Lockdown didn’t just effect us, it also impacted the way our dogs socialise, and for some the effect has been profound. Our older dogs have coped pretty well, but those aged under two have felt the impact the most.
So what went wrong?
At the start of lockdown the message was clear. Covid could be anywhere, so keep your distance from everyone and everything, and stop touching stuff!
Previously we’d been happy to stop and chat to other people, and we loved watching our dogs play and make new friends, dog and human. All of a sudden that was flipped on it’s head. Not only did we stop talking, we actively started avoiding others. We kept our dogs on their leads, put our heads down, and just walked. And if our dogs did approach someone, we quickly called them away.
The change was stark and, for our dogs, the only explanation was that other people and dogs must be bad. They didn’t understand R-rates or social distancing. All they knew was that we were suddenly avoiding everyone else, and we were super anxious about it. They might not understand pandemics but they are experts at picking up our anxiety and interpreting behaviour.
Many dogs don’t socialise well on leads at the best of times, so they were already on edge. The combined result was a bunch of dogs trapped on their leads, yelling at each other as we dragged them to a safe distance.
This new environment was stressful for everyone, and that has had a lasting impact on their behaviour.
What about at home?
We were allowed to go out during lockdown for exercise, so our dogs still got to see other dogs, at least. The house was a different story altogether. Where once we would have expected regular visitors, we now had none. Delivery people were being weird, our kids stopped having friends over, and we started shouting at people through the window!
Many of us also started noisily celebrating the efforts of our frontline services on a Thursday night! How do you think our dogs interpreted this behaviour, combined with our new habit of shouting through the letter box or out the window?
We were now demonstrating extremely defensive behaviour at our boundaries! Our homes had become a closed environment that was only for family, and this went on for a really long time. They just never became used to sharing their space with other people.
A new normal
These experiences, or lack of, have set your dogs sense of “normal”.
Socialisation is all about learning what’s normal and what isn’t. Our older dogs weren’t so affected because their normal was already well established before lockdown. For them, lockdown felt weird, but they never forgot what it was like before. As we went back to how things were, the confident, older dog, bounced back to old habits and all was well.
Our younger dogs knew no different. In fact, for them, having dogs from other packs over for “coffee” is plain weird. Their normal makes perfect sense, but are now being asked to change their normal quite dramatically and to something quite unnatural. For some this is exciting, but for many, it is very frightening. In either case, as we ease into new routines, it’s perfectly fair to expect some unusual new behaviours.
So what next?
The first thing to realise is that whatever your dog is doing, it isn’t wrong, or bad. And it isn’t your fault either! It’s the best they can do under extremely unusual circumstances, and there was absolutely no way you could have stopped it.
Once you accept that your dog is doing his best, you can stop telling him off and focus on new behaviours instead. Don’t worry about what he is doing, it’s time to start thinking about what you’d like him to do instead. This is about changing behaviour, not what’s good or bad.
It’s so easy to obsess over stopping the unwanted behaviour, but when you do this your interactions can become quite negative, and it lacks a goal. It’s also easy to lose track of your own behaviour. You can never go wrong by slowing things down, staying calm, and adopting a quiet tone.
And if it feels like you are starting from scratch, then that’s ok. Teaching an older dog a new behaviour is never easy. It can be frustrating, and it takes patience.
Walking in a pack might help restart the socialisation process. Read more about the benefits of pack walking here.
A professional dog behaviourist will fast track you through the rehabilitation process. They’ll be able to see what types of training will work best for you and your dog so your efforts can be more focused. Plus, they’ll support you when it gets tough.
Other possibilities might include medication to help lessen the effects. Or, you maybe feel like this isn’t the right time for training and would rather look into day care or a pet sitter. These strategies are valid, however unless you are working on the problem it will always be there in the background. It might also contribute to a general lack of confidence and impact your dogs behaviour in other scenarios, so please don’t put it off for too long.
How can I help you with your dogs socialisation?
If you would like help solving your dogs behaviour and training, then please get in touch! Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in and around the Dundee area, and as far as Carnoustie, Broughty Ferry, Monifieth, Tayport, Newport, and Longforgan. Depending on the problem, I often go even further afield.