SOCIAL ISOLATION: IT'S RAINING KIDS AND DOGS
This period of social isolation can be a lovely time to share with the family and, after a quick chat with some of our clients, they've sent us some wonderful photos of their children doing creative things with their dogs. The next few weeks can be a good time for your children to deepen their relationship with your dog and learn how to enjoy calmness as well as play together.
It could also be a worrying time, though, and the next few weeks could be looking a bit tense in some homes where everyone is shut inside four walls. Some families might already be going a bit stir-crazy and you could be finding that a mix of children and dogs is a fizzy cocktail!
STRESS, DOGS AND KIDS
Being stuck inside can cause tension and bickering between children, which can raise everyone's stress levels. Sand is a social worker and I'm an ex-teacher of 20 yrs. From talking to friends and colleagues, we're aware that a lot of children are reacting to the current situation by feeling anxious.
They might be frightened of the unknown and, because the situation has been so unpredictable for so many weeks, some of them are feeling very uncertain about how their world is going to change.
Tense, worried children can start to become needy and whiny, which can make everyone feel a bit fractious and set the whole house-hold on edge.
All of this emotional turbulence can also have a profound effect on our dogs. It's times like these when we start to see how similar the canine brain is to the child's brain. Whining is a shared trait!
But the thing that can be surprising is another shared behaviour: both children and dogs often use excitement and silliness as a way of dealing with anxiety and frustration.
We work with a lot of teenage dogs who are often manic and seem to have no "off" button. They're often quite anxious, but their families find that hard to see because they frequently have manically wagging tails and seem to want to play-play-play all the time. Their fizziness can drive their families to distraction.
Living in a confined space with a dog who rampages around the house, can't settle and seems to be "badly behaved" is likely to raise everyone's stress level. And that's doubled if your dog and your 9 year old are pretty much acting the same way!
If they're doing it together, now may be a good time to take refuge at the bottom of the garden with a large glass of gin...
CALMING THE CRAZY
There are things you can do with both children and dogs that can settle things down a little.
This post is to suggest ways to keep all of them happy and how to get those Thinking-Dog 3Cs: Calm, Connected and self-Controlled!
Try having a list of things that each child and dog really enjoys doing and set them up in separate places where they won't bother each other. If the children have reached the bickery stage, have them in different rooms doing their own thing and pop into each room for a bit of a smile and encouragement so that neither child feels the other is getting more attention.
In the meantime, pop your dog into a separate room, or out in the garden and give her a sniff activity to do, or a stuffed Kong or some kind of chew. All these activities are calming and soothing and she doesn't need your input - it's better for her to be left alone so that she learns to be resilient and independent.
One thing the children might love doing is being crafty and inventive to create sniff activities for your dog. Here's one I made earlier (a bit of a wonky affair and no doubt there are plenty of budding makers out there who can do a lot better than my shambly effort!)
There are hundreds of educational and creative play ideas on Facebook to keep children busy at this time.
We're sharing lots of ideas for your dogs over the next few weeks in our 7 Day Thinking Dog Social Isolation Programme.
SCHEDULE SOME CONTROLLED CRAZY!
Give the children some time to do something that will use up their energy productively. If they all play happily together, this may be a good time for them to be together outside doing something active.
If both dogs and children also play well together, and can switch off their excitement before getting too wild, then playing in the garden together can deepen their relationship.
If the children are a bit over boisterous for your dog (or vice versa!) they can do quieter activities together, such as:
Sharing a lickimat with a banana 😊
If the children need to let off steam and play wildly, have them play outside away from your dog, because ramped-up kids and dogs can lead to tears. Teenage dogs and puppies are likely to get nippy when they're over-excited, so it's a good idea to use this time for you and your dog to have some down time together, or to give her a Sniff Kit to keep her brain busy. Alternatively, you could do a short training session together, such as the Connection Game, which is a lovely way to deepen your relationship with your dog .
I saw a fun post on FB the other day where a three year old was crawling and climbing around an obstacle course with arrows velcroed onto the carpet. It teaches balance, body awareness and coordination. For dogs and children!
You could do a similar thing for your dog, as long as you make sure the obstacles are safe to climb over, under and into, with non-slip surfaces. You can use brooms laid across the floor, washing baskets on their sides, cool-boxes, low stools, cushions, buckets, planks etc. The list is endless and you can involve the children by getting them to collect bits and pieces from the house and garden and lay them out as an obstacle course.
Once the course is set out, Either lay a trail of food along them or (if you work with us and are already doing Bodywork training) you can Shape your dog to go round the course.
However you do it, make it pressure-free and force-free. Don't make your dog do the course and avoid letting children pressurise her into doing anything she doesn't want to. Bear in mind that even "fun" excited encouragement can feel like pressure to some dogs, so remove her collar so that she can wander off if she wants to and don't let your children grab her or try to drag her over anything.
OUTSIDE AND FRESH AIR
If you can, it's healthy for them all if you can give your children and dogs things to do outside every day. One bit of daily exercise per day is ok, and this could be a family walk. It can be another lovely way for your children to connect with your dog. They can learn loose lead skills if there are safe areas for littlies to hold the lead.
I love the way one of our families is doing this with Dottie the 6 month old Patterdale. Her toddler "brother" gets to hold the lead with his sister as anchor.
SOLO WALKING FOR PEACE
Walks don't necessarily need to happen with your dog. If the children get frustrated walking with her, or you feel that she finds them difficult, try sending one adult out with the dog and one with the children.
If there is only one adult in the home and joint walks aren't really working, stick to walks with the dog alone, and find other outside activities for the children.
Her walk is possibly one of the best parts of her day (and could also well be your one moment of peace!) She will love that child-free time with you, especially if she's always been used to it, and it could be a really good time for you to take things easy together.
Try to keep children and dogs separate when fun becomes high octane - even older dogs can struggle with over-excitement in children. A healthy dog should have 17 hours sleep in a 25 hour period. If your dog is used to being settled and asleep when the family are out all day, changes to her routine are likely to disrupt her rest time. Tired dogs are like tired children, they can be grumpy and fractious!
Making sure that dogs and children have space away from each other will keep them all calmer and on an even keel. This may mean teaching the children not to disturb her if she's resting and, if you really need to, you may need to her in another room away from them.
You can chill things down by encouraging your children to do quiet activities near her while she is either enjoying a chew or snuffle mat. Some dogs love being read to and it's one of my favourite joint activities for dogs and children. It's a gentle way to nurture confidence in reluctant readers, who often feel less worried about stumbling over words when reading to their dog.
KEEP A ROUTINE
We've been saying this over and over again lately. We get so many issues of separation anxiety after clients have been confined at home with a chronic health condition for a long period. Replicating your work routine and your children's school routine will make it much easier for you all to adapt to going back to normality, especially for your dog.
Having a close relationship with a pet is one of the magical things about childhood and cuddles and play can be nourishing for both.
Some children can have anxiety about school and may "lean on" their favourite pet. It may be helpful for both of them to replicate non-contact school hours so that they don't get too dependent on each other.
When they're together outside those school hours, they can get to do all the things they usually love doing together.
By evening time, once they've all had body and brain work, they should be ready to settle calmly for a snuggle together, with their Thinking-Dog 3 Cs. Calm, Connected and self-Controlled all the way!