Lock down has been a crazy time for us all humans and animals alike. Most animals thrive on routine (humans included!) Since most of us are now at home, normal routine has all but gone and our dogs may be looking to us for information. They may be sniffing, jumping up, pawing at us and vocalising – all to figure out what is happening. From our perspective, our dogs may have started becoming ‘attention seeking’, annoying and most importantly disrupting for our peaceful Zoom meetings!
Here are my top tips to help them cope:
1. Make feeding fun
For most of our dogs, food appears in a bowl and is eaten within minutes. This is missing a huge opportunity! We should be using time they spend eating to add some entertainment to their lives. We are lucky with how beautiful the weather has been. Scattering dry food in the grass is super easy and encourages dogs to use their nose to find it. Kongs and snuffle mats are great options – and google ‘make your own puzzle feeder’ and you will find a million ways to use your recycling to your dog’s benefit!
A few kongs frozen and ready to go in the freezer are great ways to ensure you can conference call in peace (probably works for kids too – just use bananas and not meat!)
There are three caveats to this:
- If your dog has every shown aggression towards you around food, contact a behaviourist before attempting any food enrichment.
- Always start easy and work up. If your dog has no idea how to reach it’s food, it’s going to get frustrated. I mean wouldn’t you if you were hungry and someone stuck your pizza inside a rubiks cube?!
- If you have multiple dogs, it is usually safer (and less stressful for them) to separate them for food enrichment.
2. Let them sniff
Dogs and humans often see walks very differently. We want to get from A-B as quickly as we can, our dogs want to figure out what on earth has been happening outside in their absence! If we let them have a good sniff around when it is safe to do so, they will have used their brains so much more – and be more likely to be relaxed later in the day.
3. Provide opportunity for play and learning
Before you start work for the day, spend 5-10 minutes playing with your dog or spend some time teaching them something new. This will use their brain, as well as providing some great bonding opportunity for you both 🙂
4. Ensure they are getting rest time and reward the calm
In ‘normal’ times, most dogs will get periods of time during the day when they have the house to themselves. Peace and quiet to relax. However, now, we around all the time. For some high energy, social dogs, they may be so interested in what’s happening (especially if kids are home) that have vastly reduced their rest. Estimates vary, but for adult dogs, most need about 14 hours of sleep a day, as well as quiet rest time. Without this, like us, some dogs can get more anxious and less relaxed.
Consider giving your dog some quiet time during the day. Use their crate (and ensure the kids stay away), or use a different room if this doesn’t cause stress. Beds may need to be moved to your office space if your dog is pacing between their bed and your office and not settling.
When they do relax, make sure you reinforce. A soft good girl or boy may be all you need, as any more might disturb their rest.
If you are worried about how your dog is coping, please contact your GP veterinarian for some advice as a first point of call.
Dr Julie Ashton is a behaviour veterinarian. She sees referral behaviour cases in Hertfordshire, North London and Cambridgeshire.