You asked. We listened. So many of you had questions concerning the pandemic and your dog…How is this affecting them? What can we do to help them adjust? Can my dog really pick up on my own stress and anxiety?
Nikki Ivey, founder of DogSpeak here in Nashville, reached out to offer some great advice we can all use. Not only does Nikki and her team provide in-home training sessions, they can also serve you and your dog with group classes, Zoom consults and online training. She has some practical ways you can help alleviate stress from the pandemic and your dog…
We can all agree that 2020 has brought a whirlwind of change and emotion for dogs and their humans. With kids out of school and parents working from home, dogs are getting a lot more attention and less quiet time during the day. So how will dogs be affected when humans go back to the office and kids go back to school?
Luckily, dogs adapt fairly quickly to changing environments, provided they don’t have a lack of confidence. The first week may be confusing for them, but they should get used to the routine fairly quickly. If you notice your dog is stressed about the sudden change in schedule, there are some exercises you can do to help build your dog’s confidence.
While dogs need physical activities such as fetch, walks and playtime with other dogs, mental stimulation is key for building confidence and exerting energy. While physical exercise is great and necessary, it will only build your dog’s stamina. Mental stimulation, on the other hand, will cause your dog to be less anxious and will allow them to rest for longer periods of time. This is akin to a person training for a marathon. Each day the runner is building stamina by running longer distances. If that same person has a mentally stimulating day at work, they are more likely to be tired at the end of the day. One of my favorite ways to give dogs mental stimulation is to take their regular meal and turn it into a mental game called hand-feeding.
To practice hand-feeing, sit with your dog’s bowl in your lap and wait for your dog to offer behavior that you like (such as sit or down). Do this without cuing or commanding your dog. Once a behavior is offered, give your dog a bit of food. Do this until the bowl is empty. This exercise allows your dog to take responsibility for their behavior, and teaches problem-solving skills and self-control. Dogs with the ability to problem-solve are less likely to be anxious. If your dog has never learned how to offer behavior without a command, it will be a slow process at first. After a few times they should begin to understand the game, though. You can check out a video on our website DogSpeak101.
You can also use feeding toys and puzzles to help with mental stimulation. The Tricky Treat Ball ™ has been a longtime favorite of mine. It starts as an easy game but becomes more difficult as the ball empties of food. I also like Snuffle Mats™ which require your dog to hunt through tall carpet-type material to find his or her food. It’s a great way to satisfy your dog’s need to scrounge and hunt.
You can also do a quick Internet search for “dog enrichment” or “dog mental stimulation” to find other games. Be sure these games are positive and don’t use any type of adverse techniques.
If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, I encourage you to set-up a session with a professional who specializes in positive training. Separation anxiety is a much more serious issue than a lack of mental stimulation. You want to work on this behavioral issue before you need to leave your dog for 8-10 hours daily. Signs your dog suffers from separation are excessive drooling/panting, howling/crying/barking and other destructive behavior while you are gone.
If you normally crate your dog during the day when you’re not home, begin crating him or her for small amounts of time while you are at home. This will help your dog get back into the routine of not having the ability to free roam. Giving a Kong™ stuffed with treats works well for most dogs so they have a positive association with their crate.
For more information, blogs and training videos we encourage you to check out our website or our podcast (search DogSpeak on Spotify or Apple Music). Feel free to reach out to us regarding the exercises above.
Nikki Ivey is DogSpeak’s founder, trainer and canine behavioral specialist. She has been training dogs and their owners for almost 25 years. Nikki works with dogs displaying poor manners, fear and other behavioral issues with the use of positive methods. Nikki is also the Director of Volunteer Training for Retrieving Independence, a non-profit that works with inmates to train service dogs. She has also written multiple books and produced several online courses to assist pet owners, business owners and and their staff, and rescue organizations.
Want more info on the pandemic and your dog?
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And more things to consider as we move from being home all day to being away at work or school.