BACK TO REALITY
PREPARING DOGS FOR THE END OF LOCKDOWN
I've been asked by a couple of our local Pet Sitting and Daycare companies to write a bit about helping our dogs adjust to their families returning to their usual routines and being out of the home for longer periods again.
LESS IS MORE
There is a lot on social media at the moment about filling your dogs' days with mental stimulation to stop them getting bored. We're hearing that some owners are feeling overwhelmed by the amount they feel they should be doing. If you're working at home, supervising children who are being home schooled and caring for vulnerable relatives, it can feel a bit daunting when you see pages of ideas to entertain your dog. When have you got time to stuff kongs and create fascinating brain games for your hound?
The good news is that all this "doing" isn't really what your dog needs. What she really needs is a gradual return to her normal routine. Sniffly enrichment is good, but she needs no more than 1 or 2 activities a day, otherwise she is going to find it hard to settle and may start to be very "switched on" and wanting to be entertained. If she has busy-busy days, she is likely to find it hard to adapt to an end to all that input when the family return to a degree of normality.
DOGS LOVE WHAT'S FAMILIAR
Dogs feel safe with systems and familiarity. Some dogs have found lockdown difficult because their routines have been disrupted and they can't cope with the lack of predictability. Some are getting much less sleep because people are around at home more. And some homes have much higher stress levels than usual because of all the anxieties surrounding a world in lockdown over Covid-19.
If your daily routine has changed and the family are getting up later and going to bed later, you can help your dog adjust to a return to work by gradually going back to your usual daily routine. Leaving the house at your usual time is a good start, even if you just go and sit in the car for 5 minutes.
Walking your dog for the usual length of time instead of some of the longer rambles you may have been doing will help her as well - which can feel hard if you've really been enjoying the walks, but the idea with this is that we're trying to set your dog's daily clock back to "normal". Doing it gradually will help you both adjust, so maybe shave off 5 minutes each day until you're back to your usual length of walk.
Some dogs have become very clingy over the last few weeks. We have a few WhatsApp groups going and they're all saying that their dogs are managing well (even former 'clingies'!) This is because they've been spending their usual work hours in separate rooms from their dogs. But they have done it very gradually if they've needed to. Suddenly shutting your dog in another room is likely to make her struggle - many dogs don't deal well with the physical barrier of a closed door. Instead, using a baby gate can help - your dog can still see you, but isn't right next to you. If you do this and add a gradual process of detachment, your dog will find it much easier to adjust to being left home alone again.
Our WhatsAppers have also gradually detached themselves from their dogs if they really couldn't cope with the separation. So, if space didn't allow them to work separately or if their dogs couldn't cope with the initial separation, they started by not giving any attention at all during work hours. And, once again, they didn't go 'cold turkey' because some dogs won't be able to do that. You've got a couple of weeks until lockdown ends, so you can start now by gradually limiting any attention that you give your dog during the hours you would usually work.
With a busy family, it can be very hard to switch off busy-minded dogs. Especially terriers! Daisy and Douglas are two of our fizzy teenagers who are still attending our Zoom classes. We get regular updates from their mums and they have wanted to be involved in everything that is going on. Their mums are largely working upstairs while the "twins" stay in the same room where they're usually left when the family go to work
Any form of separation or detachment can be hard for dogs who have become very attached to their families and you may need to start with just an hour of not engaging with your dog at all.
The best way to do this is to not look at her every time she wants some input from you. For some dogs, you may need to turn your head away and not talk to her for as short a time as 10 minutes. Then gradually build up the amount of time you ignore her until she can cope with less input during work hours.
DO NOT DISTURB!
Henry (another of our Fizzy teens) has been settled in the kitchen behind a baby-gate throughout the day. He can see and hear people but the family are ignoring him when they go in and out. At the start of lockdown, they were doing some extra training and sniff activities, but Henry's mum has found that reducing these to 1 or 2 a day and leaving him to sleep has resulted in a much calmer, more settled boy.
What our dogs need more than anything is plenty of rest. Happy, healthy hounds need 17 hours sleep a day and many of them are getting much less than that with people at home all the time. Having a quiet place where your dog can settle, and having a Do Not Disturb family rule during work hours, should ensure that she gets the rest she needs.
STRESS CAN EQUAL FIZZINESS
Not many people know that fizzy dogs often behave excitedly as a stress buster. The average dog has about the same cognitive functionality as a 2 year old child. And probably about the same amount of self-control! Like toddlers, they often become agitated when they feel confused, frustrated or stressed and this can show itself as over-excitement and silliness.
They don't understand our stress, but they can smell it. Research has shown that dogs are sensitive to the smell of cortisol, adrenaline and testosterone in both their owners and unfamiliar people. Many of them associate these smells with their owners behaving unpredictably and with heightened emotions. We might be less tolerant, snappier, tearful or we may get angry a lot more quickly than usual.
Excitement is a coping strategy for many dogs - if their heads are full of running about and barking at pigeons in the garden, it takes their mind off how they're feeling about the impact of our stress.
Some really clever dogs may try to use play and giddiness as stress-busters for their family. Enticing someone to play ball with them can lift everyone's mood - and if it's worked a few times, the dog may keep trying to get a stressed owner to play, without being able to understand that enough is enough.
We can often feel really irritated by this, but our dogs have no idea why they're adding to our stress. It's worked before, so why wouldn't it work every time?
COOLING THINGS DOWN
Teaching our dogs to cope with being ignored when they want instant attention is the best way to do help them become more settled. If you watch the YouTube video below you can see a detailed explanation of how to do it.
The best thing you can do to help your dog deal with any raised stress in the family is to find ways that help you feel calmer and more relaxed. And that can be a difficult thing to do during these unstable times.
All of us have different ways of relaxing and there are probably hundreds of suggestions on the web to help you. I'm going to add one more. Most of our followers tend to be women and current trends show that women who are at home at the moment are doing the bulk of home care, child care, supervision of home schooling and caring for vulnerable relatives.
Women often tend to take most responsibility for the family dog as well. It can be tempting to make your hour's daily exercise a way of getting the children, but maybe that would be a good time to take some time to yourself. Even if it means you divvy-up exercise time with your partner so that they take the kids out one day and you do the next. At least you get an hour on your own, either outside or at home, every day.
Try to book time for yourself every day- even if it's just half an hour, so that your partner spends that time supervising children and dogs.
EARLY GET UPS
Getting up earlier might feel like an added bit of unpleasantness to already stressful days! I'm not an early riser - I generally used to get up at about 7.30am. But my house has more people in it than I'm used to and I need a lot of time to myself. Plus our local streets are full of dogs. My oldies don't cope well with being bounced by other dogs, so I've been getting up at 5am. I have an hour and a half to myself, then I can walk the hounds well away from everyone at 6.30am.
It's beautiful. I get up and water the garden and watch dew sparkling on leaves. Me and the dogs mooch up the hill and watch the kestrel swooping through the sycamores at the edge of the field. It's very, very quiet out there.
to be honest, I really don't want to do it when I first wake up and I grumped about it to myself for weeks. But my body has adjusted and I love it.
Do whatever works for you, but do something. Your dog will love you for it.
For support helping your dog cope with your return to work after lockdown, please contact me for our Online Thinking-Dog Programme, with virtual sessions delivered via Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime or Skype.