How to get you and your dog through lock down
The Coronavirus pandemic is effecting all of us, be it a complete change in our daily routines, worries about future income, feeling socially isolated and concern for our health and the health and wellbeing of those we love. Thank goodness for dogs! Arguably at this time, we need them more than ever. However, the changes that are effecting us are likely to have some effect on our dogs too. Here are some ideas for what we can do for our dogs during this time.
Where possible, keep your routine similar to your pre-lock down routine or at least keep your lock down routine itself consistent. This may mean that the mornings when you used to go to work, you now go upstairs to get on with housework, read a book or you may indeed be going upstairs to work from home. Try to get up, go to bed and take your exercise at regular times each day. We know that if dogs can predict what will happen, this reduces the anxiety of not being sure what to expect next. Daily routines can help structure the day and help your dog feel more at ease with the new pace of life.
Consider and plan for what arrangements you may need to make for your dog should you need to self isolate or go into hospital. Being prepared will save some of the stress should this situation become reality.
There will be many dogs that are delighted with having their owners at home all day and there will be some that find it a bit overwhelming. Even with the current restrictions, it is important to give your dog periods of time when they are by themselves.
Dogs that have had separation issues in the past may be susceptible to regressing in this way so where you can, leave your dog alone for periods of time that they can cope with during the day. You could achieve this by leaving your dog downstairs whilst you go upstairs or shutting yourself in a room of the house or going out into the garden without them. Make sure that where ever you leave your dog is comfortable for them and is somewhere where they are usually happy to spend time. Providing an enjoyable and calming activity such as a stuffed Kong or chew can also help settle them.
If you are concerned about how your dog is coping being alone, use a camera or video call your laptop from your phone to see what they do when no one is there.
If your dog is already known to have a separation related behaviour problem, you may now have the ideal opportunity to work on this issue. Alleviating these sorts of problems often relies on the gradual exposure to being alone in a very controlled way. If you do not need to leave your dog alone, you can avoid the continuing sensitisation and stress that your dog experiences on your absence – a big first step to achieving a calm and settled dog when no one is home.
Even if your dog has always been fine when left alone, it is still worthwhile doing some absences to help them adjust back to when normal life can be resumed.
Now is potentially more important than ever that dogs have a space that they can go to where they will be not disturbed. Your dog may, as mine does, take most of their sleep when you are not at home. Having us bustling about the house could be depriving your dog of their needed kip or at least at the times of day when they would have normally chosen to do this. If you are a busy household, for example with young children now at home all day, it is even more important that your dog has somewhere to be left undisturbed. Research has shown that children often can not tell when a dog is requesting to be left alone and that this lack of understanding can lead to a bite. Stress levels are already high right now without needing the extra trauma of an aggressive incident. Ensure that your dog has a bed, crate or area of the house that everybody knows to leave the dog alone if they are in that area. Teach children to stay away from your dog when they are eating, sleeping or have chosen to walk away. As always, supervise children around dogs and ensure that both are comfortable around each other.
For most dog owners, this will be their opportunity to get out of the house and take their daily exercise. Seeing others out walking will no doubt bring some relief to the feelings of social isolation that many are experiencing. Enjoy this time with your dog but there are some things that you should keep in mind.
Current government advice states that we should not get any closer than 2 meters to other people that are not from within our household. This distance should also include your dog. There is no evidence to suggest that dogs can contact and transmit the virus from each other or to us. However, as the virus can live on many surfaces for several hours or days, depending on the nature of the surface, it is unwise to let your dog interact with other dogs or indeed other people.
For highly social dogs, this is a shame but indeed necessary. For dogs that are reactive towards other dogs or people, this situation presents an opportunity to work on training and behaviour. Whether your dog is anxious, fearful, frustrated or too excited to greet another person or dog, you can now work on this at a distance and (hopefully!) without worry of others approaching you. If your dog is reactive, it is very likely that your distance will need to be much greater than 2 meters as you should always aim to keep your dog under their threshold of reacting.
If your dog does not have a reliable recall, they should be on a lead now more than ever. If you need to go and retrieve them from playing with someone else's dog, you are putting you and the other person at risk if you get closer than 2 meters (I would say pretty likely in this situation). There is no law that states that you must keep your dog on a lead but I would recommend that you do unless your dogs' recall really is 100% in all potential situations.
When you get home from a walk, don't forget to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Even if you have not needed to open a gate or use a poop bin, you may have picked up your dog's ball or touched your dog after they have come into contact with a bush, relatively small risk but still the potential to pick up the virus and bring it home.
Enrichment is not an extra or a bonus. It should be considered an essential part of a dogs day. The most often talked about enrichment for dogs is food enrichment in the form of Kongs, snuffle mats, licki mats, puzzle feeders etc. There really is so much on offer these days when it comes to enrichment feeders. However homemade can be just as good as shop bought feeders, for example scrunched up paper in a cardboard box with kibble thrown in can entertain and tire a dog perfectly well. If your dog is on a wet food, smear some in empty containers for them to spend time licking.
Feeding all of a dogs dinner from a bowl wastes opportunities for them to gain entertainment and the satisfaction of working for their food. Providing little challenges in this way helps to use up a dog's daily time and energy budgets and can also be useful for giving them something else to do in place of let's say eating your socks!
Play can really help shake off some of the worries and stresses of the day and serve as a relationship building exercise for you and your dog. Whether your dog is a fetcher, tugger or romp abouter, enjoy a few minutes of free play with your companion. You'll both feel if a little better for doing so and, dare I say, could even shed some of those lock down pounds! Another opportunity here to get creative and make some new toys out of old clothes.
Engage the nose
Smell is the dogs primary sense; it is how they investigate and learn about the world around them. Activities that incorporate the dogs nose are ever growing, from simple 'find it' games to tracking and trailing and dogs detecting cancer, drugs and potentially even COVID-19. The activity of sniffing and searching is one of the best energy drainers. Indeed, many scent work trainers compare 20 minutes of intense scent work to 2 hours of regular walking!
A nice and simple scent game to start with is 'find it'. Take one piece of kibble or treat, throw it on the floor next to your dog and say 'find it'. Repeat this many times until your dog's face lights up and nose hits the floor on just you saying 'find it'. Now you can hide food around corners, under cushions and even in different rooms for your dog to find. If you can, use some of your dog's dinner for this game to reduce those extra calories and to give your dog more fulfilment per mouthful of dinner.
Watch this video for how to start playing find it with your dog.....
Another wonderful way to leave a dog feeling fulfilled and content without taking a 20 mile hike is training. Take this time to teach your dog a few new tricks. Whatever you decide to give a go, it really does not need to be anything grand or complex. The important bit is how you train your dog. Positive reinforcement is now widely accepted as the most humane and effective method of teaching new behaviours. All positive reinforcement means is that when your dog gets it right, you give them a reward. By rewarding your dog for good behaviour, this will make your dog more likely to choose to do this behaviour again because they would like to receive another treat, ball thrown or “GOOD DOG!” Training your dog using positive reinforcement also can do wonders for your relationship because you become the giver of great things rather than the nagger or the no-er.
Remember that when you are teaching your dog something new, make it easy for them to get it right. Reward them for all small bits of progress rather than making it too hard from the get go.
Give you and your dog a break
We are all under strain right now and it is more likely that straws will snap, people will get frustrated and become less tolerant of each others idiosyncrasies. Try to understand this and forgive others and yourself for any outbursts. Also try to remember that your dog has no comprehension of current affairs and will not understand why you may be upset or angry.
Relax, have a cup of tea or coffee or whatever your thing is! Cuddle the dog.
Disruption of usual business
Make allowances that your usual service providers such as dog walkers, pet shops and vets are all being effected by this outbreak. It may be more difficult to get hold of your dog's usual food or medications so make sure that you do not leave it until you are virtually all out before trying to buy more. Most vets are now only able to make appointments for serious conditions, postponing vaccinations and providing what help they can by phone or video calls. Make sure to call your vet before making a visit.
Many trainers and behaviourists are making services available online, even puppy classes! Joining an online group class could help support you and your dog during this time by giving you a break away, social connection and something else to focus on right now. If lock down has caused or is exacerbating existing behaviour issues with your dog, help is still at hand from qualified trainers and behaviourists. Visit our online services page for details of what we can offer.
And so . . .
We are all in this together. Finding ways to support one another is more important now than ever. I would like to take this opportunity to give a huge thanks to the key workers and to the NHS for keeping the country going, despite the risks to themselves.
Stay at home; Protect the NHS; Save Lives
Coronavirus related links:
Government - https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
To keep up with our latest news, articles and tips, visit and 'like' our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/RobynAtkinsonAnimalTrainingandBehaviour