Preventing Negative Behaviors During COVID-19
Updated: Aug 28, 2021
Despite the many jokes I've seen on social media already about how our dogs have been waiting their entire lives for something like this, social distancing and/or self isolation can have negative impacts on your dog's behavior. This especially applies to those of you who have dogs that are fearful towards other dogs, people, or outside stimuli.
I figured giving you some tips to try your best to prevent these negative behaviors from happening would only be the right thing to do.
I asked world renowned dog trainer Victoria Stilwell (no joke you guys, she actually spoke to me!) for some advice and she was very helpful. Thank you Victoria Stilwell!
1. If you can walk your dog still, please do. Please practice keeping at least 6 feet from others when out and DO NOT let others pet your dog and DO NOT pet other people's dogs. There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to animals as of this writing, however if a person with the virus touches their pet or your pet, there is a small chance you could become sick from this transmission. Better yet, go on decompression walks instead of walks around the neighborhood. These walks are better suited for dogs anyways and bonus allow you and your dog to have space away from others. If your state or nation decides to completely shut down and you cannot leave your home then you will need to skip walking your dog. This means the next pieces of advice are even more important if that happens to you.
2. Offer a frozen Kong/stuffed toy more often than you normally would. A frozen Licki-mat can work as well. This can provide up to an hour of mental enrichment for your dog and be a wonderful way to keep their minds focused on something fun.
3. Puzzle toys can be used as another form of mental enrichment. Again, maybe consider offering this to your dog more often than normal. If you are staying home for a few weeks with your dog, and you don't mind messing with their potty schedule, try feeding your dog's meal more spread out throughout the day using these puzzles and job toys.
4. Play calming music like R&B or classical music. Research shows that classical music does relax a nervous or anxious dog. If your dog needs some down time, play them some music to relax to.
5. Let your dog sniff in the yard! A dog uses a lot of brain power when sniffing, you'd be surprised just how much work smelling is for them. Hide some treats or toys outside and let them search for them. This is a sure fire way to change up your routine with them and it will make them more tired than you think.
6. Play hide and seek! Ask your dog for a "wait" in a secondary room and then hide. Yell your release word once hidden and wait for them to find you. Call out "find me" every so often until they do. This is a favorite with Ranger and myself!
7. Similar to the above game, play "find it"! Hide a toy or treat around the house for your dog to find. This can provide a few seconds to many minutes of fun for your dog depending on how challenging you hide the toy or food. Ranger will search for 15 minutes or more sometimes before finding his toys now.
8. Fetch! A classic game that provides both mental and physical enrichment. This can also be played outside or inside, meaning that you can entertain them anywhere with this one.
9. Obedience training can provide wonderful bonding time and obviously helps you get the well behaved dog you want. Don't forget to train your dog especially during these days of uncertainty.
10. Give them attention! Some simple pets or cuddles (if your dog likes that type of thing, and if they don't some verbal praise will do) can go a long way. Let them know you are aware of them and that you care.
11. Don't isolate them to your home. They will never understand what is happening outside and why everyone is home. Again, it may seem like all of this time together is great for them however once life goes back to normal, your dog could end up developing more fearful or anxious behaviors. If your dog already has these behaviors, you might notice them getting worse once the quarantine is over. This is because they don't understand the reason for such changes and big changes like this can cause stress or even trauma. So be mindful to get them out of the house and into the front yard, or back yard. Maybe cross the street, even go for a walk if you can. Be sure to give them down time and time to be alone too.
12. Taking that last point a bit further, give your dog alone time even when in the home together. Fill a King or Lick-mat and give it to them in a bedroom and shut the door. Let them nap in another room or in their crate and don't bother them. Go out for some ice cream or get the mail without them coming with. This alone time will help them see that they can be safe and okay without you nearby.
13. Be mindful that if you have a dog that is fearful of people or dogs, or visitors in the home, or outside stimuli, you will most likely need to actively provide acclimation periods to prevent any more negative behaviors from forming. Once people can come over to your home again, don't throw a party. Instead have one or two people over for just a few minutes. Then the next day maybe have a few people over for a little longer, and so on. Allow your dog to acclimate to normal life again, before asking them to handle so much at once.
I hope you all stay safe and healthy during these times but also please keep your pet's needs in mind and follow these tips so they can come out of this quarantine better than they started!