At Home With Your Dog Courtesy of Coronavirus?

It’s a win for dogs, but people need to be smart about it
By Karen B. London PhD, March 2020

Dogs love it when we work from home!

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people are working from home or not leaving home at all. Though that’s distressing in various ways, it’s undeniable that it's a win for dogs to have their people home all day. I urge everyone who suddenly has unlimited time with their best friend to take advantage of it, but also to be aware of the challenges this change presents. Here are some specific things to keep in mind.

  • Just being home with your dog is not enough. Your dog still needs quality time with you rather than just calmly being by your feet or at your side all day. Even though you are present more than usual, continue to go on walks (if you are not quarantined) and to engage in training and play sessions. Take breaks for your own sake and use them to play with or exercise your dog. Short training sessions can serve as breaks for both of you, and you can work on basic skills such as stay and heel or teach her tricks such as spin and crawl.
  • Take your dog for a walk before you start work. It is easier for your dog to behave well while you work if she has already had some exercise and some mental stimulation. Don’t shorten the regular morning walk she would take if you were leaving for the day just because you will be home. Even if you do take her out more often, a good first walk starts the day off right and makes it more likely that the day will go well for both of you.
  • If you can leave your dog alone for at least a little while a few times a week, that will help prevent shock when you do eventually go back to working at the office or getting out of your house more often. If you are quarantined, this is not an excuse to leave, but if you can head out for a bike ride or go on an errand from time to time, that will help keep your dog from becoming unable to cope with being left alone. It's a skill worth maintaining.
  • Don't let your dog demand your attention all day long. It can become a bad habit and will be a hassle later on. It's easy to let this happen when you are so excited to be home with your dog all day. It's fine to give your dog lots of love and attention, but don't let her call all the shots or insist that you focus on her continuously.
  • Make sure your dog has something to do when you are not interacting with her. Lots of dogs sleep a lot when we are gone, but not all of them will nap as much with us right there. If that’s the case for your dog, chew toys or a stuffed Kong can prevent boredom which in turn can prevent undesirable behavior such as destructive chewing, whining, barking or pawing at you for attention. If your dog is good at entertaining herself with toys, make sure she has access to some of her favorites and perhaps offer her some new ones now.
  • Put a dog bed near where you work so your dog can be right next to you and as comfortable as possible. There’s something so cozy about being together even if you are each doing your own thing—working versus snoozing or chewing on something.
  • Don't overdo the treats! It’s so tempting to give your dog lots of treats while you are spending so much time together, but an excess of food is not good for our dogs. Whether the extra food is given during training sessions or just because, be mindful of keeping your dog’s food intake in balance with her activity. It would be regrettable if your extra time together translated into extra pounds for your dog.
  • Create challenges for your dog to keep her life interesting and divert her attention from you a bit. Hiding kibble and a few small treats around the house and then sending your dog to find them is a great way to entertain your dog and to feed her in a way that keeps her mind more active than eating from a bowl.

Finally, remember to cherish this moment in which we are able to spend more time with our dogs. The reason we have the opportunity to do so is unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean we can’t treasure this unintended consequence of the global pandemic.

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She has authored five books on canine training and behavior.