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Dog Training

03/22/2021

How the Pandemic has Changed our Dogs

Thank goodness the state of Virginia is starting to see some relief from the “stay at home” order this month.…

Thank goodness the state of Virginia is starting to see some relief from the “stay at home” order this month. It goes without saying that it has been difficult. Over time, being restricted to one space and few people has been tough. Humans are social beings. We crave contact with other people, new experiences, and fun activities. Canines are no different. For dogs to be stable and well-balanced, they need regular socialization. But what has happened during this period of confinement is that our dogs have been severely deprived of outside influences. Their normal trips to park, fun trips to the pet supply or hardware store, welcoming guests at home, accompanying their humans to restaurants and other venues, has all been limited, if not eliminated entirely.

Although your pup may miss some of the activities they used to enjoy with you, you probably will not hear them complain. Not realizing the risk, dogs are pretty content when life is “contained” and predictable. Content, yes, but it is not a healthy mental state for a dog in the “real” world. There is a slow-developing mental process taking place that is harmful to even the friendliest of dogs.

Has there been an increase in dog aggression during the pandemic?

Have you been hearing more recent accounts of dog bites and aggression? The US News and World Report says there has been a “startling rise in dog bites”. The Journal of Pediatrics recently reported an increase of three times as many dog bites to children since the stay-at-home order began. Some of these occurrences are by loving family dogs that have shown no aggression in the past. What is going on? Is the coronavirus lockdown at fault for the aggression we are seeing in our dogs?

I asked our Holiday Barn Pet Resorts Professional Dog Trainers if they are seeing a rise in aggression in dogs. Melaina responded, “We are seeing a rise in fear-based behaviors since people are not socializing their dogs in the same way they would have pre Covid-19. There is a lack of routine and normalcy in adult dogs’ schedules that was present prior [to COVID-19] causing those dogs to be more on edge and too accustomed to their owners being with them all the time.” What happens when fear-based behaviors go unchecked?

Here is a great example:

Holiday Barn Pet Resorts Professional Dog Trainer, Dickie, trained Dahlia in November of 2018. She did very well in Training. She and Dickie had a great trainer/student bond. Dahlia’s Mom contacted Dickie recently to let him know that something was awry. Dahlia had become very nervous around people outside of her family. She was showing rather frightening signs of distress when people came into their home. She was not the outgoing, friendly pup she was before. In this video, Dickie visited her home and witnessed the type of behavior that Dahlia’s owner was describing.

The Fight or Flight Response to Fear

As seen in this video, when a dog feels threatened by something, as Dahlia did when confronted with a guest in the home, the first thing they will do is try to put some distance between themselves and the threat. It is called a “flight response”. Dahlia turned to go upstairs. If getting away is not possible and the threat has not left, the only other option is to deal with it. Confront their fear. How do dogs deal with fear? They fight. They may bite or snap. Generally, a dog will only react in a way to remove the threat… shallow nipping, lunging without contact. Their intention may not be to do serious harm. And just because the dog’s intention is not to seriously hurt someone, there are many outside factors that could influence their behavior. Regardless, unchecked fear behaviors can lead to aggression. These fear-based behaviors are not to be taken lightly.

Displacement Behavior

Note Dahlia’s posturing in the video. It is a perfect example of a fear-based response:

  • She has her tail tucked.
  • She is showing her teeth and growling.
  • She is licking her lips, and again, turning away from the threat.

Dahlia is showing what is called “displacement behaviors. Displacement behaviors are behaviors that are “out of the norm”. They can vary widely. Some actions are very subtle, like “cutting” their eyes, or crouching. A dog may start licking or chewing somewhere on their body; they may begin kicking the ground with their back legs; they could start mouthing, yawning profusely, humping, or tearing something up. See – it is totally random. The point is that it is unusual for your dog. It is a thing to do when your dog is not sure what to do while attempting to “deflect” feelings of uncertainty or stress.

What makes this behavior so significant is that Dahlia was previously very well socialized. To no fault of her owner, who has also been restricted to the home, Dahlia’s lack of continual socialization has caused those good habits and behaviors to deteriorate. She is no longer comfortable and confident in the presence of other people.

What’s going on inside that cute furry head?

Dogs living within the confines of work-at-home and school-at-home humans – day in and day out – are overstimulated. Prior to the stay-at-home order, most dogs had much of their day to themselves… long periods of quiet time when they could snooze and rest. Being alone taught them how to calm themselves and self-soothe. With us in the home, there is constant noise and movement. All that stimulation causes a dog’s psyche to go into overdrive. While individual dogs will respond differently, it can be a difficult time for them.

As Melaina says, our dog’s schedule lacks the routine that was established prior to the pandemic. Dogs love routine. Prior to the pandemic, your dog could count on a walk in the morning and one when the kids got home from school, and another evening walk (for example). Their regular exercise routine has suffered, which even further thrusts the dog into an unbalanced, perhaps agitated state. I hate to admit it, but when I am busy working, I am guilty of rushing my dog out for quick potty walks only. When a dog does not get regular exercise walks, they are not able to burn off excess energy or pent-up mental stress. Furthermore, they miss out on the mental and physical stimulation that comes from a walk. What else happens? They lose that time of socialization, as they are not able to meet other people and pets along their walk.

Our Emotions are Contagious

There may be something else going on here too. Because we are currently so limited with what we do and where we go, we humans have a lot of built-up frustration. Coupled with a constant fear of catching the virus, or worrying about our loved ones, our lives are very stressful. Our furry kids are quick to pick up on those negative emotions. The Journal of Pediatrics believes that it is this “emotional contagion”, a state in which companion dogs mirror the emotions and stress levels of their human caregivers, coupled with our current circumstances that has lead to an increase in adverse interactions between children and dogs. Interesting, isn’t it?

How is your dog coping with the pandemic?

Have you seen some unpleasant changes in your dog? Do you think they could be showing signs of post-pandemic anxiety? Are you concerned about your dog’s ability to be alone after you return to work? The good news is that these things can be corrected.

First and foremost, work on getting your dog back to a regular schedule, including exercise. Then, contact Holiday Barn Pet Resort’s Professional Dog Trainers. Training can counter the effects of anxiety and build back your dog’s confidence. Our Trainers can safely reintroduce people and pets back into your dog’s life, and help your dog relearn to quiet themselves when faced with being alone again.

In Glen Allen, call Professional Dog Trainer’s, Melaina Russell and McKenzie Dewar at 804-672-2200. In Midlothian, call Dickie Martinson and Zach Fuqua at 794-5400.

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