Photo: Daniel Meigs
It didn’t take long for the pandemic to start rolling the jokes – observations of how people’s lives were turned upside down, but our dogs basking in the fact that many pet owners stayed home around the clock who were the happiest she has ever been.
In April, the popular Thoughts of Dog Twitter account posted the following:
I finally narrowed it down. on a couple of possible reasons. man is now at home all the time
4. Can’t stand to be apart from me
C. loves me so much
1. My presence is a gift.
We lost our minds while dogs felt that they were simply being rewarded for existing. It turned out that this was only partially true.
“Dogs are individuals just like humans, and I think they enjoyed it much like us at first, but some of them probably got over it pretty quickly,” says Kat Martin Ray, certified professional dog trainer and owner of the local dog training and behavioral consultancy Dogs and Kat.
Photo: Daniel Meigs“Dogs sleep 12 to 14 hours a day when they are a few years old and older, and I think it was often difficult for them to start with having people around all the time,” says Ray. “Not all of course, of course – some dogs probably thought it was the best thing ever – but I think it was more difficult overall than we probably thought for some dogs.”
Ray has been a trainer for nearly 20 years, working primarily with dogs and their owners to prevent and overcome behavioral issues such as anxiety. It’s entirely possible for dogs and puppies to experience anxiety or other issues with their humans returning to work, school, and social activities outside of the home, but Ray says there are ways to prepare your pet for the alone time.
“The first thing to be honest with is teaching people to understand their dogs better by being able to read their body language,” says Ray. “This is such an important way dogs communicate how they are feeling.”
Ray calls “reassurance signals,” a phrase coined by Norwegian dog trainer and author Turid Rugaas, as a form of behavior to watch out for.
“[Calming signals are] one of the most important things we see when we see separation anxiety, ”she says. “You will see yawns and lip licking. Sometimes they sit and start scratching what we call shifting behavior. Maybe you say ‘go to your box’ because you want to go to work right away and they sit and start scratching. “
As important as what your dog is doing, according to Ray, is the context in which the movements take place. Those sad AF doggie eyes staring at you while you have lunch? This doesn’t necessarily send the same signal as a grumpy dog dealing with depression. Buddy just wants a bite of your sandwich.
“I always tell people that there are two main things,” says Ray. “What just happened and what does the rest of the dog look like? Because it’s always contextual. If the dog licks you because he wants to interact with you, that is an attention-grabbing behavior for a long time. But sometimes – we call it “the kiss to reject” – if you stand in their face and try to kiss their head, they might lick you, but that’s actually a request for you to withdraw. It’s contextual: what just happened, what did you do, what did they do? “
If your dog shows signs of distress when you leave him home alone again – or for the first time when you’re one of the thousands of people who adopted a “pandemic puppy” in the last year – Ray says the trick is to help the dog feel safe in the house by designating a place for the dog. Create a place for them to go and relax, then consistently emphasize that it is a positive place.
“Separation anxiety is panic, it is fear-based behavior that can vary in strength,” she says. “We want them to be relaxed, we want them not to have the feeling of having to follow us from room to room and to be constantly vigilant and watch our every move.”
“One thing I will do is when the dog is walking with a significant other or in another room, I magically make treats appear on the bed so that when they get back in the room they say, ‘Oh , Impressive! This is a magical room you know ‘This bed grows goodies!’ Anything we can do to positively reinforce these things so they’ll want to hang out there on their own.
“As soon as you go there and hang out,” she continues, “you will want to reinforce this behavior intermittently forever. I always say you want it to be like winning a slot machine. They want it to be unpredictable. “
Recommended reading by Kat Martin Ray Ray
About Conversations with Dogs: Reassuring Signals from Turid Rugass
Listen to me !: Exploring the emotional life of dogs by Tricia Hollingshead
Dog Body Language by Brenda Aloff