Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Is your dog loving lockdown?

How is lockdown and social distancing going for your dog?
Did you secretly breathe a sigh of relief when you realised that lockdown might mean not walking the dog as much or in the usual places? Or that people might avoid you and give you space BEFORE you have to ask for it?
You can still walk your dog, and good on you for sticking to your routines if that is what works for you - great!! Carry on and enjoy the exercise  (Just don't forget to wash your hands when you get in xx)
But lots of people are opting not to. Or not to walk every day perhaps, or for not as long.
Social distancing means that people are now crossing the road when they see someone coming, and walking around them in a big arch - or nipping down alleys etc to avoid getting too close.
It also means people are not walking their dogs every day, some (like me) are not even walking the dog at all - Moo has been out once for a walk since the day the lockdown started.
This lock down is having some unexpected benefits for some of our dogs. 
Moo, though no longer particularly reactive, seems to be so much calmer. He definitely eats more. Plays more. Trains & learns faster. He seems to rarely bark at all any more. Sleeps like a log. No longer feels the need to guard the front of the house, and has decided the Thursday clap is a massive reward for him, and so people going past the house no longer seem to bother him either as they are now all his clappers - I taught him to associate clapping with reward from an early age as food was not always such a good choice for him (being allergic and intolerant and all). The postman is still cheeky enough to venture up the path, but in all honesty, most days these days, we are still in bed enjoying a lay in when the postie sneaks up to burgle us, and Moo only worries about burglars when we are up and out of our pits, as he is as lazy as the rest of the family when it comes to a nice lay in.
Now, how many times have I asked people with reactive dogs to empty their buckets by having days off from walking and do other stuff instead - enrichment and games? It's one of my go-to starting points for many a consultation. Getting that bucket emptied. Now buckets are emptying faster than you can say "Dear Liza". Starting from a good place mentally helps learning accelerate and behaviour problems melt away so much faster.
I also tell people to map their walking routes so there is always a road to cross to be able to create distance, or alleys to nip down. Walking along, straight towards another dog can be very threatening and intimidating to both dogs, but walking around them by crossing the road, or going around a parked car etc is so much less so. Now almost EVERYBODY is avoiding you - dog or no dog. It is great. Strangers are not stopping to pet your dog either, which helps immensely with desensitisation, when you have a very cute one that hates people.
I don't tend to encourage dogs meeting each other on lead very much at all, and three seconds is long enough for an initial sniff to suss each other out. Not all dogs want to be met! With the lockdown and social distancing, the dogs can avoid this pressure too.
I train an A2B/U-turn motion so to be able to get away without yanking on the lead. This is something people have been practicing both as an enrichment task in the garden but also while gently leading their dogs out of the path of oncoming joggers, dog walkers, cyclists and so on. Leash skills make a lot of difference as if a dog expects to be yanked away as soon as he sees a trigger, that trigger becomes even more of a thing to be concerned about.
The humans, well they are just glad to be out of the house, and so are not marching the dog around their route at the speed of light so they can get home in time for Eastenders. Nope - instead they are ambling along and letting the dogs sniff and snoot about. Much nicer for the dogs. Steering clear of the benches and touchy things, and taking the time to look at the blossom on the trees or feeling the sunshine on their faces instead, accidentally practicing a spot of mindfulness as they go. 
The reactive dogs are seeming to get much calmer and relaxing as a result of doing all of this. So are their humans!
🐾 So perhaps keep it up after lockdown ends? 🐾

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