Are you worried that your dog will get bored and unhappy when you stay at home in self-isolation? Actually, there’s no need to feel that way. Read on to understand why!
Self-Isolation For Humans vs Dogs
These are strange times for sure, and unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. For us humans, being confined to our homes for days on end can be trying and upsetting.
We miss the social interaction with our coworkers, meeting friends and simply moving around among people in the mall or on the street. Staying at home in self-isolation makes us feel alone and, well, isolated.
But does your dog feel the same way?
As it turns out, it feels quite the opposite. To the dog, this is a dream scenario.
To understand how this can be we need to take a short look at the dog’s perspective of all that social interaction we humans thrive from.
For most dogs, it’s actually stressful.
The Social Life Of Dogs (And Wolves)
Our dogs by and large still have the same brain with all its instincts, reactions and behaviors as their ancestor the wolf.
A wolf pack keeps to itself, and the members usually stay inside the pack’s territory. If a wolf from another pack shows up, it gets driven off.
The wolves don’t go for walks. When one starts to think about it, it kind of sounds absurd, right? Just imagine a wolf saying to another wolf “hey man, let’s go for a hike!”.
When the wolves move from where the pack resides in their territory, they go hunting.
The hunt is a serious business, the survival of the pack depends on it being successful. Stress levels are high.
Pups are not allowed to join when the adults go hunting. They are left by the den with assigned baby-sitters looking after them.
If the hunt goes well, and a catch is brought down, some of the wolves bring food back home, in their stomachs, to the waiting pups and baby-sitters.
So how does this translate to our human lives and the life of your dog?
Your Dog And You – A Pack
Everyone that lives in the same home as the dog is the pack the dog belongs to. If it’s only you and your dog, you two make up the pack. If you’re a large family, your dog belongs to a large pack.
When everyone is home, all is good. No pack members are out hunting, risking their lives for the pack.
By now you may object. “Hey, I’m not risking my life, I’m just going to the store/to work/meeting up with friends.”
The dog cannot understand that. These are all human concepts. To the dog, staying with the pack in the safety of the den is what one does when hunting or fighting off an intruder is not on the agenda.
The dog thrives when we make the world of the pack small, like we are now during self-isolation.
There are fewer occasions of separation and reuniting. Less (or none perhaps!) stress creating visitors coming to the door. The pack behaves as it should in the eyes of the dog, keeping to itself.
We take shorter walks where a healthy distance to other packs is maintained. (Meeting another pack outdoors is always a potential threat to the dog.)
All in all, the stress level in the dog subsides when we simplify our life as we do now. It calms down, and chances are it will probably rest and sleep a whole lot more.
That is not bad! Above all, it does not mean the dog is depressed. It simply means it’s relaxed and can enjoy life and rest and rejuvenate.
But doesn’t my dog need to be activated and exercised?
Activate Your Dog In A Stress Free Manner
Well, no, and yes.
Think about a wolf pack again. When there’s no need for the pack to go hunting or searching for new territory, what do the wolves do? Do they activate themselves consistently in order to stay calm and get tired?
No. They rest. They may play a little ( if they’re young), check out the roles in the pack by seeking the attention of another wolf, but they don’t activate themselves just for the sake of, well, activating.
Aiming to constantly activate your dog may actually make it stressed. A few minutes of action a few times a day is all your dog needs.
But choose the activities wisely! Don’t engage in a tug of war, that creates stress and might influence who the dog sees as the leader.
Throwing a ball is fine, as long as the dog brings the ball back to you and doesn’t make you chase it. Play for a few minutes, then simply walk away.
Giving the dog a nice chew is always great. Chewing on something brings the stress hormones down, engages the dog and actually makes it tired. After a nice chew a serious nap is usually needed to complete the experience!
Do you like to teach your dog new tricks?
Most dogs enjoy this, provided it’s done with joy and positive reinforcement. And remember, a few minutes per session is enough.
Make sure your dog seems happy and alert, if it starts to appear distracted it’s high time to quit. Ideally, you want to quit before this happens. This will leave the dog with only happy and joyful feelings about it.
I Must Exercise My Dog For Hours!
Nah, not really. Playing for a few minutes a couple of times a day and going for a few short walks is quite enough.
A nice exercise is to make the dog jump up on and balance on something. A footstool, an upside-down bucket, whatever fits the dog’s size and weight.
This not only gives your dog muscular training but also boosts confidence by the balancing act itself. Start slowly, with a large surface to stand on, otherwise your dog may fall off and become afraid. Quite the opposite to confidence-boosting.
Always Start The Game Yourself
Whatever activity you choose, make sure that it is always you who take the initiative. If you’re dog comes to you and tries to get your attention, kindly ignore it. When it has let go of its focus on you, you can call it and give the chew, throw the ball or whatever you want to do. Or maybe just give it a cuddle.
Why not answer to the dog’s attention seeking?
This is a status issue, it’s all about who is the leader and has the initiative in the pack.
Build steady leadership with kindness and consequence, never with threats, punishment or violence. Your dog is your best friend, right?
Self-Isolation – Happy Relaxed Days For Your Dog And Its pack!
So now you can relax, knowing that your darling dog is as happy as a clam in your isolated existence!
Take care of yourself, your pack, I mean family, and know that everything will soon be back to normal.
To help you make that change as stress free as possible when it comes to your furriest (or not?) pack member I will write another article in a short while.
With love and wofs! Katrin