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Post Covid stressors

With all of the country gradually opening up and with the restrictions easing, then people are wanting to go back to 'normal' life and routines. Who really knows what is 'normal' now? Masks, mandatory vaccinations, limited numbers inside and all the changes weekly as far as what we can and can't do.

Our dogs have not had as many to worry about, they just do what they can when they can but this in itself is the kicker.

So many people took on 'covid' dogs to help then get through lockdowns and social isolation, stress, loneliness and anxiety. These dogs had big boots to fill and were not always genetically or socially prepared to do so.

Many dogs were sourced in desperation with little thought to the ongoing suitability post covid, some through rescues, others quickly bred up and produced by those looking to make some quick (and big) dollars in the situation. Demand raised prices through the roof for any dog, be it safe or suitable.

As a trainer I am now seeing these dogs trying to integrate into post covid 'normal'.

Busy streets, traffic noises, crowds, markets, movement and spatial pressures are everywhere the dogs go and many are poorly prepared for this. Their critical periods are long closed, their social skills limited by restrictions imposed.

So where do we go from here for these dogs, these thousands of dogs??

We create learning activities for them, gradual exposure to environment and work within the limits of critical distances and break down the stimuli into manageable parts.

Take traffic as an example; there is noise, movement, smell, levels of pitch/tone/intensity etc etc.

So find a location that allows you to control the critical distance, choose the time of day to vary the intensity levels.

Consider if it will just be cars using this location or if there will be trucks and buses also, these have a whole new set of challenges for a nervous dog/handler team. Rattly utes tray trucks with tarps flapping, air brakes and horns.

Look at these from a dog's perspective, from their height if you need to and look with new eyes.

Have empathy for what they are experiencing and patience, loads of patience!

Create an opportunity for personal growth, build that brave and make sure that the dog has wins every time you venture out. It will get easier with time if you give the dog time to adjust. NO FLOODING!!

This Blog was prompted by a dog class this morning where we did a town is just a week off xmas so you can imagine how busy it was! We used known commands to get the dogs through when they got a bit overwhelmed, gave them tasks to do that would lead to reward. We broke down the critical distances and sought out locations that we could safely challenge the dogs to learn new behaviours/skills. Stairs, cross walks, enclosed spaces, slippery floors, traffic....and more traffic! We used the Buddy system and walked the nervous younger dogs shoulder to shoulder with the older steady headed dogs. (Big thanks to Pepper and Emmy) The plan being that as the young dogs Brave up then we can fade the Buddy system and have them independently working through stress and being able to quickly recover.

To aid in recovery post walk the dogs were sent home with these instructions: Make sure they have a quiet place to rest when they get home and when they wake then engage them in a good round of play. Be it ball chasing, river swimming or just a good run. This will burn off the cortisol load that has built up via stressors and settle the dog via the natural release of serotonin's and endorphins.

You can also add Magnessium/complex Vit B supplements to their diets to help boost that baseline so that on the next training walk your dog has a better capacity to deal with stress. Use it ongoing so that you have a calm dog with a clear head.

Anxiety sucks, it clouds rational thought and blocks learning. Long term it degrades the entire system and causes major health issues. Build your dogs up via diet, play and solid learning. Create a Brave dog that can roll with what life throws at them. While you are at it, take on board the above and maybe apply a few of the principles to your own life so that you are the calm handler your stressed dog needs.


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