5 Tips For You and Your Dog During COVID-19
If you are a k9 parent, you have chosen to take on the responsibility of caring for a dog beyond the easy stuff: shelter, food, love. When they come into our homes, they join our family, and like other members of the family, there are boundaries and rules to abide by, ways to work towards a greater goal, and lessons to learn. Dogs thrive under this dynamic. They are called humankind's best friend for a variety of reasons so how do we return that sentiment: by being their advocate. While we work from home and settle into this pandemic normal -- which could last for weeks or months or much longer -- we should find ways to prioritize our dogs beyond their basic needs. Though there are many means to keep them active and happy, I have included five tips to guide your family during this time. These suggestions can and should be used after we get back to work and social distancing is no longer a mandate but a thing of the past:
STRUCTURE AND ROUTINE
Dogs thrive under structure. They do well with routine. Before WFH, what did your dog's day look like? Was Lula home in her crate until the dog walker came at noon? Was Oliver going to work with you but trained to stay at your desk until your lunch break? Was the nanny taking Biscuit on the long walk while the baby slept? Think about what your dog's "normal" looked like before the Pandemic and while it may not be possible to replicate entirely, do your best to provide that structure and routine during the day. If you are working from home and Lula is used to being in her crate for rest and to keep her calm, you can mirror that same protocol perhaps with a touch more time outside of the crate since you may not be as free to give her the long walk she was used to with the walker. If Oliver knows the boundary of the morning stroll to the office, a few pets by co-workers, then planting himself at the foot of your desk, you can do something similar at home. Use the same commands when it's time to go outside for your "lunch break walk" with Oliver, and make it as exciting or as routine as you did when you were at the office. If Biscuit is used to the nanny's afternoon walk with your baby, and it's offered him a great deal of leash etiquette to not pull or jump or bark because the stroller is nearby, keep those same boundaries whether the baby/stroller is with you on that walk or not. Remember: our lives will eventually get back to the normalcy it once was and it's on us to set up our dogs for success when that transition comes. Use the crate; go out at the general time your dog is used to; let your dog have freedom to be near you if that's how it is during the work day; and allow the engagement with your nanny or child to remain consistent even though you are home. The more we can give our dogs the structure they are accustomed to, the happier they will be knowing what it is we expect of them.
Social distancing is a mandate for humans and, if your local or state politician hasn't required that of you yet, do it anyways; flatten the curve and save lives. However, it is a scientific fact that dogs, at this time, do not carry COVID-19 so how do alter the way we walk our dogs without putting ourselves, and others, in harms way: 1. Practice the "leave it" command. While passing by dogs, teach Fido that the new normal is not to say hello, to humans and/or k9s. Have Fido look to you for guidance. There will be plenty of people who do not want your dog coming up to them or their dogs during our social distancing cycle so you should teach your dog to respect that. You can use a treat as a means to say "leave it, Fido" and show him the treat until you pass the dog then praise him and give the treat. Or you can have Fido sit, "leave it" command, and once the dog passes, praise Fido and provide the treat. The command can be anything you want (leave it, nope, here, wait); be consistent, mean what you say. 2. Ask Before Approaching. You can have Fido sit and wait. Ask the other dog parent if Fido can say hello; if the answer is yes, give Fido a green light command to say hi but have him wait ("leave it" or "wait") until he gets the "Ok" or "Go say hi" so he knows the difference. Once the dogs have engaged and are done with their social time, mean what you say when it's time to go and have Fido follow suit. This builds a strong bond with you and your dog -- Fido knows to wait for you before he jumps to the conclusion that every dog and every human wants to say hi to him. While we as dog people can not fathom someone not wanting to say hello to our pooch, there are plenty of people who would prefer a dog leave them alone and it's important we respect that. In the same regard, while many dogs want to engage with furry friends, there are equally as many who would rather not, perhaps out of fear or anxiety, or because they are territorial of their person and will attack your dog. So it's always smart to play it safe and wait to give Fido a command before engaging in social interaction with dogs and/or humans. We certainly teach our own human children to wait before engaging so why don't we do the same for our k9 children? We are here to be their advocates.
WORK FOR FOOD
Even though your dog may be getting a lot more time with you than they are accustomed to, it doesn't necessarily mean your bond is stronger because of it. One of the best ways to build that connection with your dog is through food. At meal time, you can take the opportunity to remind your dog that you are their provider, that you are their teacher. Working for food is fun! Do we have time for this every meal? Highly unlikely. But if we set aside a few minutes every couple of days to bond with our dog at meal time, it will go a long way. Haven't they always said that family dinner produces some serious bonding?! Well, same goes for our pooches. A few easy ways to do this: 1. Practice sit, stay, come with Chewy. Once the three commands are complete, feed Chewy from your hand. Repeat until meal time is over or until Chewy has nailed it without breaking the commands then she can eat the meal in its entirety from the bowl. 2. Practice waiting before Chewy can go to her bowl. Set the bowl down, wait/stay, then OK, for Chewy to start eating. Take the bowl away, and repeat. I often suggest using your hand as signal at the same time you say "wait" or "stay" so there is a barrier between Chewy and her bowl until you remove your hand and give the "OK" to chow down. 3. Practice heel while Chewy takes food from you as you stop and go.When you stop, she stops, eats from hand, repeat. If needed, use a loose leash so she doesn't listen because of leash tension but it's there so she doesn't get distracted and run off. This helps with heel and with the "come" when you're ready to teach Chewy that command. You can implement any of these basic training tools during meal time and your dog will catch on before you know it. You'll begin to see a stronger bond between you and your dog, not because you have the food but because you are teaching Chewy boundaries and making food a fun part of her day.
Right about now, we all need this! Stuck behind a computer all day, not even commuting to work (whether that's 100 feet to our cars or 30 minutes on our bike), we need to move. So when you move, Bubba should move with you. Make time for your dog to get exercise. As stated in section 1, the routine of their walk is important. If Bubba is used to a 60 minute pack walk in the middle of the day, it may not feasible as you are trying to save the world during your working hours, but you should, to the best of your ability, make time for Bubba to get the exercise he's used to in his daily life. Exercise makes for a tired dog which produces an obedient dog which results in a happy dog. It is not your dog's fault if he starts breaking some of the rules you had set before WFH when his exercise was cut in half; he's restless and bored. Bubba likes to stay active and you can use that time to keep your body moving too. It seems simple but it's often the first part of a dog's day that gets neglected when humans are busy. Make time for Bubba -- he's ready for the challenge of keeping you healthy during this trying time so saddle up and keep him healthy too!
The amount of workout videos circulating around the internet is remarkable. Add on the cooking classes and school assignments and latest cleaning supplies needed and my head is about to spin off. But there are also some pretty cool training videos you can follow to teach your dog new tricks, or even basic commands. Tap into that during your free time, or on your lunch break. It's never too late to teach your dog: they are life-long learners, too. My 13 year old Bulldog recently lost both eyes to Glaucoma so we are truly starting over in many ways. In a few months, Lucca has learned that "nope" means to stop before she runs into a wall; she has learned "step" means she's walking into the elevator and there is a gap to avoid, or that she's going to step off the curb from the sidewalk; she now knows to follow the perimeter of our living room rug and she'll locate the water bowl. This is a senior dog with no eyes! She loves to learn. So while many of you may be thinking this is a great time for Sam to learn play dead or roll over or fetch me a beer from the fridge (tell me how Sam does it!), you can also add to their vocabulary of words. Name the toys you want Sam to differentiate (go get "duckie" or bring me "the ball"); have Sam jump "off" the couch and to come back "up" on it; designate a spot on the bed with a blanket to limit the amount of shedding; "wait" at the door for a few minutes before you go outside; use "jump" or "bark" so it becomes a request and not an automatic reaction by Sam. There are so many great ways for your dog to learn more, and it doesn't take that long -- it's just a matter of staying consistent with the word you want to use, and to mean what you say. At the end of the day, we are the lucky ones to have a dog by our side in these humbling and uncertain times. I look at my own dogs throughout the day and find an immense amount of hope simply by watching them on the other side of the room; I am filled with gratitude every night when I hold them far too tightly before they curl up in their dog bed. The very least I can do for them is provide a bit of structure and pre-Coronavirus normalcy in their day. I hope these tips help you and your family as you navigate this new normal. If you wish to learn more or set up a virtual training session, you can reach me through our website at www.thebarkingmeter.com.
Be well, k9 community.
Advocating for our k9s,