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If you’re like us, your work Zooms, neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, parent check-ins, and Houseparty knock-off drinks follow a similar formula: How is everyone? Stressed? Bored? Slowly getting used to things? That was until recently, when a new topic punctured conversations–how is everyone’s dog getting on?
A lot of people have noted that this period of self isolation is probably a dog’s dream. We may be frustrated by our lack of movement, but for creatures who just want to hang with you, preferably on the couch, it’s bliss. But something is shifting. People are mentioning how their chill Frenchies have discovered barking. Easy-going labradors are dragging their owners around the block. Independent chow chows have turned clingy.
My own dog has taken to having meltdowns if she’s forced to be apart from me for even a moment. My weekly trip to the grocery story leaves her shaking for an hour. She’s even changed her mind about walks. Rather than running to the door as soon as anyone stands up, she sulks and tries to return home as soon as possible.
Earlier this week we asked our Off the Leash community if they’d noticed anything and our suspicions were confirmed. Several readers mentioned pets who were sleeping all day, becoming more vocal, being overly clingy or suddenly aloof, acting out, and generally seeming more anxious and unsettled. Apparently our dog’s honeymoon period with us is ending.
The Changing Behaviours of Dogs in Isolation
Like us, dogs have had their lives suddenly disrupted. They might not understand why, but they can still feel the impact. Reflecting on this to the New York Times, dog trainer Ettel Edshteyn predicted, “we might see an uptick in depressive behaviour like trouble sleeping, losing their appetite, not wanting to play or seeming listless.” She also reasoned pets may “become more destructive and anxious, exhibiting behaviour like increased reactivity, increased barking or difficulty settling.”
A Loss of Routine
Dogs are creatures of habit. They don’t like when you move the couch, let alone rearrange their whole universe. Not only has their average day changed, but (understandably) it hasn’t been replaced with a new normal yet. Owners may be waking up at different times, working in various parts of the house, and generally being home a lot more.
While there’s not much you can do to mimic their old routine, you can help them adjust to a new one by being more consistent yourself. Do your best to maintain their feeding schedule, and consider rostering specific playtimes (maybe before or after work). Whatever you commit to, stick to it. You don’t want to subject them to any unnecessary disruptions.
Dogs Get Bored Too
With you around, it might seem like you dog’s never had so much going on. But honestly, they’re probably as bored as you are. While you’re their favourite subject, a lot of other stimulation has disappeared. They’re around less new people, their walks have become restricted, and they’re not being treated to the occasional weekend adventure.
With much of the outside world off-limits, think about how you can enrich their inside world. Consider getting some puzzle toys, or set up challenges for them. It’s a good time to explore some of the new pet podcasts, audio channels, and tv shows. Or use it as a chance to brush up on training. Even basic commands like sit, stay, and drop take a lot of concentration and can be mentally tiring.
Let’s Get Physical
With our own exercise routines interrupted, our dogs are becoming go-to work out companions. But those extra walks might not be enough to burn off their additional energy (or anxiety). Try vary your walks or go a little further than usual (if that’s possible while practising social distancing). If they’re still restless, engage them in additional energetic play at home of in the backyard. A tired pet is often a happy pet.
Your Dog Is Also Sick of Zoom
There are less people in your home, but there are probably more unfamiliar voices. Video calls can be confusing for dogs, as they’re able to hear others but not smell or see them. Avoid the temptation to put them on camera, and entertain them with an occupier treat or puzzle instead. If it’s still bothering them, consider wearing headphones or moving to another room.
As traffic noise drops, they might also be picking up new and strange outside sounds. Playing music during the day can add a sense of consistency. Also, it’s good for the general vibe.
Pets are incredibly attuned to our moods, so if you’re overwhelmed they’re probably pick up on it. Go easy on yourself, and them. It’s ok for life to not feel normal right now. Don’t put pressure on yourself to carry on like nothing’s going on. Unless your pet’s behaviour is extremely disruptive or destructive, it’s fine to let a few things slide.
For more on supporting our pets during this weird time:
And learn about leaving your dog at home alonehere.