In previous seminars, we have offered advice on how to pass this stage of confinement in a more pleasant and enjoyable way for our dogs, however, we cannot ignore the problems that this strange time will bring or are already causing in the relationship we have with our dogs or their behavior.
We have seen what recommendations we offer to increase their stimulation in these circumstances, making games of different characteristics for them, learning how to encourage the use of their main sense (smell) and even how to perform relaxing and pleasant massages for them and also for us, but… What will happen when everything returns to normal and we no longer have all that time to dedicate to them? When they return to spend hours and hours alone in the house? When they cross again with people or dogs (in the case of dogs with hyperreactivity to them)?
We must prepare ourselves from this moment on for that return to normality, not only that, but also to avoid unhealthy forms of attachment that are already developing in our pets, that may show problems that before they did not have.
Attachment is the emotional bond that unites us and this can be beneficial or detrimental to our relationship. Attachment is not only developed between living beings, but it can also be developed to an inanimate object. There are dogs that have a secure attachment to their referents, these suppose a secure base in moments of discomfort, fear or uncertainty, but their absence does not always derive in discomfort or anguish, although their return is well received. People and dogs that develop this type of attachment promote security and growth on both sides. On the other hand, there are other types of attachment that are not so adaptive and that generate emotional discomfort in the dog in the absence of the human reference (often provoking destructive behaviour, elimination in the form of urine and faeces, excessive barking…); also avoidant attachments, in which the human reference has not constituted a safe base for the dog and often becomes a source of punishment and inconsistent rewards, giving rise to a dog that emits few behaviours, defenceless.
In these days when we spend more time than usual with our dogs it is crucial to maintain their space and respect it. Not to bother them when they are resting, to promote individual games that entertain them alone, in short, to try that our presence is not so noticeable so that, when the moment of our absence arrives, it is not noticeable either. If your dog has started to follow you around the house, perhaps it is because it is bored, but we must promote the independence so that the source of entertainment does not depend exclusively on us, although now we are one of the most relevant stimuli that the dog has in the environment.
On the other hand, we have seen how to develop actions so that, in the absence of the physical activity of walking and the stimulation they find outside, they can enrich the environment and make it more complex so that it is of greater interest to them. It is important that these new games and challenges that we propose to them are aimed to COMPENSATE for the lack of stimulation, but without over-stimulating or over-exciting them. Let’s remember that, when we spend a lot of time out of home, the dog is going to see itself without that amount of challenges that perhaps in these moments we can be raising them. It is healthy to keep a balance between attending to their demands when they are bored by proposing games and letting them sometimes deal with the frustration of boredom, getting them used to the future where they will spend time alone again.
People who live with fearful dogs or those who are hyper-reactive to outside stimuli may be going on a “honeymoon” when they go for walks: if your dog was afraid of the noise of cars, ambulances, the bustle of the street, etc. it will probably be much calmer when goes out. It is important that we are aware that this situation is TEMPORARY and that all those things our dog was afraid of will come back, probably when the dog thought he was rid of them, making it even more sensitive. We must be prepared for that and try to palliate, as far as possible, the hypersensitivity to those stimuli. For it we can reward them every time that, in the walk, they are with some of those stimuli that cause them fear so they get used to their presence and they normalize them.
A similar case is that of dogs that present hyperreactivity in the form of barking, aggressiveness or fear of other people or dogs. At this moment no dog or person is approaching ours, and although we know that this situation will not last forever our dog is not aware of it. We can apply the same measure as in the case of dogs with fears and, above all, be prepared for an upsurge in that problem when we return to the past situation.
In the case of the puppies that had their first walks, so important for their correct socialization, we must be prepared for the possible consequences that this lack of early socialization may have on them. Even if we cannot get close to other dogs or people, we can make eye contact with them and thus incorporate those visual stimuli into their standardized environmental repertoire. Not only can they see them, but it is also good to let them sniff out the trail of other dogs or people.
To make a progressive return to their previous routine we can leave our dogs more and more time without interaction, as the days go by in the hours when they would normally be alone. We can also resume the routine of meals and walks gradually.
Finally, it is important to emphasize the importance of routines for an animal like the dog. Having a solid routine of time for walks, games, feeding, interaction and sleep adds predictability to their environment and a sense of control. This routine will probably have been modified during this time, but we should try to make it as similar as possible to the routine they will return to when the confinement is over. Also, we would like to share this piece of advice to people who live with elderly dogs, as in their case the dogs’ routines are of vital importance.