With the many closures of non-essential businesses, businesses shifting to work from home, and school closures, many of our dogs are suddenly finding their people home, home all the time. While this might be exciting and fun at first, having a plan to help your dog adjust, settle and cope with your eventual return to a work or school routine will make things more successful for all involved.
Think about your dog’s likely day prior to COVID-19. If you worked out of the home, your dog likely got up each morning, ate breakfast, probably had a walk or some training activity with you, and then you and your family walked out the front door and your dog was alone. Maybe you had a dog sitter stop by part way through the day, but your dog had hours and hours to themselves. When you came home at the end of the day, you and your dog did stuff together. Maybe it was eating dinner together, a walk, training class, helping kids with homework or even just hanging out watching TV.
Now, think about your dog’s current situation. You and your dog likely get up each morning, eat breakfast, maybe go outside for a walk or some training time, or maybe not if you immediately find yourself logging into work or lounging around the house in your PJs. Then you and your family don’t leave. All day. If you decide to go on a walk to get out of your house, you probably take your dog too now. If you’re working, you are probably on your computer or phone most of the day in your home. If you have kids, they are either doing homework or bouncing around the house. All day.
So this brings up a few considerations.
Adult dogs sleep 12-14 hours a day, and need to sleep that much for optimal rest. As well all know, a behaviorally healthy dog needs balance both activity and rest. How has your own dog’s sleep pattern changed now that you are home? Is your dog getting enough quiet rest and down time? Dogs with out enough sleep can become easily overstimulated (have you noticed your dog barking more, jumping, chewing, getting into things, or even just moving around more?) or less tolerant (is your dog more noise sensitive, more likely to grumble or even snap, or maybe avoiding things more?). Think about the amount of quiet alone time your dog is used to, now your dog has to learn how to rest and sleep with activity. Help your dog out by providing them quite relaxing spaces to chill and nap.
Exercise is important, but if your dog wasn’t previously getting more than 1-2 short walks a day, and now that you are home you are taking more frequent or longer walks, or your dog is bouncing around with the kid, your dog’s body likely needs time to adjust. An over tired dog can be cranky, risk injury or get over stimulated. Again balance is key. As you walk your dog, take cues from your dog on how they are feeling. When you picked up the leash this last time, did your dog still happily and excitedly say they wanted to go for a walk? When you got 2 blocks down the street did you notice your dog slowing down or are they able to keep pace? Have you noticed your dog scanning the environment more on walks, or barking and lunging at things? Once you and your dog are back home, is your dog able to calmly settle or are they moving around constantly sensory seeking wound up on stimulation? These can all be clues that your new walk schedule or routine might be building too fast for your dog and you want to slowly introduce them to more activity.
Pre Covid-19 your dog was home alone for hours a day. And now they aren’t. We all anticipate that at some point kids will be back to school and adults will be heading back to the office. How do you think your dog will cope to such an abrupt change in a few weeks or months time? Help your dog out by encouraging them to spend time away from you. Instead of having the dog bed in your home office, encourage your dog to take a nap in another room. Provide your dog enrichment activities that encourage them to do things without you. Give your dog a stuffed puzzle toy in a different room. Hide food or toys throughout your house for your dog to search for and find without you. Practice your Protocol for Relaxation with a relaxed down on a dog bed or mat as you are on the other side of the room or down the hall. If your dog is comfortable in a crate, practice crating them in another room each day even if you’re still home. If you feel it’s safe, leave your dog home alone for periods of time while you take a walk by yourself.
Your dog was accustomed to having much of your attention when you were actually home before and after work and likely on weekends. Now, you need your dog to understand that you’re still at work, even though you are home. This can be a struggle for many dogs. Creating a routine that mimics your previous out of the house work day can help many dogs. Ensuring your dog has appropriate levels of physical and mental activity at set times of day, and providing your dog opportunities to nap and rest will also be of benefit. Environmental modification, cognitive and environmental enrichment and training can help your dog adjust to this new normal. We can help too. Through remote Private Sessions and Group Classes, we help you create a plan, practice new skills and give you and your dog the tools for working together from home.