How’s everybody doing? It’s a pretty weird time, to say the least!
This upheaval, uncertainty and change is not just causing stress for humans, but for our dogs too.
Suddenly everyone is home a lot, morning routines are very different (or non-existent), there is little respite from family activity, children are around a lot and full of life, and cabin fever is setting in throughout the household.
Even the outside world has changed considerably with few people in places that once were crowded and more people and activity in places that used to be quiet.
This sort of sudden change to things that greatly affect them, and their routine, really does blow canine minds.
And, things don’t seem to be going back to normal any time soon.
Creatures of Habit.
Dogs like routine. Predictability and controllability are the keys to animals feeling comfortable and to reducing stress.
Think about the sorts of behaviours we are seeing in our fellow humans right now, such as panic buying, hoarding essentials and even competing with one another for toilet roll. This is pretty much resource guarding and associated with high-stress. When we lose predictability and controlability, we try to control what we can.
Just like us at this time, when things are in a constant state of flux, with unexpected changes popping up regularly, dogs may become worried, displaying behaviour associated with stress and anxiety.
- maintain some of your regular routine as much as possible such as your dog’s meal times, or chill out time in the evenings
- bring your dog for regular toilet breaks – changes to routine can upset toileting, especially in young dogs
- try to keep your dog’s bed-time routine the same
- establish a safe resting place for your dog, where they will not be disturbed or approached
- make sure your dog gets plenty of opportunity for rest, away from the action so that they can actually rest and switch off for a while
If you notice changes to your dog’s behaviour, even if you think those changes may be attributed to all this chaos, the first port of call is your vet. Contact your dog’s veterinary practice and ask them about procedures for attending for appointments, making enquiries and so on.
(You can read more on preparing your dog for stress-reduced vet visits here: Vet Ready!)
Get in touch with us to discuss your dog’s behaviour; we have lots of remote and in-person options available to you.
Over the last week or so, more and more people are working from home, staying home to mind children, or sadly, losing their job (hopefully only temporarily). This means that, all of a sudden, lots of dogs’ nearest and dearest are available and accessible a lot of the time.
Maybe dogs are behind all this crazy stuff after all…
While in the short term that’s certainly a good thing and very beneficial to dogs, who are likely basking in your company, this might make going back to normal (whatever that will be) quite difficult.
Suddenly leaving them alone for extended periods in the weeks or months ahead will be another change that dogs might find difficult to handle.
- as much as possible, try to leave your dog alone for even short periods most days, even if you just go out the front and sit in your car for twenty minutes
- establish a leaving-routine that tells them they will be settled with something yummy to work on while you go briefly and return – how long you go is set by your dog’s comfort levels
- set up a safe-place for your dog to settle in when you are there too
If your dog has difficulty with spending time separated from you or alone, get in touch and we can help you remotely or in-person.
Out and about
Since the lockdown, of effectively the entire country, was announced, public parks, beaches and many public spaces have suddenly become one of the few places people can go to for exercise, for a break from the house, to bring children and for entertainment.
And because normal routines have been turned on their heads, it’s busy at different times than usual, and it’s harder to predict when it might be quiet.
Lots of dogs are more comfortable when they can have some space from passers-by, joggers, kids, other dogs, traffic and other potential triggers. This may be more difficult right now.
Taking your dog for a relatively peaceful sniff is terribly difficult at the moment and that can further affect your dog’s stress levels, both out of the house and indoors.
- do your best to choose quieter times and places for outings
- give your dog as much space as possible from others
- be a responsible dog walker and don’t allow your dog to approach, run up to, jump on others without their consent – that includes other dogs.
With stress heightened at this time, other dogs might not be quite so tolerant of social faux pas.
There is no reason for a dog to approach or engage with others, without solicitation, just as it would be poor etiquette for humans. Your dog is not just being friendly.
- lots of joggers and lots of children running around may be difficult for many dogs who may exhibit behaviour associated with over-excitement, discomfort and distance increasing, all of which indicates the dog is experiencing a level of stress they are finding difficult to deal with
- use a long line or extendable lead, appropriately, so that your dog can roam and sniff, but you can still safely control them when needed
- get more value out of outings by introducing lots of sniffing tasks, engagement games and exploration
- always scoop the poop!
What do we do about puppies?
It is vitally important that puppies and young dogs have continuous and appropriate social exposure and environmental experience. During the first months of life, the brain of the young dog is more open to novel experiences and flexible in their ability to develop comfort.
If they don’t have this support, they may not be able to develop coping skills required in later life. It really is that crucial.
Our approach to puppy education, is holistic with us introducing all sorts of exercises to help prepare puppy for life in many ways. But here, we will just discuss providing puppy with appropriate social exposure, particularly in relation to other people, right now.
This is a tricky time as movement is so restricted and it’s important that we stick to the guidelines provided by the HSE and other government agencies.
That means visitors to your house, to help prepare puppy, are going to be very limited, if there will be any at all. It also may mean that you have fewer opportunities to visit others and their dogs, who may also help.
Because main streets in towns and shopping centres may be somewhat quieter, bringing puppies these places works out better as the dog gets a less overwhelming experience due to crowds and hustle.
Indeed, at this time, park land and forest walks may actually be too overwhelming while lots and lots of people flock there instead.
While this is often discussed in relation to puppies in their first four months of life, continued careful social and environmental exposure is important for young dogs in general. Even if a young puppy had wonderful experiential exposure early on, if this is interrupted or discontinued, they may still experience problems associated with poor early exposure when they are adults.
- bring your young dog for a short car trip everyday
- hang out in car parks, with the dog secured safely in the car, and let them sniff the air and watch the comings and goings
- working within the guidelines laid out, bring your young dog to quieter places and play engagement games
- play dress-up at home – wear wellies, hats, sunglasses, long coats; one at a time rather than all at once.
- play doorbell games
- #100daysofenrichment has now become essential participation for young dogs!
It’s not a good idea to let your young dog be pet or handled by others as this may be a source of infection. Instead work on people watching (or dog watching).
“Socialisation” is NOT about your young dog getting to meet, interact or play with every person or dog that appears. This just leads to magnetisation, and problems later on. Instead, make good things available when other people and dogs show up so your dog learns that others are a positve and that YOU make the magic happen, so they are more interested in you than in everything else.
The right time
It’s not all doom and gloom. With the right level of careful management and taking some proactive steps, this will go a long way to making sure your dog is OK through all this.
To help keep spirits up and to take advantage of this time at home with your pets, we have started another run of #100daysofenrichment
You can join at any time and this program will help you to provide tons of entertainment for your dog (and you). This is essentially a 100 day ‘training’ program, with hundreds of challenges all designed to help improve behavioural health. And it’s all free!
Because there will be a lull in people coming to the door, this is also a great time to play lots of Doorbell Games with your dog. This helps them learn more appropriate behaviour when the doorbell goes, meaning their response is easier to manage.
You will have better control of the doorbell sound as there are less likely to be random callers at this time.
#100daysofenrichment presents so much of this and more including covering things like greetings, husbandry and grooming, recall, engagement, play, loose leash walking, puzzles, sniffing and much much more.
Kids & K9s
With parents up and down the country attempting to homeschool, while also work from home, keep everyone safe, run the house and provide children with lots of entertainment, this is certainly challenging.
Children being home a lot is not just a change to your dog’s routine, but also means that the dog doesn’t get to rest when the house is quiet and might not have the opportunity to take a break from interactions and activity.
The kids are probably experiencing serious cabin fever at this point, along with lots of the adults too, so they might be a little more rambunctious than usual. And being home most of the time, under one roof, might add a significant amount of stress to a dog’s day to day life.
Stressed dogs and rambunctious kids can be a recipe for disaster.
Now that everyone might be busier at home, dogs may not get quite as much exercise, entertainment or attention as usual, and that can be a further stressor, on top of everything else.
Stress has cumulative effects on behaviour; for example, changes in routine, on top of primary care givers being present all the time, lots of activity, possibly less rest, less space to escape the action, all adds up.
In dog training, we refer to this as trigger stacking and it can contribute to dogs showing unwanted or unsafe behaviour.
We have entire Kids & K9s programs to help with everything from baby prep to juggling children and dogs; more here.
Make sure to directly and actively supervise all child-dog interactions. I know it’s hard to monitor everything that’s going on in the house, especially right now. But, when you can’t supervise, separate.
Set up a quiet place for your dog, where he can rest, have all his stuff and where he won’t be disturbed. In a spot where the dog won’t be approached, where children can’t access and so that you can relax, just a little, too.
While supervision has become a mantra when it comes to dogs and kids, clarity is required. What does the adult need to do to supervise safely?
Supervision is only helpful if you have an understanding of how dogs communicate their discomfort, when they need help and want a break from the action.
To learn more on ‘talking dog’, check out these excellent resources:
- Learn how to speak dog (then teach your kids) – from Dog Gone Safe
- Learn from Living with Kids and Dogs
The Ladder of Aggression shows the escalation in signalling a dog might demonstrate to request some time and space from an interaction, as their stress increases. If the dog’s more subtle and polite signals (green and yellow on the ladder) are not responded to appropriately, the dog’s discomfort will escalate and climb the ladder.
Children are very unlikely to read dogs accurately, and therefore might not respond appropriately when the dog is uncomfortable.
Teach your dog that you will always listen to his more polite signals, so he never feels the need to escalate.
Aside from these behaviours on the Ladder, other behaviours may be of concern if they are carried out in the presence of a child, in relation to a child’s belongings, and/or during and/or just after interaction with a child:
- yawning, blinking, turning their head away
- dog very still, deliberately not interacting with the child
- licking the child, even just once
- caching behaviour à attempting to hide or hoard belongings; directing this behaviour toward the child (the dog might try to push a child’s blanket with their nose, for example, and it’s often mistaken for ‘tucking the child in’)
- sniffing nappies, intense interest in the child
- taking food or toys from the child
- urinating (marking) in the presence of the child, or on or near their belongings
- changes in behaviour or behaviours seen in the presence of the child, and related goings on
- the dog removing itself from the child
- humping the child, or in the presence of the child
- zoomies, bowing or pouncing toward child (often misinterpreted as play behaviour)
- dog is chasing the child, or the dog is jumping up toward a child
These behaviours of concern are demonstrated, by the dog, because he needs space. This is functional behaviour – distance increasing or distance seeking behaviours.
If the dog cannot get distance, or time, from an interaction they will experience distress and many of these behaviours are associated with the dog seeking a way of dealing with that stress.
Generally, normal baby and child behaviour is very exciting and often overwhelming to dogs.
The changes that are ongoing at the moment, on top of the presence of children for longer periods may be all too much for normal functioning.
This lowers dogs’ stress thresholds, making them more sensitive to triggers for stress, which may often include interactions with and the behaviour of children.
Management is important for dog-child safety:
- to prevent adult mistakes, especially in relation to supervision (parents might be busy and have a million things on their minds so of course, may be distracted easily!)
- to prevent the child practicing inappropriate behaviour toward and around the dog
- to prevent the dog being put in a situation that causes him to feel uncomfortable around kids – every interaction the dog has is informing his attitude toward children…we must make sure we are building happy, calm, pleasant associations between the dog and children
- to prevent the dog learning to behave inappropriately around children – if the dog isn’t happy, calm and loose, remove him from the interaction
- to prevent inappropriate interaction between dog and child, especially where there is a risk posed to either or both – let’s keep it pleasant, for life-long friendships
Management might include:
- separating dog and child, by a closed, locked door where necessary
- take the dog with you so as not to leave the child and dog alone
- have the dog drag a lead or houseline so that he can be easily restrained or removed – make sure he drags the lead only when supervised, otherwise they might chew it or become tangled
- confine the dog safely
- instruct children to play carefully around the dog – provide constant supervision and guidance to help children develop appropriate skills (it’s not enough just to tell them “no” or to tell them once) – tell the child what you would like them to do
- give the dog plenty of downtime from the action, some place quiet and calm
- extra care is required with children’s friends who may not know the rules
- escape routes for the dog so he can access resources e.g. his food, bed, and so that he can get away from the interaction and activity – especially when the child is active
Be aware of Grumble Zones!
- teach children how to touch dogs gently and help dogs learn to enjoy this type of appropriate contact
- never force contact between children and dogs
- make sure good things happen when children are around dogs – so scolding or telling the dog off shouldn’t be happening around children
- giving dogs plenty of space from the child, their toys and baby equipment, especially if it’s big, moving or noisy
Separation is a good thing and can give everyone a break – your dog can take a break away from children and you can have a break from supervision. Separation is especially important when children are being particularly active, running around, jumping or wrestling, or on the floor – that’s the time the dog can go settle in their quiet place for a break.
Appropriate and Inappropriate Interactions
Never allow children:
- lean on the dog
- climb on the dog
- sit too close/crowd the dog
- sit or lie on the dog
- hug the dog
- handle or manipulate the dog
- tease or chase the dog
- take things from the dog
- scold the dog
- the dog has food, a chew, toy or other possessions
- the dog is active, especially if a larger dog
- the child is on the floor and/or active
- there is more than one child, or more than one dog
- the dog is sleeping or resting
- tight spaces
- difficult for the dog to find an escape route
(dogs may find it difficult to move away from a bonded person like an adult or parent)
Rules of engagement
Teach and model appropriate interactions with dogs:
- wait for the dog to approach you – don’t call or lure and don’t go to the dog, especially when they are resting, eating or chewing
- when the dog comes over, reach to pet them on their shoulder, side or chest – not their head or neck
- one hand on the dog at a time
- pet or interact for a three count (1-2-3) and then withdraw hands to ask the dog if they would like more; repeat only if the dog wants more
Teach children to Be A Tree:
This is especially important to prevent the dog jumping up and biting at clothes or feet.
This also helps prevent dogs learning to associate chasing and high excitement with children.
As soon as the dog approaches, be a tree!
To help reduce jumping up, mouthing or chasing, teach kids and dogs to play follow me/freeze:
Activities for kids and dogs
The suitability of ideas will largely be related to the child’s age, developmental stage and interests so adjust accordingly.
Lots of the challenges set over #100daysofenrichment are kid-friendly and most of the instruction is in video form so kids can easily take part, with adult guidance and supervision.
- teach kids to toss food rewards for dogs, rather than hand it to them to reduce the need for contact between small hands and teeth
- flat palm delivery will need to be guided – children need help with developing the skills and coordination to deliver treats safely, and that’s why tossing is better
- the same goes for toys so the adult takes the toy from the dog and gives to the child to toss or kick and playing games, where the dog is focused on the toy, are best
- teach children how to prepare the dog’s food, fill their water bowl, get enrichment challenges and puzzles ready
- there are simple training exercises that can be wonderful for children to work on like hand targeting, capturing polite behaviours in the kitchen and at the table
- draw up charts so that kids can monitor dog care tasks, behaviour or training exercises – kids love to keep an eye on the adults in the house and keep everyone on track!
Children love to train the adults:
- if safe, children can accompany an adult and dog on walks and outings
Some great child-dog resources
- Dogs and Babies blog
- Doggone Safe
- Pets & Kids and Family Paws blog
- Living with Kids & Dogs
- For parents, from Dog Gone Safe
- Playlist of information about dogs and children from Jennifer Shryock
- Free webinar: Dog Safety: what to teach kids (from Joan Orr)
AniEd wishes you all the best during this challenging time. Little refinements to your dog’s daily life can help with all these lifestyle changes that dogs are so likely to find distressing.
We are here to help with your dog’s behaviour through all this and are available for in-person and virtual help.