No matter where you are in the world, the impacts of COVID-19 and quarantining are bound to have upended your daily routine. You’re likely working from home (or at least spending much more time there) to keep yourself, family, and pets safe.
How do you make sure your dog is feeling safe and healthy during quarantine? Pet Plate asked veterinarians and animal behavioral specialists the best ways to keep your dogs active and happy as they adjust to this new normal.
Maximize the time spent with your dog.
Sure, couch snuggles are great. But if you only have a few minutes between virtual meetings, make sure your time is spent helping your dog to exercise. “My favorite games to recommend to pet owners seeking an energy-release for their cooped up pet include a fun game of tug of war, fetch, hide and seek, or chasing laser lights,” says veterinarian Dr. Jessica Kirk of Vet Explains Pets. “These games get your pet up and moving, allowing them exercise and energy and stress release. It’s not just you going stir-crazy while self-isolating!”
Create “brain games” with common household items.
“Ten minutes of brain training games is a solid mental workout for a dog,” says Emma Bowdrey, ISCP-certified dog behavior specialist Four Long Legs. “When tired they are more likely to sleep.” And of course, that means they’re more likely to leave you to work. Bowdrey recommends using toilet roll tubes, egg cartons, and cereal boxes in various configurations with a little treat or peanut butter smeared inside. Anything to get your dog spending time trying to dismantle it. Of course, you may already have dog toys designed with this intended purpose. But if not, this is a great alternative!
Make time to get outside
. Exercise and fresh air are still important. Even if you live in a crowded city, take your dog for walks at off-hours and maintain social distancing practices. You’re likely changing the distance or frequency of your typical walk routine, and that’s OK. But be careful! Bowdrey advises that going on lots of long walks means you’ll be leaving your dog with a ton of extra energy once you go back to your normal work schedule.
Avoid the temptation of extra treats or table scraps.
Your dog expects to get treats for certain behaviors (or even just to get them to stop barking as you’re walking a client through a presentation). Make sure you’re not giving in and constantly feeding them delicious (but fatty) treats, or even bits of your food. “With decreased exercise, weight gain is always a concern,” says Kirk. She recommends tracking the number of extra treats being doled out, and do your best to offset dietary changes with extra exercise. Ideally, just avoid the temptation to toss treats left and right. And definitely grab a broom instead of letting the dog get whatever chips or pizza toppings fell off your plate and onto the floor.
Practice dog therapy.
Kirk recommends dog massages to keep your pup happy. And yes, even those “dog videos” you can buy (or find on YouTube) are helpful. Kirk classifies it as audio-visual therapy for your dog: it lets them see and hear other dogs.
Maintain some kind of routine.
Try and replace your dog’s old routine with a new one to minimize anxiety and confusion. Bowdrey says it’s best to stick to typical walking and eating times whenever possible. Wherever you do need to make adjustments, make a note of the times and days and try to standardize it immediately.
Work on training.
This is the perfect time to practice cue training, or introduce new commands. “Basics like sit and stay are all great and quickly learnt,” says Bowdrey. “They can be used in different combinations with tasty treat rewards for a fun way to exercise your dog in the home and use their brain. Tired dogs are not anxious dogs.” Plus, it’s a great excuse to finally get around to any training habits or tricks you and your dog haven’t perfected, like play dead.
Remember that this won’t last forever.
When it’s inevitably time for you to get back to the office, your dog may be very confused as to why they’re not seeing you around the house as often. Bowdrey suggests working in another room (if possible) for several hours a day. It’s not as fun as typing away on your laptop with a doggo spread out across your lap, but it’s better in the long run. Ideally, you should also leave the house once a day without your dog. “If you can take a walk or have a courtyard or garden you can sit in, please leave your dog alone for ten to thirty minutes a day,” says Bowdrey. Your garage or even front steps are also good alternatives (and you’ll still have WiFi). You might feel guilty, but you’ll feel WAY guiltier if the first time you’re leaving your dog is when you actually have to get back to the office.