Dogs and COVID-19

Dogs and Social Distancing – Keep it Up!

Most of us simply cannot wait for this “social distancing” stuff to be over.

But what if your dog is enjoying it?

Now, I’m not referring the time you’re spending at home (although your dog very well may be enjoying that, too).  I’m talking about social distancing on your walks and in public spaces.

Allow me to explain:

I recently had the pleasure of attending Nelson Hodges’ Relationship Based Behavior Modification workshop.  As often happens to me at workshops, I learned how to verbalize and put words to something that I may have noticed, but hadn’t yet defined in a repeatable way.  Allow me to use that information to frame this discussion.

  1. Anti-Social –  dogs who are against interactions with others
  2. A-Social – dogs who are indifferent about interaction
  3. Social – dogs who desire interactions on their own terms – usually pushy and rude
  4. Pro-Social – dogs who use proper interaction as part of a social unit – their actions benefit the group

Here’s the thing folks – only the dogs in category 3 – Social – are upset about social distancing right now.  The other dogs are saying, “hallelujah, strangers are staying out of my space!”

I’ve seen meme after meme from dog trainers about how nice the social distancing is at the park – because it’s keeping us and our clients from being bombarded by well meaning, but uneducated, people.

Let me speak to the owners of the “Social” dogs for a moment.  I know it breaks your heart when you have to tell you super ooey-gooey labrador puppy that he can’t just run up and say hello to every person and dog he sees at the park.*  But guess what?  I say this with love – it isn’t about him.  It’s about the shy dog who doesn’t like strange dogs rushing up into her space.  It’s about the owner who is working hard to reduce her dog’s leash reactivity and is trying hard to prevent an explosion.  It’s about the owner who has a pro-social dog who has no problem with you or your dog, but knows that face to face leashed greetings with strange dogs often end poorly.

Socializing doesn’t mean you have to touch, wrestle, lick, or be within so many feet of another dog.  Socializing is getting out and seeing the world – taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and doing so in a responsible way.**

So maybe, just maybe, our social distancing practice during this pandemic can encourage some of you to really analyze your behavior out in public with your dog.  Are you the person who asks every dog who walks by to say hi?  Are you the person who always says, “but my dog is friendly!” without ever pausing to consider the feelings of the other person or dog?  If so, I would ask you to consider trying to see the world from the other owner and dog’s perspective.  Try to practice respectful distancing when this is all over.  Am I suggesting you should never ask to pet a puppy at the park again?  Not necessarily.  But you should be willing to graciously accept a “no” if the owner/trainer doesn’t want to participate, and you should DEFINITELY stop forcing attention and interaction on the people and dogs who don’t care for it.

 

*Training tip – the folks who let their puppy spend the first several months doing whatever they want at the park, and saying hi to everyone all the time, are the ones who call me between 6-8 moths old and say, “my dog just can’t focus and he pulls me towards every dog and person in the park!”  Guess what, you accidentally taught your dog that this is exactly how the park works and what he’s supposed to do!  It’s okay to set boundaries early and show your puppy that the park is about the two of you getting out and having a great time – not about seeing how many people and dogs you can rush up to and smother with kisses.  There are times and ways in which saying hi is appropriate – but it has to be done responsibly and within reason.

**We fully support supervised, guided playtime/social time at daycares and boarding facilities where the staff are not only supervising, but stepping in and teaching the dogs what Pro-Social behavior looks like and how to read the body language of the other dogs involved.  There is a big difference between an off leash scenario like this and randomly walking head on at another leashed dog out in the park.

 

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Photo just for attention – and because they’re adorable.  Our dogs, Ellie and Tucker, with Search and Rescue dogs Sabre and Reign.

 

Categories: Behavior, Blog, dog health, dog training, Dogs and COVID-19, Fearful dogs, leash laws, owner encouragement, Puppy Socialization, Rescues, training tips | Leave a comment

COVID-19 and Crate Rest

If your schedule hasn’t been affected by COVID-19, aka Coronavirus, then you are in the minority.  We have many friends who are trying to figure out new schedules for themselves, their employees, and their children.

But what about your dog?

Many folks won’t realize that these changes may be affecting their dog until a negative behavior begins or occurs.  Dogs love structure and schedules, so as you make your plans for creating a new normal over the next few weeks, don’t forget to include the dog!

We’re all basically on two weeks of “crate rest” – so don’t forget to give your dog crate rest*, too!  Most adult dogs sleep 12-14 hours a day.  Puppies under 10 months old need to be closer to 18-20 hours!  When we disrupt our normal schedules, it is very easy for our dogs to miss out on their normal nap times and rest periods and become anxious, grumpy, or otherwise off their normal.

You have permission to crate your dog even if you are working from home.

Let me say that again – you have permission to crate your dog even if you are working from home.

If your dog is struggling with finding a new normal, help him out by keeping his sleep pattern as close to his previous normal as you can.  Schedule naps, play, training, and feeding times.  You’re the human – it’s your job to advocate for your dog and help him navigate your world.  And sometimes, that means putting him down for a nap whether he likes it or not.

I can already hear some folks saying, “But my dog goes crazy if I crate him while I’m home!”  This is exactly why we encourage our clients to practice utilizing their crate for a variety of circumstances and at different times of the day.  Normally, we encourage this habit because of the potential of a medical reason on the dog’s part for unexpected crate rest (kennel cough, surgery, pulled muscles, etc), but today, we can add “just in case you get stuck working from home during a pandemic” to the list.

If your dog struggles with being crated while you’re home, try some of the following:

  • Begin feeding your dog his meals in his crate.
  • Make sure your dog is getting adequate exercise – we’re talking planned and purposeful exercise, not just “walking around and barking at birds out the window.”  Go for a walk (6 ft way from other humans, of course), play structured fetch, paper plate recall, or any number of other structured activities that use both your dog’s body and brain.  (Your training homework can also count here – hint, hint!)
  • Cover the crate – for some dogs, seeing everything going on outside the crate is just too hard and they settle better with a blanket over the kennel.
  • If covering the crate isn’t helping, move the crate to a central location so you can provide feedback more easily – treats and/or release from the crate for good/quiet behavior, verbal reminders or crate pops for poor behavior.  Rinse and repeat in small increments.
  • Allow the dog to have special edibles or toys while in the crate – and in the crate only!  Make the crate a desirable place to be.  (Please be sure to only provide edibles or toys that are safe, especially for unsupervised use.)

To be clear, the concept of making sure your dog has adequate rest applies in a wide variety of circumstances, not just during a pandemic.

The nature of our work and schedules means that our dogs, Tucker and Ellie, are very accustomed to having a slightly different schedule most days.  At the moment, however, we are practicing down time and crate rest because we have ended up with a foster dog in the house.  Even at 9 years old, this dog needs the rest and downtime because she was an only child until three days ago.  As she navigates her new world, new people, new siblings, it’s important to be sure that we aren’t asking her to do all of that with a low battery.  So right now, as I write this, she’s crated and her crate is covered to encourage her to take some deep breaths, nap a little, and give her space to process.  She’s doing well so far, but it’s our job to be sure that we do everything we can to set her up for success.

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Daisy – 9 year old Weimaraner 

 

*If your dog is able to rest well  without a crate, modify the advice to fit a dog who can rest on his “place” or in a particular area of your home.

Categories: Behavior, Blog, crate training, dog training, Dogs and COVID-19, owner encouragement, Rescues, training tips | 2 Comments

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