Helping your dog during COVID
Helping your Dog during COVID and Beyond
By Certified Canine Behavior Consultant and Trainer Kim Melanson, CPDT-KA, Founder of Dingo Dog Studio
With countless people working remotely, an unprecedented number of families have welcomed new dogs into their homes. Along with that comes some different challenges when it comes to socializing new puppies and adult dogs alike. Not to worry, though. There are some simple foundations you can put in place now that will help your dog during the pandemic as well as give them the tools to transition once things return to some sense of normalcy.
Socializing your puppy helps prepare them to be more relaxed because they learn at an early age to be comfortable in a wider variety of situations. Socialization should be good exposure, not just exposure, so take it slow and bring yummy treats to associate new things and experiences with good stuff. This all can take a bit more effort during the pandemic when we’re not out and about visiting one another. A few ways to socialize during the pandemic include:
• Taking your puppy on a walk in the neighborhood or out in a field using a 10-15-foot leash. If someone walks by and seems interested in your dog, you can ask them if they’d like to pet your puppy and let your puppy go to them, they can pet and give them a treat. This way they can meet your pup without getting too close to you. The same goes for introducing your puppy to other friendly dogs along the way. (Note: For safety sake, I recommend using a regular vinyl leash, which is safer than a retractable leash.)
• Taking your puppy to the outdoor garden center at places like Home Depot, where they can get exposure to people as well as things like wheels and carts. Dogs are welcome at many such stores, and their employees often love to get a break in their day to pet a pup!
• Having a friend or family member bring over a friendly dog to play in the backyard.
• Go for a car ride. Stop downtown and listen to the trains go by to get your dog used to hearing different sounds. Park by the lake and watch the boats go in and out and birds fly around.
• Joining a safe puppy kindergarten class where they can learn basic obedience and get to interact with other dogs. Some classes are being held indoors with COVID precautions or outdoors during warmer weather.
Socializing your adult dog
Socialization isn’t just for puppies. Adult dogs need to keep meeting dog friends and people. Everybody is moving away from other people and dogs, and the dog can have a setback after losing that normalcy.
Although our opportunities for this may be more limited during the pandemic, there are a few ways you can get out and socialize with your dog. For example, you could invite a neighbor with a compatible dog to come and play in the backyard or take your dog on car rides to explore new sights and sounds. If your time is limited, you could hire a dog walker or attend a well-vetted playgroup. (I would recommend waiting until your dog is at least six months old before taking advantage of these types of services.)
Challenges arising during COVID
Obviously, life is extremely different during the pandemic, and that’s no different for dogs. It’s understandable that they may need a little extra help adjusting to these changes. The two most common concerns we have for the future are dogs not being comfortable with people coming into the house, because this hasn’t been happening during COVID, and dogs not being comfortable being left alone because everyone is home.
Getting comfortable with people coming into the house. To get your dog accustomed to people coming over, you might consider having a friend or two come through the gate in the back yard while your dog is in the yard. You could also “practice” by having your own family members dress come into the house and then go back out and come in wearing a wig or a hat, so your dog doesn’t get nervous about the idea of being entering their space.
Getting comfortable with being left alone. Even if you’re going to be working remotely for the long term, at some point most of us will have some time away from the house, doing things like grocery shopping or taking the kids to school, so our dogs will need to learn that being left alone isn’t scary. That can be hard for a dog to learn later on because during the pandemic, it’s rare that everyone in the house is out at the same time.
To help them prepare, I recommend making a point to leave the house as a family two to three times a week. Go for a walk with the puppy and then leave the puppy alone. Start with 15-minute intervals and work up to two hours. Before you leave, you may want to play soft music and turn down the lights. And leave a nice big Kong for him to enjoy so he associates you leaving with positive things.
Dog cams are inexpensive way to check and see if your dog settles well when you’re gone. If you find that he’s just whining a bit for a few minutes and then calms down, that’s a good sign. If, however, your dog has very anxious behavior such as chewing on the bars of his crate, scratching or chewing at the door, or losing his bowels, contact a behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist because this could be separation anxiety. This may need behavior modification and more expertise to improve.
Adapting to changes at home
While our dogs often love that they have extra time with us at home, sometimes it can be a little too much togetherness, especially around kids. We often don’t think about it but our dogs usually enjoy quite a bit of downtime to rest when we’re out at school or work. With everyone Zooming and the house being a den of activity, it can become too much stimulation for our dogs. A few ways to avoid this are:
• Ensuring children don’t wake up or disturb the dog when he’s resting
• Putting your dog in a quiet, gated off area or in his crate a few times a day so he has an opportunity to rest
• Scheduling quiet time in the house. (This is good for humans too!)
The fun part of being at home
One bright side of having more time at home is the chance to get out and enjoy more things our dogs like. Dogs love having the opportunity to sniff around and check out different parks and hiking spots.
Introducing interactive toys is also a great way to engage your dog. Puzzle toys and strong chews are physically and mentally stimulating for dogs, and are great ways to keep them busy while you’re on a long work call. Have your kids hide treats around the house and give your dog a chance to follow his nose to find them.
This is also a really good time to get everyone on the same page with dog training. The more consistent we are with helping our dogs to understand what we expect, the more likely they are to display this behavior. If everyone in the family responds to the same way to a behavior, your dog will quickly learn what you’re looking for him to do and is more likely to respond appropriately.
For example, when your puppy goes to the bathroom outdoors or comes when you call him, praise him and give him a treat. If he’s doing something undesirable like jumping, step back, lose contact, fold your arms up, and ask for a sit. This way he is not getting rewarded for the behavior. When it comes to dog behavior, rewarded behavior increases while unrewarded behavior decreases.
This past year has brought innumerable changes for us and for the pets we love. I hope that you found these tips handy for helping your dog adjust admit this unprecedented year.
To learn more dog behavior tips, follow me on Facebook at Dingo Dog Studio.