It’s the uncertainty that gets you, isn’t it? We know the virus is going to affect us, in many cases, it’s already affecting us, but we don’t know how bad it’s going to get and when we’ll see a return to normality.
I hope that we keep the no handshake/hug rule though and I’d also quite like to keep the social distancing rule of one metre between me and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. I’ll petition for that at a later date!
Anyway, I think we can all agree that life as we knew it has already changed and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. So what does that mean for our dogs?
There are practical implications and energetic implications, both of which will impact on life with and for our dogs in the coming weeks and months. I’m going to talk about them here so we can start planning and taking action. By taking control of the elements we can control, we’re reducing the uncertainty and that in itself will help us.
Walkies is quite often a social activity, whether we want it to be or not. I’m going to talk about the human-human virus spreading as I know as much about that as you do (unless you’re a medical professional or epidemiologist in which case you know significantly more. My knowledge has come from Sky News and Twitter). I am going to talk about walkies and ways to occupy your dog if you’re self-isolating.
On walkies, you might want to escape other people and keep your distance without appearing rude. We need the ‘yellow dog’ campaign for humans at the moment; if we’re wearing yellow, we need space. I’ve been campaigning for that for years! Anyway, if you see someone coughing and spluttering in the distance and you need to quick march away from them, your dog needs to know what’s going on. A ‘let’s go’ cue will help you immensely. It’s something I use as a management tool for reactive dogs by teaching them that ‘let’s go’ means ‘move this way with me now, don’t look back, awesome things are about to happen if you walk with me in the opposite direction!’ If you’d like my guide to training this, send me a message and it’s all yours.
Our dogs need exercise, but if we’re self-isolating we need an alternative. If you don’t have the option of support from friends, family or dog walkers, don’t worry, your dog will be fine as long as they have the option of going out to the loo and exercising in a new way, indoors, in the short term. I wrote a blog recently about ways to occupy your dog indoors which has some ideas for you and if you’re self-isolating and need some more ideas, send me an email and I’ll send over a couple more ideas with instructions for you.
Working from Home
As someone who loves nothing more than a day working from home, I can say with authority that routine is everything. If you’re used to getting up and leaving the house for work, this is going to be a huge – and well-received – shift for your dog.
For their sake, and yours, stick to your usual routine. If you need to change your walkies routine because you’re self-isolating please keep the time you walked with your dog as dedicated activity time so they’re still exercising and using their brain.
You might need to adjust your dog’s food intake if their exercise has been reduced, especially if you’re using more treats for indoor activities.
At some point, you will be going back to your normal routine and we need to make sure that we’re not creating a challenge further down the line for our dogs. Make sure they have some alone-time, make sure they are happy by themselves during the day as well as enjoying some additional time with you.
Fear and Anxiety
This is an unsettling time and for many of us, there are fears that transcend catching the illness itself. We all know people that fall into the ‘at risk’ category, some of us might be in that category, work opportunities will be affected, finances will be affected, travel will be affected and we know that there’s a nationwide shortage on loo roll so let’s hope none of us gets the squits in the coming weeks.
Our dogs are affected by our emotions and if we’re behaving differently, they will be affected by that. That’s not to say that you need to pretend everything is ok, far from it, we need to lean into our emotions so that we can find a way through this. However, be aware of any changes in your dog’s behaviour as you’re navigating your own emotions.
Your dog will also be the perfect teacher as you learn to manage any fear and anxiety that you’re feeling. You might think that now really isn’t the time to think about mindfulness and that there’s way too much going on but that’s exactly why now IS the time to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a skill and that means we have to practice, practice, practice in order to develop it and make it an automatic part of our day.
Luckily, because we love training our dogs, practising skills through repetition is something we’re brilliant at, isn’t it?!
If you have found yourself saying something along the lines of ‘I just need some pace to breathe’ or ‘I wish I had some space to think’ then this will give you exactly what you need.
Imagine you’re out on walkies with your dog(s). That’s not too tough to imagine, is it?! You’re walking, but you’re already thinking about the day ahead, all the things you need to do and that actually, you’d appreciate it if your dog would speed up so that you can get home and crack on. Your dog won’t budge. There’s something in the hedge that needs to be investigated and it’s a non-negotiable situation. You plead, at first, explaining that you really don’t have time to waste this morning. You might give a little tug on the lead, which only means your dog has implanted themselves with more strength and determination because they are NOT MOVING until this situation has been investigated thoroughly. You watch as they immerse themselves in what they’re doing. You’re curious about what’s going on for them and you smile, realising that you do have time and you relax into the moment. That’s all mindfulness is, paying attention to the present moment, and it’s one of the most profound lessons that we can learn with and from our dogs.
Before you get started, remember that this is one means of being mindful and you can apply the theory to any aspect of your life. Try to adopt this approach as often as possible during your daily activities. Just like any training, we have to learn about it and practice while we’re in a calm state, not when we’re in the midst of a stressful situation. We practice, practice, practice so that we can feel the benefits during a stressful situation!
If you have young humans, I’m sure you’re bracing yourself for spending much more time with them at home in the coming weeks. There might also be child-care arrangements that you’re part of to help out your friends and family so additional young humans will descend on your home.
This will affect your dog!
Please make sure that house-rules apply at all times. Your dog has to have a safe space that they can retreat to, away from the children. When they’re in their safe space, they mustn’t be touched or disturbed; you can call them to you if you need them.
Remember that the additional noise and energy levels will have an impact on your dog and their tolerance levels. Whether they love the high energy or find it overwhelming, they’ll be affected and need to be monitored and given time out.
Having the cues you need to ask your dog to go to their bed or come to you will mean you can calm a situation before it escalates, communicate with your dog in a way they understand and reward them for a job well done.
If you have a 5/6yr old, we have something fabulous for you to occupy your child and they could read it out loud to your dog, so a win-win in terms of a calm activity!
I was talking with a vet about their plans for the coming weeks as, selfishly, I wanted to know that I could call on them if I find myself in an emergency situation with one of the four-legged team.
Vets and vet nurses are often forgotten when talking about ‘front-line staff’ but regardless of what’s going on with us humans, if we have an emergency with our non-human family members, we need them; lives depend on them.
I was reassured that it was business as usual and that at the moment, they would only close if official guidance told them to and in that case, they would be providing emergency care. If it’s something you’re worried about or something that you might want reassurance about, give your vet a call or check their website for policy updates.
One thing that I have heard many times over the last few days (due to my news-channel addiction) is that older and vulnerable people that have self-isolated cite their pets as their only company while they’re home ‘alone’ for their own safety. While we’re all facing the fear in our own way, let’s remember that our non-human family still need us to be their advocate and the person that shows them kindness and consistency.
By being kind and consistent, we will shift the feelings of fear towards feelings of kindness and that will help us to be a catalyst for positive change, which is exactly what the world needs right now.