By Sandy Modell
Alexandria, VA – Over the past three months, our lives have been upended by the Coronavirus. The changes to our daily schedules, including entire families working and schooling from home, eating in, washing hands multiple times a day, hunting for paper towels, toilet paper, and disinfectants, wearing masks, certainly have added new levels of stress to what has become our new stay-at-home normal.
For those of you who have dogs, their lives have been upended too. But, unlike humans, these changes are hard for them to process. Dogs generally do better with routines. For many dogs at home, their daily pre-pandemic activity while you were at work and the kids were at school, consisted mainly of sleeping. Some dogs enjoyed the mental and physical stimulation they would get with the mid-day dog walker. Although you were gone for a big part of their day, it was the life they led and they knew what to expect. Dogs generally do better when they know what is expected. Once the lockdowns started and people and children stayed at home, dogs found a huge change to their daily routines. While individual dogs may vary in their reactions, changes in routine can be very challenging for most dogs. At the same time, dogs benefited from the lockdown as most humans were now home all day with nowhere in particular to go. Many dogs started enjoying extra walks, while others experienced an increase in playtime with mom, dad, or the kids.
Although you may have thought being home with your dog all day was a dream come true, you may have noticed increased anxiety, more whining, barking, and attention seeking behaviors, especially when you had to turn your attention to something else, such as, a Zoom meeting with your boss or helping the kids with their school work. In the March Zebra Training Time article, I fortuitously focused on Easy DIY Enrichment Games for Your Pup. I hope you have been able to make use of some of those games during lockdown. If you missed the article, you can find it in the Zebra archives online. If you have found working from home to be challenging because Fido is constantly getting underfoot, relentlessly nosing to be petted, or barking incessantly to go outside, here are three enrichment strategies that can help reduce your dog’s stress and neediness:
Scatter feeding and search games – Engage your dog’s brain by providing opportunities for him to search and find food, instead of putting it all in a bowl to be devoured in one minute, if that. Scatter feeding will encourage your dog to use his sense of smell to forage for their food. As your dog starts to get better at using his nose you can scatter food over a larger area to make it even more challenging. Once they have mastered that, start to hide their food or treats in different rooms or outside in the yard.
Activity feeders, Kongs, and Snuffle Mats – These can be lots of fun for your dog while they work their brain and problem solve to find their food. Giving your dog a frozen Kong right before you head over to the computer to work will give your dog something to do besides staring at you or barking while waiting for that next walk or ball game.
Training – Ten minutes of mental stimulation is equal to a half-hour walk. Dogs learn best through short increments of training time. Three minutes here, five minutes there, two minutes before you go out for a walk, you can work on some focus and attention exercises, proximity games to teach your dog that staying near you is where the fun is. A few training games before you dive into your work will help your dog to be calmer while your attention is elsewhere.
Next time we will be discussing planning for your eventual return to the office. What you need to know and start doing to help your dog transition. Until then, stay safe!
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder and CEO of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports and canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes starting soon! Visit www.wholistichound.com to enroll in our programs, and like us on Facebook.com/wholistichound.