SELF ISOLATION AND DOGS
Self-isolation can feel worrying for many reasons, but can cause a lot of anxiety if you live with dogs. It can feel disconcerting if you feel that your dogs are going to suffer by having their walks restricted.
At the time of writing, there is no need for healthy people younger than 70yrs to restrict their dog walking, unless you have vulnerable family members who have been advised to self-isolate. In fact, even if you are over 70 or in a vulnerable group, getting outside and exercising with your dog is a healthy, individual activity that is good for you both if it can be done in ways that you avoid other people and dogs.
As a precaution, if you walk in areas where there are gates, take hand sanitizer with you and use it each time you open and close a gate (before you touch your dog or your dog's lead again). Avoid stroking dogs you may meet on walks, even dogs you know, and avoid letting other people touch your dogs.
If you have a dog walker, ask them to wash their hands carefully before coming into your home and make sure you wash all dog walking equipment at 30 degrees if they have touched it.
I have natural, eco-friendly anti-bacterial wipes so that I can give my dogs a wipe over once our dog sitters have left - it may seem overkill, but I have a compromised immune system and this has been part of my routine for a long time. I don't want to restrict our dog sitters by stopping them from touching the dogs, and our little crew have been taught to feel fine about being wiped with wipes!
Hand washing sanitizer and wipes are most effective if they are alcohol free and soap based. This is because soap is made of lipids (fat) which is also what the outer cell wall of Covid-19 consists of. The lipids in soap dissolve the lipids in the virus wall, which destroys the virus. If you add a drop each of rosemary, eucalyptus and cinnamon essential oils (which have antiviral properties), you are adding even more protection. 1 drop per 10 ml of liquid soap will be effective.
EXERCISE RESTRICTION NEEDN'T BE BAD
For older people, it can feel worrying that they can't walk their dogs for a while, especially if they're on a limited income and can't hire a dog walker.
If family members can't walk the dog for them, it may reassure them to know that most dogs will cope with restricted exercise for longer than they might think.
Dogs who have to be placed on crate rest, through injury or illness, often cope surprisingly well for weeks when they're confined to a pen/crate or room. In fact, our experience with clients' dogs has been that some of them become calmer as a consequence (especially if the dog has any reactivity or anxiety issues). As long as their confinement is managed well and they are carefully habituated to being kept in a constrained space, most of them do much better than imagined.
Carefully managed confinement works by using a process of "habituation", which means getting a dog used to an experience in ways that make her feel good. Rather than suddenly shutting the dog away, introducing a gradual period of confinement and using food to make the situation manageable can teach most dogs that being confined feels ok. If you ever need help with this, please ask me for my booklet on "Confining to Calm" to make the process easy for both of you. You can do this gradually with your dog if you have to work at home for a while and want to get her used to settling in a other room without you - more on this later.
Being isolated and not being able to walk in public can feel quite lonely for some people, but your dog will probably love this time with you. Instead of worrying that you're not able to take her out, you can play games and introduce fun activities into her day which will entertain both of you.
Enrichment is a bit of a Buzz word in the animal care world these days. It's being used in zoos and rescue centres across the world to improve domestic animals' qualityn of life. Basically, it's anyway that the environment can be adapted to increase an animal's engagement with her world, people and animals around her.
It's largely based on stimulating the animal's sensory receptors. So we use things like food to stimulate taste and scents to stimulate smell. You can also use different textures to stimulate touch. We train using a method that we call Thinking-Dog, and we stimulate all the senses, plus body and brain in our work.
We don't just train skills, we encourage dogs to problem solve by using their noses and brains, because these skills create calm, happy dogs.
Creating sniff activities, playing games that encourage problem-solving and doing short training exercises don't just keep the canine brain active. They can deepen our relationship with our dogs. This means that this worrying time of confinement can eventually feel really productive for you and your dog.
For young dogs, this period could be a good opportunity to swot up on any lapsed skills, especially loose lead walking (which many teens find a bit of a challenge!) Short, 5 to 10 min training exercises that are taught in fun, positive ways can be really good for building your relationship and teaching self-control.
Doing these activities at times when you would usually walk your dog means she is less likely to "nag" you at walk time. You may find that she hopefully loiters around the cupboard where you keep her lead when she thinks it's time for a walk. Or she may become agitated and start whining at you. Try to avoid reacting immediately, otherwise she may start to become demanding about asking for attention (or food treats) at other times as well as walk times.
Instead, turn your head away from her and walk away without saying anything to her. Once she is a little more settled, then you can give her some sort of sniff activity. I find the best one to start with is laying a trail of her food around the garden for her to sniff out- it's a mental and physical workout and sniffing has been found to reduce a dog's pulse rate, which means that her agitation will soon settle.
You can also try putting on walking equipment and doing a bit of loose lead practise in the garden. If you have a dog who gets over excited about her lead and harness, walking around the garden can be great way of shifting the association that says: lead = walks = crazy pinging about! It can neutralise her reaction to her walking equipment- and it's also a great way of consolidating some loose lead walking skills.
Another great skill to practise in the garden is recall. With this one, you can make it fun by hiding and calling your dog to come and find you (if your garden is big enough and bushy enough!). These games can get both of you out of the house, into the fresh air and can help both of you feel better about life. Especially if it's sunny 🌞
Another lovely way to bond with your dog is to groom her every day and, for dogs who need regularly trips to the grooming salon this could be an important thing to do over the next few weeks. If you can't get your dog trimmed, spend time brushing and combing her coat in short sessions every day so that she feels comfortable with the process and so that you can keep her coat comfortable and tangle-free.
Have a look at my YouTube channel for advice about how to clip nails with dogs who hate having their claws handled.
FAKE A WORKING DAY!
Spending a lot of time at home with your dog can be lovely for both of you, but it can be a changeful time for most dogs. They generally love having their families around them and many of them will come to rely on having you around, especially if it's for an extended period. Some dogs can then find it hard to be left alone and you may need to introduce strategies to minimise any risk of over-dependence.
Structuring your day to reflect your normal working day means that your dog is less likely to become overly reliant on you once you go back to work.
It's a good idea to start your working day at the same time you would usually leave the house. You can set up a work area in a corner upstairs, or a room which is away from where your dog is usually left during the day when you're at work.
Avoid over-interacting with her when you have a break or when you go into the kitchen. It might be tempting to play with her or to make a lot of fuss of her, but this can create a pattern where she craves input from you during the day. Instead, try to be very low key until the usual time when you would be home.
Mirroring your work hours, by going to your "work corner" and leaving her in another room means that she will be able to adapt more easily when you eventually go back to work.
This isn't easy. I had a prolonged time off work for health reasons many years ago and Lily really struggled when I started to work again. Fortunately I stayed working part time so I could ease both of us back into the routine, and I did it by going to my office upstairs and shutting the dogs downstairs with stuffed kongs and chews at 8.30am every morning.
I really found it difficult to not sit on the sofa with them and work on my laptop - but I knew it wasn't helping either of us by doing that, so I forced myself to follow my work patterns. It made it much easier for her when I started my current workload, but I still have to be careful when we have a week's holiday because both the dogs and I can quickly slip back into co-dependence!
So a good tip is to try to avoid giving your dog too much attention during any prolonged period that you're at home because she may be likely to become more reliant on you and may struggle when you return to work.
KEEPING HEARTS AND MINDS HAPPY
A period of self-isolation can feel exactly what it's called: isolating for both dog and person. Most dogs will love having their family around but some of them may miss any dog or people friends that they see regularly on walks.
This social isolation can be difficult for reactive dogs who may have only a few friends and who may become more reclusive without interaction.
If it's safe to do so in terms of your health, and if you have family dogs who your dog enjoys spending time with, try to arrange for her to be visited by these dogs and their people (as long as government directives allow for such visits). Take the usual hygiene precautions of washing hands and being careful to clean dogs after they have been touched if they're living with vulnerable people.
And if you have a family member who is feeling really isolated and missing their friends, then take your dog with you when you go to visit them. As long as your dog enjoys their company (and as long as they love your dog) and as long as it's safe for her to visit them, then they might both benefit from spending some time together.
If you would like some ideas for Sniff Activities to keep brain and body stimulated while walks are restricted, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for my free pdf Sniff Games for Busy, Dizzy, Fizzy Dogs.
If you have any issues with your dog, we offer an online support programme. Please ask me for information. We are also setting up group online classes during the Covid-19 extreme measures period so that all our clients and their dogs can continue with their training. Watch this space for more information!