Everyone has been affected by the COVID19 outbreak, including our dogs. Not only do they pick up on our overall feelings of worry and uncertainty, but they may also act out because of it. And our pets have had to adjust to a whole “new normal” just as we have – their owners are at home much more than usual, they’re getting a different amount of walks or physical activity, and they’re even leery of all the masked people around them. Dogs pick up on all of this, said canine training expert Chris Papakostas of Seirios K9 Academy, and it can affect their overall mood and demeanour.
“With everything going on, dogs have developed certain behavioural issues and habits that we didn’t see before,” he said. “It’s an abrupt change for dogs having their owners at home all day. At the beginning of all this, a lot of people were scared to take their dogs out, so when they started going out again, the dogs were reactive because they had so much pent-up energy. Owners didn’t experience this in the past. They wouldn’t have noticed it living their everyday ‘normal’ life.”
Now that more and more dog owners are returning to work and are once again leaving the house for extended hours, some dogs are developing separation anxiety. “They were always getting their owner’s attention, and who doesn’t like being the star of the show?” Papakostas asked. “Dogs feed off that. Some dogs that already had some independence issues could develop anxiety because they always want you there.”
Masks have also become a daunting and foreign accessory for dogs, who don’t really understand what they are. Some may even take them as threatening. “Dogs don’t know how to react to people in masks because they’re not used to it, so owners need to desensitize their dogs from the masks since they are going to be more commonplace,” said Papakostas. “The masks need to constantly be presented to them – walk around the house wearing a mask and have your dog in control with them on a leash so the dog isn’t reacting to them. Have other family members do the same thing. Work on this inside the house, not outside where there will be more distractions. You don’t want the masks to become an issue so you have to control that behaviour from the onset and not let the dog be in control. Put the focus back on you.”
A professional dog trainer has the expertise to help make the transition back into every-day working life much easier on your pet. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll just end up turning around in circles and the dog’s behaviour will get worse with time,” Papakostas said. “We have to get back into our routine, but for a dog it takes a lot of consistency and demands a lot from the owner.”