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.

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!

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.