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

Bibliography

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, https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/11/1/5. 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, https://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(20)30824-6/fulltext. 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, https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/3/976. Accessed 02 2021.

Puppy Essentials (under 17 weeks of age)

We cover puppy mouthing, chew toys, house-training, handling, socialization, playing safely, basic cues like ” off” and “take it”, the use of rewards in training, training through distractions and other important things.

Puppy Essentials (under 17 weeks of age)

We cover puppy mouthing, chew toys, house-training, handling, socialization, playing safely, basic cues like ” off” and “take it”, the use of rewards in training, training through distractions and other important things.

Puppy Essentials (under 17 weeks of age)

We cover puppy mouthing, chew toys, house-training, handling, socialization, playing safely, basic cues like ” off” and “take it”, the use of rewards in training, training through distractions and other important things.

Puppy Essentials (under 17 weeks of age)

We cover puppy mouthing, chew toys, house-training, handling, socialization, playing safely, basic cues like ” off” and “take it”, the use of rewards in training, training through distractions and other important things.

Puppy Essentials (under 17 weeks of age)

We cover puppy mouthing, chew toys, house-training, handling, socialization, playing safely, basic cues like ” off” and “take it”, the use of rewards in training, training through distractions and other important things.

Puppy Essentials (under 17 weeks of age)

We cover puppy mouthing, chew toys, house-training, handling, socialization, playing safely, basic cues like ” off” and “take it”, the use of rewards in training, training through distractions and other important things.

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

How to know when play is safe (and when it isn’t).

Lucky and Sammy playing together

A question I get asked a lot as a trainer is whether the play between 2 or more dogs is safe or “good” play. Owners get concerned if they hear growling or a yelp or observe a nip and they sensibly want to know when to intervene or whether they should intervene at all.

Luckily for dog owners, scientists have been busy studying play between dogs and can shed light on what is healthy play and the signs the activity is no longer play.

Why dogs (and other mammals) play is not fully understood but play involves the use of communicative skills and the coordination of actions and movement. Play is thought to increase cooperation between dogs. For example, when one dog has offered a play action like running and offering to be chased is willing to give that up if the play partner initiates another play action. Other functions of play may be to prepare an individual for new challenges while still safely with the parents or group, or for better social integration, hunting ability and for fun!

The reason play is fun is because hormones such as dopamine, noradrenaline, oxytocin, and the endorphins are responsible for the positive feelings and enhanced learning during play. Scientists have discovered that individuals who play frequently have reduced cortisol levels meaning they are more relaxed than others. Animals that are raised in social isolation and without play opportunities have a permanent reduction in their dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin levels.

Puppies learn how to avoid conflicts between themselves through play. Avoid intervening too early (unless one puppy is overwhelmed) so that the puppies learn to work it out.  This will help the puppies grow up to be skilled in responding to conflict as adult dogs.

There are specific signals dogs use in play and one of which is the familiar “play-bow” (where the dog assumes the position with rear end up and front end down). Play bows are used to solicit play or to resume play and they also occur before actions like a bite (which may be misinterpreted by the play partner).  Other ways dogs initiate play are “play gamboling” where the dog uses a bouncy gait, lets their shoulders swing and uses a pace which is somewhat faster than a walk. Sometimes playful dogs will approach and withdraw from a distance, other times they may paw their own face or rear up on the hindlegs a couple of times.

Stalking is another type of play solicitation. Eyes flashing, sneezing and panting also can be invitations to play and are followed by if the other dog accepts the invitation. These signals also occur during play to avoid any misunderstandings and playing dogs will take frequent breaks where they also look away from one another. Some dogs also use barking as part of play initiation or to maintain play and is initially often the result of the excited state of the dog but later can become a communicative tool between two dogs playing.

Sometimes play can turn into aggression and watching for warning signs is important for owners. If a larger dog is chasing a smaller dog, predation may be triggered in the larger dog if the smaller dog runs in a straight line away from the larger dog and by the smaller dog wriggling and ducking much like prey does and by the smaller dog vocalizing. This is referred to as “predatory drift”.

Play between dogs also includes dogs changing roles (chase and be chased for example) and it has been observed that dogs avoid playing with other dogs who are unwilling to change roles in play. Play “attacks” have been observed between puppies.

Owners should watch play and intervene if a puppy seems overwhelmed or if there is no role reversal between dogs playing or if they see signs of a larger dog going into “predatory drift”.

Most dogs are cooperative social animals so play generally is fun for the participants.

References

Beaver, B. (1999). Canine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians . Philadelphia: Saunders.

Bradshaw, J. (2011). Dog Sense. New York: Basic Books .

Hare , B., & Woods, V. (2013). The Genius of Dogs . New York: Plume.

Kaufer, M. (2013). Canine Play Behavior. Wenatchee: Dogwise.

Miklosi, A. (2015). dog behavior, evolution and cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

O’Heare, J. (2007). Aggressive Behavior In Dogs. Ottawa: DogPsych Publishing .

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!