A few days ago I got a call from a Home Dog Training Client of ours. He lives in Buford and we trained his German Shorthaired Pointer and his family back in February. Barry, that was the dog’s name, was just about a year old and was staring to “feel his oats” and try and take charge. The family was very attentive and quickly understood our training techniques and behavioral principles. Barry quickly understood that he was not the boss and was very willing to step into his proper place within the family. Well, our client said that everything was great until the COVID-19 shutdown was mandated by Governor Kemp and their family routine was thrown into turmoil. Very soon after the stay-at-home began, Barry began to revert to his “old self”. Be became demanding and “just darn annoying”. Our client didn’t know what was going on and reached out to Robin and myself for help.
The first thing that I did was to make sure that my client and his family were safe and well. I wanted to make sure that there was nothing that I could do from a “good neighbor standpoint” to help him out. Once I confirmed that he had enough food, supplies, and other essentials, I continued on to the issue of Barry.
Barry’s current behavioral issues are not directly caused by COVID-19. Barry doesn’t even know what that is. Like all dogs, he is a social animal. He needs safety, companionship, consistency, and nourishment. If he has all of these things, all is right in his world and he continues on as normal. That is where we had placed Barry back in February and that is where he remained until the outbreak of the current situation. He doesn’t care why stuff is happening, he is only concerned with what is happening. That is where he makes his decisions.
Like all of us, my client and his family are watching TV and talking to friends and family. Like most of us, they are very nervous about what is happening and unsure of how they will fare through all of this. This nervousness is displayed in their body language and is easily observed by their dog, Barry. Where my client and his family were once Barry’s boss and caregivers, they now give off a sense of weakness and insecurity. Barry’s natural inclination for survival dictates that he needs to elevate himself to a leadership position. He needs to take charge and become assertive if he wishes to survive. This is displayed in the actions he started to take with our clients.
To add the “Two” in the “One Two Punch”; all dogs crave consistency. “A always happens after B and C never happens if D is present”. Well, with my client and his family now home all the time, everything Barry knew and relied on as “normal” has now completely changed. The family doesn’t get up and go to work and school. Meal times have changed. For some reason, he is taken on a walk ten times a day. He gets far more treats than he did before and he can now jump on the sofa whenever he wants. We can understand why all this is taking place, but Barry has no idea what is going on. As with the family’s change in body language, this inexplicable change in routine creates fearful uncertainty within Barry. As before, he instinctively steps up to take charge to try and reestablish a safe and secure environment. His dominant and self assertive behavior is again observed by my client and his family.
My client and his family need to reestablish the consistent and self-assured routine that existed before we entered “our current situation”. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be concerned with everything going on around us, they simply have to understand how their actions impact Barry. They need to keep Barry safe too. I gave them some simple guidelines:
- CONSISTANCY: They need to revert back to their prior “Barry routine” as best as possible. This doesn’t mean that they need to do everything the same as they did when there was work, school, and normal social activities. They just need to revert back to the consistent routine they had at that time when interacting with Barry. Some of the main points I reviewed were:
- Waking Up: Barry slept at the foot of their bed and always got up when they did. They still get up at the same time as before, so I emphasized that they get Barry up then. Take him out for his potty activities and follow the complete “morning routine of feeding, morning “Traffic TV”, and potty-before-we-go as the did in the past. Obviously, they are not going to go, but this gives Barry an clear sense of consistent and repetitive action first thing in the morning.
- Feeding: As I already mentioned, it is important to keep Barry on his same feeding schedule. The first reason is consistency. Keeping things the same sends a clear signal to Barry that everything is fine, it is the exact way it has been, and it will stay the same into the future. The next reason is “Barry’s regularity”. Barry has a feeding schedule and this is highly influential in maintaining his potty schedule. If my clients started to change when they feed Barry, that could change his potty schedule and cause problems they definitely don’t want to deal with at the present time. I reminded my clients that “feeding” also included treats. Since they were currently going to be spending a great deal of time at home, there is the natural tenancy to give treats. (I know this sounds weird, but it happens…) All these extra treats could cause potty problems as well as behavioral problems. In Barry’s mind, he got a treat a little while ago; he wants another treat now. He then demands a treat. This never ends well.
- Playing: My clients always played with Barry when they came home from work and the kids came home from school. They should try to maintain that same schedule. Since they are home a lot more and things could get boring, I said that it was OK to add one, or at the most, two additional play times during the day. I emphasized that “play time” was a great time to bond. Just as important, it is a time to get Barry’s adrenaline released outside in the yard and not inside on the sofa. Engage Barry in activities that cause him to run, seek, and focus. These are all activities that engage Barry’s muscles and brain. When he comes inside, he will be happy and relaxed. That is a great thing if they need to jump on a conference call with the boss and their new client.
- Walking: The one thing that I have noticed in our neighborhood is how often my neighbors are walking their dogs. This is in stark contract with what was going on before our current situation. I reminded my clients that they should walk Barry in the same manner as they did in February and early March. They normally walked him once a day in the evening. I suggested that they do the same now. I also suggested that they try and pick a “less traveled time” to help maintain social distancing.
- Don’t Get “Soft”: My clients did a great job in communicating their leadership role with Barry. He gave them respectful focus as soon as asked and always obeyed their commands and directions. With everything currently going on, it is far too easy to “let things slide”. This may be fine for us (humans), but is a major conundrum for dogs. Whatever Barry’s rules were before the Coronavirus hit, they must remain now and in the future. Since my client decided he didn’t want Barry to jump before, he can’t jump now. He couldn’t be on the sofa before, so he can’t be on the sofa now. Providing him with a consistent display of leadership is what Barry needs to stay calm and feel secure.
- GENERAL THINGS TO DO: Although these are trying times, they are not unique. We are faced with an uncertain future that may last for weeks, months, or even years. We are not sure what to do or the results of actions we may take. So, besides “consistency”, what else can we do to keep our dog safe, calm, and secure?
- Focus on your Bond: Dogs, like people are social animals. They require interaction and the creation of bonds. Although we try to do this with our dog as much as possible, these times require a doubling and tripling of efforts. We suggest making sure that you are constantly engaging him when playing outside. Play interactive games such as fetch or find-it. Build an agility course and encourage him to run through, under, and over it. He doesn’t have to be the fastest or most coordinated. The important thing is that he is engaging in it with you. You can also work on your obedience commands while hunkering down at home. Work on Come, Sit, and Stay.
- Use of the Leash: We always talk about the importance of using the leash for a directive and learning tool. If you have people over to your home, you still want to maintain your social distancing guidelines. This will be fine for you and your guest, but your dog may have “never received the memo”. He may go right over and jump on them. Normally you could have gone over and “retrieved him”. With social distancing, this becomes a problem. Place a leash on your dog when people are over. If he starts to approach your guests inappropriately, you can tug on the leash and have him return to you. You will never have to get within the “danger zone” of your guest and you can give a clear signal to your dog to “cool it”.
- Socialize New Things: Dogs normally love people. This is because they can easily identify us and relate our image and actions with secure and happy times. An interesting fact is that many dogs become timid, afraid, and even aggressive towards people (usually men) wearing hats and dark glasses. This is because they can’t recognize “these strange animals”. They normally have this reaction with men because men are larger and usually deliver more assertive body language movements than women. With this said, your dogs are about to be introduced to many of us wearing masks. This can cause our dogs to become timid or aggressive because they don’t know who/what we are and can’t determine our intentions. We need to socialize our dogs to the current normalcy of people wearing masks. I suggest starting to wear a mask around your dog for short periods. Put it on and take it off so that he can easily determine that “oh, that is you under that mask”. Have the whole family perform this activity. Slowly wear the masks for longer and longer periods until you can have people enter the room with the mask, interact with him, and then leave while continuing to wear the mask.
When you really get down to it, just don’t be a “Nervous Nellie” around your dog. Since they focus on body language as their main form of communication and initial indicator of the world around them, your fearful demeanor can be traumatic to them. Take a deep breath, smile, and take them outside for a game of fetch. Just think happy thoughts and your dog should be fine.
Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help. We are blessed to have been your local dog training experts for over fifteen years. We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.