Social distancing has changed the way each and every one of us live our lives. Most of us are home more, unable to go to the places we wish to go, do the things we wish to do or to see the people we want to see.
Ultimately, this huge change in all of our lives has changed the way our canine companions live their lives too. Us being home all the time can be a massive change to your dogs routine and while they love it, it can be a little confusing for them too!
Though it can be quite tricky to maintain a sense of normality through this turbulent time, here are our three top tips for social distancing with your dog.
TIP # 1 – Time Apart
Although it can be amazing spending 24 hours a day with your dog, it can undo all the hard work you put in previously for time apart training!
Try to maintain a routine with your pup – when you would usually leave them to go to work, you should try to encourage them to be independent during this time. When you would usually be social with your dog, this is the time to be social with them. A great way to do this is to teach your dog how to engage with a "settle station".
If possible, you want to teach this behavior on a new bed, blanket, or crate. Not only does this encourage your dog to explore a new environment and provide a way to start the behavior, but it also allows you to ensure you are not trying to build a positive new behavior on a bed with which there are any negative associations.
Lay the bed/blanket down on the floor in your office, kitchen, or area where you are working. This will now be your dogs "settle station". Encourage your dog to sit or lie down at the station. You can do this by luring them on with tasty treats or by providing them with an enrichment toy. Always reward your dog for engaging with the settle station on the settle station, as this is where you want them to be.
You should try to focus on your dog as little as you can, as this can excite your dog and encourage them to start offering random behavior. Instead, try to focus on your work, watching your dog out of the corner of your eye, and rewarding at regular intervals.
Reward your dog for any relaxed behavior they show whilst relaxing on their settle station. Ideally, you should do this by dropping treats on the blanket without them seeing, as you want the reinforcement to come from the station, and not from you. Realistically, your dog is going to smell tasty treats from a mile away, and will notice their presence or absence, so just be as subtle and covert as you can.
Over time, you can slowly increase the length of time you are encouraging your dog to be independent for. You can also increase the distance away from you, so that your dog could even be settling in another room. Whatever you are aiming for, only ever work on distance OR duration, never attempt to work on both at the same time as you will be setting your dog up for failure.
If your dog is getting up off the settle station and wandering around the room, this is an indication that you are not rewarding your dog frequently enough! If this is the case, simply lure your dog back onto the settle station and increase your frequency of reward.
TIP # 2 – Mask Training
During the past few months, there has been an increase in the number of people out and about who will be wearing a medical mask. Depending on how you socialized your dog, it is very unlikely that you dog will have encountered anything like this before!
If your dog is a little worried by all these new scary faces, do not despair! With a few training sessions, you can help your pet feel more relaxed around face masks.
If you have access to reusable masks at home, these will work perfectly for the training. Hold up a reusable mask and when your dog notices it, reward them with a tasty bit of chicken or cheese. At this point in time, we are not looking for any particular behavior. Instead we are just trying to pair this unfamiliar object with something yummy.
After several repetitions of this, hold the mask over face, as if to put it on. If your dog shows a calm behavior, reward them with a treat. If your dog shows signs of worry, such as lip licking or stiffening, remove the mask and go back to pairing with the tasty treat.
When your dog is comfortable with you wearing a mask around the house, it is time to take to the streets! Arrange with some friends to meet as a responsible social distance in an outdoor space. They should all wear masks and be carrying a yummy safe dog treat. In the way, when your dog notices them, they can throw him or her something delicious. This will again reinforce the learning that people in face masks = really good things!
TIP # 3 – Enjoy Being Home With Your Dog!
Although the world is a scary place right now, you are lucky enough to be quarantined with your best friend in the world!
Use this time to go on socially distanced walks to places you would never go or do training you never got around to because of your busy work life. Make puzzle toys and enjoy spending time together figuring out how they work.
One awesome way to spend some down time with your dog is to go on a rucksack walk. This allows you to engage with your dog in a new way and redefine what walking means. You start with a slow walk on a long line to your chosen spot, and once there you settle down on the ground with your pup.
You now start to remove things from your backpack, engaging with them like they are all new and exciting! Your dog will more than likely choose to see what all the fuss is about and come over and have a good ol' sniff!
In your rucksack it is recommended that you bring with you a novel smell, a novel food, a toy, and an item of your choosing. All of these items should be dog safe.
After your dog has interacted with each of these items in turn, the walk is over and you can slowly head home. Chances are the engagement with all the new stimuli will tire your dog out just a long as an hours walk!
Though it is important to stick to a routine when the world goes back to normal, you will not have behavioral issues or social issues if you follow these tips.
Though social distancing can feel like an absolute drag, it doesn't have to be! With our top tips and tricks, you and your canine companion can cruise through social distancing.
Remember that this situation isn't forever, and all you can do is stay safe and make the best of a very bad situation by having a good time with your pup..
This article was written by John Woods, founder of All Things Dogs, a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, graduate in animal welfare and behavior and a recognized author by the Dog Writers Association of America.