Your New Normal
Since March 2020 Residents of Canada are living under a government-issued STAY AT HOME advisory. This action was advised to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The most effective way to slow the virus spread is to keep at least two metres away from people. This means no large gatherings like social events. Schools and most workplaces are closed. In addition, access to most stores and banks is regulated to control people traffic. Consequently, you and your family are home all day. Normally, you would be gone and your dog would be home alone. In other words, you get to spend all day with your pet!
You envision lounging together in bed or hanging out on the couch until noon and often longer – just like it was Saturday only better because it goes on and on! This is an ideal opportunity to strengthen your bond with your best furry friend. You and your dog are free to go walking or jogging multiple times per day instead of only once or twice! What fun! Most importantly, these seemingly endless days are exactly what you both need … Or is it?
What The Science Says:
Science confirms that we feel good when spending quality time with our pets. We experience a ‘natural high’ when oxytocin and other ‘feel-good’ endorphins are released into our bloodstream. We need all the endorphins we can get to maintain a sense of calm optimism during these uncertain times.
However, what happens to your pooch when your endless days together suddenly and abruptly … Stop and you return to your work or school life? He or she will again be home spending the day lounging on your couch, or resting in the crate – alone. While you are happy and excited to resume the hustle and bustle of work or school, your pooch is confused at the abrupt change … being alone … in the silence.
It Wasn’t Always Like This
At the beginning of life with your new puppy or adult dog, you likely took some time to ease him or her into a pattern that simulated your normal workday. By gradually extended the alone time, your dog learned to accept that even though you went away, eventually you returned. Consequently, he or she learned with absolute certainty the difference between your workweek schedule and your weekend routine. When you returned at the end of each day, you were greeted by a happy dog and a house that was still in one piece. Above all, your dog’s behavior and your undisturbed home clearly demonstrated that he or she was quite content to … just … wait.
Today It’s Saturday; Tomorrow It’s Not. What Happens When every day Isn’t Saturday?
Then COVID-19 struck and suddenly everyone is home … all day long, and not in the usual way. People aren’t ‘come and going’ like on weekends. They are just coming … and staying … and rarely ‘going.’ The first few days seemed like chaos. Moreover, your dog may behave badly or is restless and unsettled for no apparent reason – after all everyone is home, all day long! He or she soon figures out that every day is Saturday! … except it isn’t … at least, not forever. . .
Ultimately, when the COVID threat subsides the return to your previous week-day schedule to weekend routine is likely to come about just as abruptly as your confinement to home. Confirmation may be received by phone, Internet or television that all is ‘clear’ to return to work or school. Consequently, you and your family will once again leave the house and will be happy to have your life back.
However, there will be no warning for your dog. One day everyone is home … and the next day everyone is gone. At the same time that you are busy ramping up at work or school, your dog is at home, confused. Because suddenly, everything is very, very quiet … and it’s not Saturday anymore.
You are happy to be back at work or school and socializing with your friends, co-workers, and classmates after social isolation. Your dog, on the other hand, is suddenly (in his or her mind) … experiencing social isolation for the first time in weeks or perhaps months! Consequently, the dramatic contrast from constant activity to nothing can be mentally debilitating for your dog. In your dog’s mind, every day had become just like Saturday.
While dogs live in the present moment, the sudden shift from continuous, 24/7 with you to … nothing … notta … not even a sound, is stressful. As a result, your dog may look for the rest of the pack leaving little (or big) ‘messages’ along the way to keep scary imaginary threats away. If he or she is crated, doggy claustrophobia may happen for the first time ever. Howling, chewing destructively on anything and everything or pottying in your house may happen for what seems like no apparent reason. Even worse, he or she may be injured while frantically trying to escape from the crate or containment room.
As a result, loving your dog all day long during the Covid-19 crisis was in reality, a perfect recipe to set your dog up for separation anxiety. Did you know that separation anxiety only exists in dogs who live with humans? As a species, we are emotional beings. Consequently, without intending to, we shed our emotions and anxieties all over our dogs. Doggy anxiety is one of the most frustrating behaviors to fix – especially when you are required to go to work each day. Yet, it is one of the easiest afflictions to prevent.
TIPS to PREVENT SEPARATION (or any) ANXIETY:
By following these tips, you can help your dog to easily transition back to solitary when the current uncertainty ends:
1. Every day is NOT Saturday: Stick to your dog’s regular schedule:
The most important action that you can take to maintain your sanity is sticking to your dog’s regular (pre-COVID-19) routine to ensure the overall well-being of your dog. Your dog will soon learn that the rules have not changed, especially for the main elements of each day, including:
- Potty-Walk-Feed-Rest routine: Follow your normal weekday and weekend potty-walk-feed-rest routines.
- Crate Rest: Consider moving your dog’s crate to a quieter place to minimize disturbance from everyone at home.
- Undisturbed Rest: If your dog is not accustomed to resting in a crate, find a quiet place for him or her to have undisturbed rest at a scheduled time. Schedule daily undisturbed rest to times that are as close to your ‘normal’ routine as possible (e.g. after each walk).
- After ‘Work’: Walk or play with your dog each weekday as you normally would if you were coming home from work or school.
- The Weekend: Your weekend activities may be different because of the need to maintain a safe social distance. If you normally go to the closest schoolyard to play chuck-it ball – do it! Just remember to practice social distancing and to respect poop and scoop rules.
2. You Get What You Pet!
If you are guilt-ridden each time you leave your dog alone your pet will sense that something is changing and become confused and concerned. Similarly, if you greet him or her with highly excited energy on your return your dog will mimic your emotions and become overly excited. Over excitement can lead to jumping, barking or nipping and if not properly managed, can result in injuries or worse, having to re-home your dog.
The solution is to stick to a deliberate daily routine that both you and your dog can maintain. Keep your emotions in check when putting your dog in his or her crate, when leaving the house and when returning home. You want your dog to be calm when you leave and when you return.
3. Maintain a high standard of compliance
Dogs need jobs! During your confinement to home, don’t slack off on your expectations for your dog’s manners and obedience. Use your time together to focus on achieving 100% compliance for the skills that you have already taught your dog. Now is a perfect time to tune-up any behavior’s that may have ‘slipped’ due to your busy pre-Covid-19 life. The time that you would normally be traveling to work or school can be spent practicing your dog’s basic skills or to teach new tricks. Working for five or ten minutes to review or learn a new lesson before each meal is a ‘job’ for your dog. The result will be a stronger bond and your dog will love the work!
4. Is Doggy Daycare an Option?
If your dog normally goes to Doggy Daycare during the week, check with your provider to see if they are an essential service and have chosen to stay open. In addition, be sure to confirm their enhanced disinfection and distancing protocols so that you and your dog will be protected. Continuing with your dog’s daycare schedule will minimize disruption to everyone’s normal routine when you return to work or school. It will also give you and your dog a break from your ‘new normal’. If your finances have been affected by the current crisis, ask your Day Care provider if or how they can help. You may be surprised at how committed they are to doing what is best for you and for your dog to retain your business in the longer term.
5. Become Your Dog’s Walker
Now is the ideal time to take over the role of the dog walker to continue with the same activity pattern. Improve your health and lift your spirits by walking your dog at the same time and duration each day. Social distancing is easy when you just keep moving. Enjoy!
6. In Conclusion
You and your family will enjoy more quality time together when you minimize the disruption to your dog’s ‘normal’ routine. Be sure to include walking on a leash; undisturbed rest and some play in your dog’s daily schedule. As a result, your dog will barely notice the change when everyone returns to work and school. Furthermore, you will be comforted knowing that he or she is content to be alone to ‘do nothing’ during the day.
What are you and your family doing to keep your dog’s day as close to ‘normal’ as possible? Please share and post photos in the comments below!
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For solutions to your dog’s behavior problems, please contact us through our website: www.ontariodogtrainer.com.
Stay Healthy, Stay Safe, and Stay Home! We are all in this together!