Relationships with our pets have changed significantly since we have been home dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic. Working, learning, living, playing, eating, all of it, done within the confines of our apartment or house. Most of our pets are used to spending long periods of time alone. When we come through the door, they are happy, wanting to engage and so excited to see us. Now, they see us all the time. We know how hard it is for us to be out of our routine. Think how hard it is for them. Dogs and cats like routine.
Pre-covid our pets spent most of their day times alone sleeping. Based on what we see on TV and on social media, this is no longer the case. They seem to be wide awake and with us, especially when we are on a video meeting! If your pets seem to get a bit cranky or overtired, it may benefit everyone if they are placed in their "area" and have a nap time. Even if they don’t sleep, some time alone may help them relax with some quiet time. The other benefit of having your pet spend some alone time during the day is, at some point, we will go back to some normal that will include them spending long periods of time alone again. It will be an easier transition if they have been spending some alone time each day now.
Is your dog freaked out by people wearing masks? According to Dr. Borns-Weil, head of behavioral services at Tufts, "Without the ability to use language, dogs rely heavily on nonverbal communication. They read human body language and facial expressions better than people do. Things that cover or obscure our faces can be alarming for them - especially when introduced suddenly." If your dog is fearful of masks, there are a couple of things you can do to help them. Make something that your dog loves, like a Peanut Butter Bear, for instance, appear every time he sees a masked person. Soon, he will learn to associate the masked person with a treat, and the appreciation of the treat will outweigh the fear! If a mere Peanut Butter Bear isn’t going to help, same concept but starting much smaller and going slower should work. Have the masked person start the training process far enough away so it appears your dog hasn’t even seen him. But no worries, he has seen him. As your dog is focused on you and his reward, have the person move closer. Stopping as soon as, or sooner, than the dog tells you that he is getting anxious. Dr. Borns-Weil says to make sure your desensitization and counter conditioning sessions are 5 minutes or less. Make sure you end on a good note. If you are consistent and patient, your dog will be walking right along side the masked person!
Even if you have the absolute best, child friendly dog in the entire world, it makes sense currently to keep an eye on the interaction. Some dogs may be willing to play dress up every day, or get bedazzled with homemade jewels regularly, or be used as a TV watching pillow as often as needed. But, with all this together time, a dog may just need a break. Watch your pet's demeanor and help them out before they have to start speaking louder than we want them to, by growling or even nipping. We may have to decorate or dress up a volunteer person rather than the dog....
Being home all this time is challenging. Keep your pet’s needs in mind, pay attention to their body language, help them when they need it, and we will all make it back to a new normal, all relationships, people, and pets, intact!