Just as we thought the lock downs were easing we find ourselves back into Stage 3 restrictions. This can be very frustrating for everyone, including our dogs. They were super happy to have us at home all the time, and then had to get used to us going out to work, and now we are home again. When they go out for walks they see faceless (masked) people and this can be disturbing for some dogs. So; what to do?
Firstly let's look at masks. Dogs don't understand human clothing and some can be a bit freaked by things that change our shape and look. Hats are one item that changes our outline. Masks change our faces. Dogs read our body language very keenly, and so when we have to hide our faces they can become anxious or confused. Get your dog's attention and show them the mask. Place it in front of your face and take it away. If your dog is calm, give them lots of praise. Repeat this several times so that they can work out that you are just covering your face, not morphing into some monster. If you're out walking and your dog is anxious about the faceless people you meet, just move aside and get your dog to sit and observe. By giving them a chance to look at the people in a quiet manner you are helping the dog to understand that everything is OK. If your dog arcs up and starts barking and carrying on, then naturally you need to show them that this is not acceptable.
Stress. When we are stressed we produce a hormone called Cortisol. Our dogs do too. Our dogs also can smell this change in our system and recognise it for what it is: stress, fear, anger. Something to worry about. Some dogs respond to this change by coming to us and interacting in a gentle way such as a head on your knee or leaning against you. If this happens, you can calm yourself and your dog with pats and gentle play, soft voice and tone. If your dog becomes anxious and panting or pacing, then patting is not going to help. This requires something more, some sort of intervention. You can break the pattern of anxious behaviour several ways. Play is one option. Distract your dog with their favourite squeaky or tug toy. Actively get their attention, move around, be upbeat. This will distract you as well and help dissipate the tension. If you need something quieter to do, then practice the Drop-Stepaway. Aim for a half hour or full hour. This forces the dog to think about the task set for them over an extended length of time. It helps them to self-regulate, to build patience and resilience and improve their memory capacity. This breaks the pattern of anxious behaviour and will also tire their minds so they will be calmer.
If you and your dog are struggling, contact me and we can discuss what's going on.