Pandemic... unemployment... social unrest... fireworks every night. So, how are you holding up? It's OK to say, "I'm really struggling right now." And it's OK for your dog to be out-of-sorts, too.
Our dogs look to us for structure and support, and these days, you might be forced into a situation that lacks both of those things. Perhaps you've left your urban apartment to stay with family in the countryside, or you haven't cracked open your front door since March. Your lifestyle changes can affect your dog's wellbeing, and you may have noticed more barking, constant clinginess, or other behavioral issues.
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Like many city dwellers, I became apartment-bound overnight. This had a huge impact on my two dogs. Not only was I suddenly home all day ("Score!" they exclaimed), so were all my neighbors and their dogs ("Grrrr!"). Beans and Margaret suddenly had the full-time job of "demo dogs" for all my Zoom lessons ("Yay, treats!"), but also had to learn -- while my students watched -- to take turns ("Why is she getting the treat and not me?") and to otherwise stay quiet while I was teaching ("Haha, but we're Chihuahuas!"). And now that we're living outside the city with relatives, new family dynamics have led to behavioral issues I never saw coming, from resource guarding of "grandpa" and his treat-filled pockets to refusing to go on walks.
Some of this might sound familiar to you, too. So how can we help our dogs cope when we're barely coping ourselves? Here are a few tips to keep your and your dog's sanity relatively intact, even when the world around you seems to be falling apart.
1. Keep a routine
Try to keep your dog on some kind of schedule, whether it means waking up at the same time, taking a certain number of walks per day, or maintaining hobbies like fetch in the park or playtime at daycare (if it is open and safe). This can balance out the changes that you have no control over, such as being home 24/7.
2. Spend time apart
You can build separation into your day, even if you never open the front door. This will make the eventual transition to regular life less upsetting for Fido. Every day, I give each dog her meal in a food-dispensing toy in a room by herself. I close the doors while they eat, and keep it closed for a few minutes afterwards. It's a small daily reminder that being alone isn't the end of the world. If this is too challenging for your dog, a trainer or behavior consultant can help you ease your dog into separation. Don't wait for the day before you go back to the office!
3. Have adventures!
Some dogs get cabin fever, while others become so comfortable in one environment that they can't adapt to a new one. Take your dog on a mini-adventure every day or two: dog park, hiking trail, or just the sidewalk of the nearest town. If you've relocated temporarily, look for places nearby that feel like home, or if possible, visit your home once a week for a few hours. These trips prevent a shock when it's finally time to move back.
4. Use your time wisely
Do you have more free time lately? Use it to train your dog! Brush up on a skill that needs work (leash walking, anyone?). Or teach a fun trick, just because. Margaret and I are currently working on "jump through your arms." At least when the pandemic is over, we'll have a cool trick to show for it!
Check out my online classes at Doggie Academy including classes designed to tackle COVID-related stress!
Kate is a certified dog behavior consultant, certified dog trainer, certified dog parkour instructor, and award-winning author in Brooklyn, NY with Doggie Academy and in Southbury, CT.