much information from sniffing their environment. So far, we have no restrictions on time out of the home or distance walked. It’s important for owners to understand that we don’t have to complete a circuit in a set time. Dogs need to sniff. Sniffing is far more exhausting than a quick stomp around the block. Laying scent paths in woodland walks is a great way to create a natural behaviour set-up for your dog. I use a chicken stock cube in a spray bottle of water to lay a trail, easy enough for a young pup to follow, ending in either a favourite toy or a food treat. The deep breathing helps to produce a calming effect, similar to mindfulness or relaxation techniques in people.
Most of all enjoy your dog, and ensure they enjoy having you at home.