Supporting our dogs in a changing world.

Around the world we have all felt the impact of COVID 19 and the resulting restrictions and lockdowns. Several studies have revealed how the restrictions have also impacted dogs and their owners.

A British study showed that four times as many dogs had company all day during “lockdown” compared to the number of dogs who did pre-lockdown. In addition the number of dogs in the study who typically were left alone for two or more hours a day dropped from 48.5 percent before COVID restrictions were put in place to 5.4 percent during the restrictions. 

The dogs in the same study were walked on a leash and less often than before the restrictions resulting in the dogs having fewer interactions with other dogs.  Owners also reported that they played with and trained their dogs more often during the restrictions than prior to them.

Another study looked at the impact of the company of dogs on humans during lockdown.  Not surprisingly, researchers found that dogs (and other animals) were sources of emotional and physical support for people.  They also identified specific challenges for the owners such as accessing veterinary care, coping with the loss of a dog and, particular to essential workers, arranging care for their dogs.

A US report indicated one US childrens hospital had treated three times as many children for dog bites than usual since the COVID related restrictions were put in place. The report authors suggested that increased child-dog exposure (due to children being home rather than at school), the dog being affected by the general stress of their household, and inadequate adult supervision of children around dogs contributed to the large increase. 

As COVID 19 vaccinations become more readily available, many dogs will go through yet another change as owners spend more time away from home and their dog. This could lead to many dogs experiencing separation related issues. Other dogs may need to adjust to seeing more people or spending more time with children if their owners are providing childcare to assist parents returning to work.

Owners can help their dogs adjust to changes in a number of ways, some of which are: 

  • Learning a new activity together. If in person classes are not available, there are fun, online, reward- training courses owners can take.  A new activity can build self confidence in a dog and challenge the dog mentally.
  • Taking advantage of the online resources and learning dog body language in order to recognize signals that indicate the dog is feeling stressed and make changes before things escalate.
  • Providing enrichment activities and food dispensing items to keep the dog busy and engaged.
  • Arranging for the dog to have social time with dog friends if the dog enjoys the company of other dogs.
  • Practicing leaving the dog alone for short periods of time and gradually building up the time so the dog becomes comfortable.
  • Arranging for appropriate care for the dog in the owner’s absence.
Teaching your dog new tricks or a new activity can boost confidence and challenge them

If you are an owner who will be providing childcare for parents who are returning to work, plan to supervise closely, to teach the children appropriate behavior around dogs and to give the dog somewhere to go away from the attention of children when he needs it. Access online programs and learn how children should and should not interact with dogs. Involve children in the learning.

Hire a qualified, certified force-free trainer or behaviour consultant or enlist the help of a veterinary behaviorist if your dog has behavioral issues he needs help with like separation distress or anxiety. 

It looks like more changes are in the way for many and, as dog owners, we can make these changes as comfortable as possible for our dogs. 

Jane Bowers, BA, CPDT-KA, CABC


Christley, Robert M., et al. “Impact of the First COVID-19 Lockdown on Management of Pet Dogs in the UK.” Animals, vol. 11, no. 5, 2021, Accessed Feb 2021.

Dixon, Cinnamon A., and Rakesh D. Mistry. “Dog Bites in Children Surge during Coronavirus Disease-2019: A Case for Enhanced Prevention.” The Journal of Pediatrics, vol. 225, 2020, pp. 231-232, Accessed 02 2021.

Shoesmith, Emily, et al. “The Influence of Human–Animal Interactions on Mental and Physical Health during the First COVID-19 Lockdown Phase in the U.K.: A Qualitative Exploration.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 18, no. 976, 2021, Accessed 02 2021.

Travelling safely with your dog

Families in many areas are currently enjoying the currently-reduced restrictions around COVID 19 and taking trips with their dogs. To keep those trips enjoyable, we need to be aware of and avoid hazards that may put our dogs at risk when we travel with them.

Before you go, make sure that your pet has identification. As someone who does missing pet recovery, I recommend that all pets be microchipped and wear tags. Now is also a good time to check that all your contact information is current and that the tags are legible. In some areas like ours, the vet can tattoo an identification number into the dog’s ear.

Brush up on your pet’s training with some reward training to fine-tune important behaviours such as coming when called (like Oliver is doing in the photo below) and leaving items alone.

Oliver coming when called

Enroll in a pet first-aid course (some are even available online) and purchase a good pet first aid kit and have it handy in your vehicle and at home. Have your local veterinary office’s number readily available. When travelling, have the contact for vets in your destination area easily accessible.

In your vehicle, use either a crash-tested seatbelt harness or a secure crate to keep your dog safe. Unrestrained dogs can be a hazard to themselves and to others.  If you are injured in an accident, emergency personnel may be delayed in assisting you if a loose adult dog is guarding you and your vehicle. A frightened dog may bolt from the scene.

If your dog is excitable or uncomfortable riding in the car, ask your veterinarian for help with motion sickness and consult a reward trainer to help with your dog’s issues in the car before you leave. Teach your dog to remain in the vehicle until given a cue word to exit (even once their seatbelt harness is undone).

If you use a crate, attach an information sheet about your pet and include vet and alternate caregiver information in the event you cannot care for your dog. As with the seatbelt harness, teach your dog to remain in the vehicle after exiting the crate until cued to exit the vehicle. .

Dogs should never be transported in the bed of a truck without using a secured crate. Restraining dogs in the back of a truck with a leash can result in dogs being hanged.  When in truck beds, they are also exposed to the elements risking hypothermia, heatstroke, eye and ear injury and they have no protection in case of an accident. In many places having a dog loose in the bed of a pickup is illegal and can void insurance coverage.

Prepare your pet for experiences that might be new to them. My dogs sometimes fly in small aircraft. To prepare them for the experience and to make it enjoyable for them, I took them to watch planes from a distance and hear the noise while pairing that with treats they like. I taught them to use a ramp and to readily accept wearing hearing protection. I created a trail of treats up the ramp to the plane and they found more rewards when they entered the aircraft and so on. By the time it came to flying, the dogs were convinced airplanes were a good thing. Sometimes airlines or pilots will require the dogs to be crated, so teach your dog to love their crate and feel safe in it as well as getting them very used to the plane. My dog Amber (shown below) watches take off and landing out the window and sleeps otherwise.

Amber sleeping during flight

When outdoors with your dog, keep him safely leashed until you know the area is safe for dogs. Be vigilant for unexpected risks like unmarked cliffs.  Wildlife can also pose a threat to dogs (and dogs to wildlife) so be prepared to avoid interactions. Familiarize yourself with local risks like certain species of native plants, insects like fire ants,venomous spiders, and parasites so you can ensure your dog avoids them. Standing water can harbor infectious agents. There are many diseases dogs can acquire from standing water and some are transmissible to humans.

Enjoy travelling with your dog and stay safe!

Jane Bowers, BA, CABC, CDPT-KA

Easy home-made dog treats!

When I want to make some quick training treats, I use 2 eggs , a cup of flour  (or enough to make the dough fairly firm) and canned fish ( one 14 oz can of salmon or tuna or 2 tins of sardines).

I also use parchment paper to line the baking pan and to make clean up easy. 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees and you have treats your dog will love!!  Cut them while still warm into the size you want!

Playing tug toy

Playing tug with dogs is a great way to reward a dog, to teach bite inhibition, to teach a dog to take and release an item on cue, to tire a dog out and to teach control of arousal levels.

To teach tug-toy, decide what the cue will be for tug-toy. Have ready a toy the dog enjoys playing with-this can be a tug toy, a rope or a Kong™ on a rope.

Pick a time when the dog appears to want to play. He or she may have invited their person or another dog to

play.  Take the dog to a low distraction area and ask the dog to sit.  Pick a cue work for playing tug-toy. Then bring out the toy, shaking it close to the ground or dragging the toy away from the dog to encourage the dog’s interest. The dog will generally pounce on and grab the toy. After a few minutes of play (and while the dog still wants to play) the person stops the play by letting the toy go limp and withdrawing it. Initially, I reward the dog for letting go with a treat.

When the person has practiced stopping and starting tug-toy with the dog and the dog appears to enjoy the game, the person can add the cue for tug-toy.

Give the cue (for example: “tug”) and then bring out the toy and engage in play with the dog, give the cue for break, immediately stop playing by letting the toy go limp and rewarding the dog for releasing the toy, then, give the cue to play again and engage in play with the dog and so on…

I have rules for the tug-toy game which are, (1) if the dog’s teeth contact the person’s skin, the game stops immediately (let toy go limp, remove)-at no time should the play game involve the dog using his or her teeth on the person so it is important to be consistent and calm about this (2) anytime the toy is near the person’s face, the game stops – as long as the person is consistent, this teaches the dog to stop playing when the toy is near the face. If the dog tries to grab the toy out of my hand, I put the toy away for a few minutes (3) if the dogs starts to become overly excited, I end the game to let the dog calm down.

5 Ways to Improve Loose-leash Walking!

Dogs generally pull on the leash because they walk faster than we do. We need to gently teach them to slow down when on leash. Here are some tips on teaching dogs to walk nicely on the leash:

  1. If the dog is being walked to the person’s left, place the leash handle around the handler’s right wrist and use the left hand to hold the leash at its midpoint. There should be a “J” shape from the dog’s collar in the leash.
  2. Begin walking the dog and when the dog looks up at the person, reward this with a treat from the left hand or hand closest to the dog (this prevents teaching the dog to cross in front of the person).
  3. If the dog starts to forge ahead, get the pup’s attention by patting your own hip or thigh to get the pup’s attention and gently changing directions (reward when the pup is in the correct place and leash is loose). If there isn’t room to change direction and the dog is pulling, simply stop and wait for the dog to return to the handler and then proceed and reward while the dog is walking on a loose leash next to you. The dog will soon understand that the walk only continues when the leash is slack.
  4. Often pups will grab the leash in their mouth. To redirect this I take toys or a tug toy with me to let them carry or I tie a toy to their collar for them to grab and hold instead of the leash.
  5. Use a humane no-pull harness (with a d-ring on the front) to walk the dog in when you are not actively training your dog). I like the Tellington Touch harness and the Freedom harness.

And here are a couple of “don’ts”:

  1. Don’t allow the dog to pull toward the other dog and then have a greet and play. This is a huge reward for pulling so don’t allow the pup to get into this habit- I put greetings on cue so the dog is clear.
  2. Avoid using a flexi-leash. These leashes actively reinforce pulling by rewarding the dog with more leash when they pull!