Dogs don’t always deal very well with a busy home life, or with a sudden change in routine. So if your family has decided to hunker down at home for the coming weeks, suspending normal family routines for a while, don’t forget to spare a thought for your four-legged family members.
Look at it this way. When you feel stressed, you can take yourself off to another room in the house and calm down. When one of the kids is upset, they can run upstairs to their bedroom. But what about the dog? What does Buddy do when he doesn’t want to be the object of the kids’ games, or be chased by another pet, or be near a noisy hoover, or have his sleep disturbed by someone running into the room?
Unusual activity in the house and new daily schedules can be upsetting for a family dog who may be used to a more tranquil pace. An anxious animal is an unhappy animal that may react with ‘fight or flight’ responses when stressed. With no possibility to avoid a given stressful situation, your pet may feel trapped and behave in a perfectly understandable but ultimately unacceptable fashion.
That’s why it is so important to provide your canine companion with a ‘dog haven’ in the home. Whether you choose to create a dog sanctuary in the garage or make a special place for him somewhere in the house, giving your pet that choice to move away into his safe haven will help to build his confidence, keep his mind and body healthy and maintain a calm family home.
Situations that can cause anxiety attacks in dogs include:
- Changes of routine – people coming in and going out at different times, change of household schedules including dog walking routines and brands of dog food
- Loud noises – children playing excitedly and running around, domestic arguments, household noises including vacuum cleaners or building works, fireworks, loud traffic
- Other pets, unfamiliar visitors
How can you tell if your pet is stressed?
Getting into a new family rhythm when everyone is cooped up at home may be challenging for everyone, including the dog. Would you recognise anxious canine body language? You, or the kids for that matter, may miss the signs that your puppy or dog is feeling uncomfortable, perhaps not realising when it’s time to intervene, or to let go. It also helps to consider the context of the situation in which one or more of the following behaviours occur:
- Stress yawn – a more intense yawn than a sleepy, relaxed yawn
- Panting – open mouthed breathing when temperatures are normal
- Ears back and flat against the head
- Lower hanging tail or clamped between legs
- Avoidance – turning the eyes, head or body away from a person or situation
- Growling – vocal indication of feeling threatened and needing space
- Stiff body and tall posture – clear signs of alertness and stress
How can you create a dog haven in your home?
In these testing times, it’s important for all families to be able to live together harmoniously – and that includes Buddy. In the first instance, every pet owner should provide a blanket, bed or snug crate in a place that’s located well away from the hustle and bustle of the home. Perhaps Buddy has already chosen a favourite spot under the table or next to the sofa – why not simply place the blanket, bed or open crate there?
A safe haven is meant to be a place of rest and relaxation, not somewhere you feed the dog or contain him. A crate may be most suitable for providing the all-round safety a dog may require. Rather than seeing a dog crate as a cage or prison, it is perfectly possible to turn the space into a safe and cosy doggy den. Choose a crate that is not too big, roughly about the size of the bed he currently sleeps in.
Make sure everyone in the household understands that when Buddy is in his safe place, he must not be disturbed and needs to be left alone. Perhaps you can tell the children to pretend that the dog is invisible and they can’t see him. Then, when Buddy is ready to come out and is seeking attention, tend to him. The important thing to remember is that it should be his choice to want to come out. So if you want him to go into the garden, call him an excitedly walk-off, allowing him to come to you.
Finally, a safe haven will give you valuable clues about your dog’s personality that you can learn from. If he goes into his crate every time you get the hoover out, it’s a sure sign that he feels nervous around the object. Next time you need to vacuum the house, anticipate the situation with a tasty treat in his den and reduce his stress levels.