I am feeling very anxious, will this affect my dog too?
A guest blog by our clinical behaviourist, Lorella Notari on what owners can do to help keep their dog calm during coronavirus lockdown.
While we're in a country-wide lockdown, our lifestyles and routines are shifting and emotions are high. Therefore, it's more important than ever to make sure that your pet's feeling calm.
One of the things we humans say we love most about our dogs is that they often know how we're feeling. Dogs are capable of reading and responding to human emotions but that doesn't mean that they understand why we're feeling the way we do. This means that our anxieties might make our dogs anxious too.
Dogs can sense when humans are anxious
Dogs and humans have similar social structures - It's part of the reason we live so well together. Dogs are also great observers - our facial expressions, posture, the way we move, the smells we give off, and our tone of voice, all give our dogs vast quantities of information about how we might be feeling. They use this information to predict what might happen next, for example, a game, a snooze, a cuddle, or a meal. Our dogs also take cues from us about how to respond in particular circumstances...
When a human responds calmly to new events (e.g. a plastic bag flapping in the wind), their dog finds it easier to approach the event calmly too. When a human is feeling anxious, their dog picks up the signs of anxiety but doesn't know what's caused it. This can make the dog feel less secure and more anxious too.
Currently, we may be feeling a sense of anxiety about Covid-19. When we feel anxious, our behaviour, our mood and even the way we smell might all be very different to our dogs. Plus. for many dogs, routines have changed dramatically. Spending more time with our dogs can increase our bond with them, but may also add to our own worries when we are trying to ensure their needs are met. Our dogs can easily become a central focus for our love and attention when other social contacts aren't available, and this impacts on our dogs too.
5 ways to positively boost your dog's feelings (and your own!)
To give a positive boost to your dog's feelings (and boost your own in the process), here are a few easy ideas on how to minimise the effect your natural anxieties might have on your dog:
Maintain your routine
Dogs like a predictable world. If you can, keep mealtimes, playtimes, relaxing times and bedtime consistent. It doesn't have to be exact, and you can vary how you deliver food and the sort of games you play.
Still exercise as much as possible
If you can, and in line with the Government advice, get out of the house for a walk with your dog. Give your walk a boost by playing games as you go, like dropping a clean hanky and going back with your dog to find it, or finding a quiet place to stop and play some training games for treats. Let your dog stop and sniff plants and lampposts!
Experiment with play and enrichment
Get creative and provide your dog with brain games or feed them in a different way. Teach your dog to find members of the family hiding in the house; feed them from an egg box or just scatter their dry food on the floor; hide treats in a knotted tea-towel. Positive training sessions, with small steps and wondrous rewards (your attention, toys, food treats) can help build or maintain a happy and healthy relationship with your dog. Keep training sessions short - just a couple of minutes. End on a positive note and then go and do something else that's fun for both of you.
Don't forget to rest!
Find a spot in the sun, inside or out, settle down with a book, a TV programme or just a duvet and let your dog have some quiet time with a chew or just snoozing in your company.