At the outset of quarantine, many dog parents, now working from home, assumed that their pups would be overjoyed to be spending more time with them. But several weeks later, much like we are, many dogs appear to be experiencing the mental toll of extended isolation — or something else entirely — and are going freaking apeshit, nabbing food from countertops, incessantly barking at absolutely nothing or ignoring their owners altogether. (I know that my dog is going crazy, at least.)
The real causes of their deteriorated behavior, according to my experts, are a palpable change in routine and, depending on your quarantined situation, less outside time. “Dogs’ routines have been totally thrown out-of-whack,” says Jessica Pierce, bioethicist and author of numerous books about pets, including Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Possible Life. “I’ve seen so many media stories about how thrilled our dogs must be to have us home all the time. But routine and ritual are very important to dogs, as they are to us — and we’re feeling pretty whacked out, too.”
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to help your good boi keep calm and carry on (and hopefully stop stealing your dinners) in quarantine. So before they zoom around your apartment, opening a literal portal to hell in the process, come with me and learn to be a real-deal dog whisperer (or at least to help them chill out).
Just Relax, Bro
I know, life is insane right now. But much like children, dogs pick up on our concerns, and they react to them, usually negatively. Accordingly, make sure to take care of yourself, whatever that may mean, so you can be there for your dog. “The most important thing right now is empathy,” Pierce says. “Recognize that your dog is feeling off-kilter, because routines have changed. It may very well be that our dogs are picking up on our anxieties, too, and this may make them feel uncomfortable. The worst thing people can do is scold or punish a dog who’s being clingy, hyperactive or whatever — this will just make things worse for the dog. My advice would be to try your best to adapt to your dog’s behavior, just as they’re trying to adapt to yours.”
Continue Their Old Routine as Much as Possible
If you normally take your pup to parks that are now closed, both you and your dog have to make do with some changes. However, do whatever you can to maintain some semblance of normalcy. “Like us, dogs aren’t so keen on change, and they generally prefer it if they get their meals at the same time each day and get taken for walks at the same times each day,” says Zazie Todd, animal psychologist and author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy.
Similarly, if they normally stay home while you work, they may still need that relaxing alone time. “Make sure your dog has some quiet time during the day. What do you think your dog normally does while you’re out at work? They probably spend some of that time napping and the rest just relaxing, hopefully. So make sure they have access to somewhere quiet, where they can chill out and relax if they want to.”
Todd also explains that leaving your dog alone in your home for a few minutes while you step outside each day could benefit the both of you. “Give your dog some time alone at home, even if it’s only for five or 10 minutes while you stand in the yard,” she says. “If they’re used to being left home alone, you want them to remember that, as it will help them transition when you go back to your normal routine.”
Use Your Walks Wisely
If, for whatever reason, you and your dog get out less during quarantine, make sure to meander during your walks, allowing your pup to take full advantage of them while they can. “Dogs are probably going crazy from the lack of outside time, lack of sensory stimulation from walks and lack of social interactions with other dogs, even in the form of sniffing pee and leaving ‘pee mail’ messages for other dogs,” Pierce says.
Therefore, Todd suggests, “Make the most of the walks you can do by turning them into a sniffari. Let your dog follow their nose and sniff as much as they want — so long as it’s safe, of course. We all know that dogs like to sniff, so it’s important to give them those opportunities.”
Play Some Games
“It’s easy to spend a lot of time worrying about the news or watching films for hours on end and losing track of time,” Todd explains. “But if you normally play games with your dog, like tug or indoor fetch, you still need to make time for that.” And if you seldom play games with them, know that keeping your dog stimulated is a great way to keep them happy and well behaved — remember, dogs are very capable of becoming bored, too, especially since they can’t play Animal Crossing all day long.
If you need some ideas, Pierce says, “I’ve been doing this 10-day quarantine trick challenge with my dog, Bella, and she loves it. Nose work around the house is fun, too: I hide Bella’s stuffed sloth in weird places and tell her to ‘go find it.’ Providing treats that take some time or work can also be fun. There are puzzle toys you can buy online, you can freeze peanut butter in a Kong, you can freeze cans of baby food or you can freeze kibble inside of ice cubes.”
If you need even more ideas, Todd sent me a whole list of engaging games you can play with your pup, especially if their walks have been cut short:
- Put treats in a Woolly Snuffle Mat (a rug with long loops designed for hiding treats).
- Do a short training session with tasty food as a reward. There are lots of trick training videos on the internet, or you can brush up on some obedience. Make it easy so your dog keeps earning treats.
- Get three cups, put a piece of food under one of them, shuffle them and let your dog pick a cup. If it’s hiding the treat, they get the treat, and if not, let them have another go.
- If you have access to a safe patch of grass, scatter some treats for them to find using their nose.
- Get a cupcake tray and some tennis balls. Put some tasty treats or bits of cooked chicken in each cupcake place, then put a tennis ball on top. Your dog has to remove the balls to get at the treats.
You Could Also Try, Uh, Giving Them a Massage
If your dog is barking more than usual or being extra clingy, Pierce says a doggie massage could help them chill out. “Most dogs love a gentle massage,” she explains (although she notes that some may be less receptive than others, so just pay close attention to how your pup reacts). “There are a zillion canine massage tutorials online.”
If Nothing Else Works, Call In the (Virtual) Professionals
“If spending extra time with your dog makes you aware of some behavior issues, you can still seek help despite the pandemic,” Todd says. “Find a reward-based dog trainer who’s doing virtual consults — and remember, any time there’s a sudden change in behavior, consult with your veterinarian.”
Now about that portal to hell…