With the COVID-19 pandemic, people are finding the entirety of their lives upended. For dog owners in particular, they have an additional challenge: coping with their super bored dogs!
What Happens When Routines Disappear
Dogs thrive on routines. Experts at picking up on the smallest of patterns, our dogs get used to the daily routine. When their meals will be fed. When we get ready for work, school or other outings. Whether that is the day that they will get to enjoy a walk, hike, visit with a friend for a play date or go to their favorite group dog training class.
So, what happens when all of those routine suddenly disappear?
Well, you have a dog who is none too pleased!
Where they may have been used to you leaving to go to work and sleeping the time away, now you are home, trying to work remotely. This is a strange new world! The human is home, therefore the human should be doing stuff with them!
In the blink of an eye, their worlds have been turned upside down. The result may be that now you find them constantly underfoot, getting themselves into trouble, seemingly finding ways to drive you even more insane than you were slowly inching towards given the state of the world.
Just know that your dog is not doing any of this out of spite. They are trying to adjust and may be struggling to do so. However, there are ways that we can help them.
Create a New Normal
First off, try to create some a few "new normal" routines that your dog can rely on.
Even though you may be working from home, have a schedule of when you are going to wake up and practice your normal "getting ready" routine (e.g. taking a shower, getting dressed, eating breakfast, etc.).
Whatever you used to do a month ago with your dog during that time...do that now. Did you take your dog out to potty first on-leash and then give their breakfast followed up by a chew? Do that.
If you were crating your dog while you went to work, consider doing that for an hour or so at a time. Or if you have baby gates or something similar, use these to allow yourself to work and your dog to go settle. If your dog prefers to stay closer to you, another option is to bring their bed or mat into the same room and offer them them a chew (stuffed Kong, bone, bully stick, etc.).
That being said, do not be afraid to use your crate if your dog truly cannot settle. I am not talking about having them in there all day, just long enough for a a nap that is a few hours long. Using a crate in this way is NOT a punishment and should not be viewed as such. Rather, you are helping your dog take a nap so that you can do human things.
Create other "new normal" routines, such as when you will do "doggie time" and what you will do during that time. While your go-to may be have been to physically workout your dog with things such as fetch, running, taking walks and hiking, these simply may not be viable options right now. Instead, leverage working your dog out mentally.
Mental Stimulation for the Win
This fact doesn't simply apply during this unsettling time. Allowing your dog to work out those amazing brains of theirs is a MUCH better way to tucker them out, and satiate them, then relying solely on physical exercise alone.
So how can you actually go about doing this?!
Short and fun training sessions. I'm talking 5-10 minutes, MAYBE 15 minutes if you pushed it. Now is the time to hone your dog's skills in any number of ways. Getting their sits and downs to be super fast and solid - no lazy puppy sits! Letting them ace their stays for longer duration, with greater distractions and longer distance. Helping them learn how to do truly polite greetings; practice with everyone who is stuck at home with you too! Use your hallway to work on your loose leash walking skills. Feel free to check out and participate in the Super Pup Challenge we've started on the Friends of Family Dog University Facebook Page. We're also in the midst of revamping our Family Dog and Puppy Kindergarten courses and will be releasing the Walk Nice course soon, so stay tuned for those.
Maybe your dog struggles with something like stealing things they are not supposed to or not coming when called. Well, lucky for you we have two great online courses that address these concerns: Leave It Course and Rapid Recall course.
It doesn't have to just be basic manners though. Help your dog learn some fun, engaging and super fun tricks! Paw. Playbow. Roll-over. Weave in-between your legs. Retrieve things. The list is endless. These are not only fun and incredibly adorable, they will work out that brain of theirs! If you need a leaping out point, check out the Novice Trick Dog: Tricks for Titles course we offer through Dog Sport University.
Then there is true problem-solving and tapping into your dog's instincts. Sniffing and hunting. You can make this game what YOU are interested in and comfortable with. Meaning, you can have your dog hunt for food or toys or graduate to having them hunt for novel target odors (e.g. Birch, Anise or Clove). I'm a HUGE fan of Scent Work and think if there was ever a time for EVERY dog to be playing this game, NOW is the time to do it. If you want to learn more about Scent Work, check out the FREE webinar, What is Scent Work here. We've also got a fun daily challenge running right now through the Friends of Scent Work University Facebook Page you are welcome to check out and participate in! If you're ready to dive in with both feet, check out our Introduction to Scent Work course.
Time to Check Out Canine Conditioning
While mental stimulation is indeed SUPER important to aid in keeping your dog happy, satiated and frankly sane, we also want to ensure they are staying physically healthy. Depending on your situation, their options for physical exercise may be incredibly limited. This is where canine conditioning comes into play.
You do not need fancy equipment or tons of space to do this. The exercises are designed by FitPaws Master Trainer Kathy Childers to promote fitness, flexibility and injury-prevention while being fun and safe to do.
Kathy's Canine Conditioning Foundations is a fantastic program for ALL dogs to do. Once you've finished that, or if you and your dog are already familiar with these basics, you can then move onto the Beginning Canine Conditioning course. These programs will result in your dog building muscle, having more body awareness and avoid them getting out of shape, and more prone to injuring themselves, during this time of upheaval.
In closing, these are unsettling times but there are ways that we can make them less so. When it comes to our dogs, we can help them better cope with all of this. Doing so will allow our dogs to be happier and less of a stressor on us. We all need ways to reduce our stress in these unsettling times.
Frankly, making these changes and doing more training and fun activities with our dogs will also help fight against the daily deluge of awfulness the world is dishing out hourly.
So let's make some lemonade out these piles of lemons! Let's get to playing and training our dogs.
Author: Dianna L. Santos, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.
In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!