April 12, 2020 7 min read
The news is at times overwhelming and sometimes terrifying, especially with the updates of how COVID19 is showing up in cats. That might lead to a knee-jerk reaction about not taking pets outside, but take a deep breath, look at your dog’s sad puppy dog eyes, and exhale. Then click over to the AVMA COVID19 response FAQs. No, dog walks aren’t cancelled. Dog walks, school, work, (or not working), teaching, all of it looks different, and we’ll have to adjust to a new normal, but so far there is no indication that domestic animals can transmit the disease to humans (zoonosis.)
So while we can take our dogs out, what does that look like for dog owners? Oddly, the two most common reports from students, friends, coworkers and clients are completely opposite, and are both correct.
The first observation is that dog walks are much easier. People in some communities are socially distancing, or people working at home are able to walk Fido at off-peak times during the day. This helps people get dogs out for exercise, sniffing and doing their business with less reactivity in dogs, less anxiety in those owners looking for more distance, and finding a moment’s of peace with their dogs. It’s also giving a population of people who are motivated by running with their dogs, or going for strolls to get away from the computer for a bit (or for me, motivation to get pants on).
The other thing, the more surprising thing, is that there is also reporting of much more reactivity in some dogs. Dog owners who aren’t able to send their dog to doggy daycare are suddenly finding out that their dog isn’t getting enough exercise which leads to an increase in leash frustration, or with so many people outside on nicer days the stimulation might be overwhelming. There is also a smaller population to consider: I’ve had some clients who never walk their dogs as they work so much that the majority of their dogs’ care is outsourced. For those folks, while the dog is theirs, the owners might not know the triggers of this particular animal whom they share a residence. It’s like owning a Kentucky Derby racehorse but never riding it - that’s the jockey’s job.
And then there is you. The human who is reading this piece. You have your own emotional roller coaster and journey. Perhaps you are struggling to cope with stir-craziness, or feeling the burden of being socially isolated. There might be a bliss from not commuting and having more time to bake cookies (and play with your dog). And whatever you are feeling, burdened with, all of it is valid and understandable. All of it, your dog can read like a book.
Here is what I recommend for most people, but I’m fully aware that if getting out of bed today is impossibly hard and the only thing you can do for your pet is get him or her out to pee, you are doing enough. You are doing a fantastic job in this grief, this terrifying time, this uncertainty.
We might not have the same experience, but we are all pivoting with this pandemic and are feeling stress of some kind. Our dogs feel it, too. Make sure that your new schedule change and routine change hasn’t left your dog high and dry. Don’t be hard on yourself. Your animals are here for you, love you, and are with you. We will make mistakes as we all pivot. We are doing the best we can with the tools we have.
Dog walks are far from cancelled. For some of us, myself included, they are the motivation to get out of bed. That’s the thing I know I can do. I can breathe fresh air for a while and take in a podcast without my family, whom I love dearly but need to take a few minutes for myself, with my right-hand hound. For me, those walks are the thing I have to do and I always feel better after I do them, even though everything else is a crap shoot.
Walks with your dog might have to look differently than expected, and that’s ok. This might only be for a while, maybe for longer, but you got this. Start now by saying to yourself that this is ok, and then give your dog (if he or she is cool with it) a belly rub. Then go for a walk and see if you can see what they see by letting them sniff.
Written by guest author, Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA. Melissa is the author of Considerations for the City Dog, and co-training director of the New England Dog Training Club - the oldest AKC obedience club in the country. She is offering daily-ish dog training challenges and free classes on her YouTube channel as we all navigate this new normal. More information about Melissa can be found at MelissaMcCueMcGrath.com.
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