May 10th to 16th was Mental Health Awareness Week, and I am sure we all want to increase the awareness of how people feel and ensure they can talk about things that upset them – particularly in these stressful times.
I have always advocated mental health for dogs of all ages and breeds. There is a lot of pressure put on our dogs every day, particularly the younger ones. As lockdown eases and we return to pre-pandemic training situations, we have taken a closer look at what we at BTPDS call “Covid Canines”. These are teenager dogs that grew up over the various lockdowns in 2020 and early 2021.
And to be perfectly honest, it isn’t looking terrific! With the “real” world opening back up to them, I have many stressed young dogs coming to me. This stress ranges from mild cases, such as dogs being wriggly and shy and jumping up, to full-on aggression, such as lunging, biting and “do it if you dare” barking.
An unhappy larger dog can pull an owner over. A small dog can trip an owner up. Ensure you can hold onto your dog. Never shy away from adding more robust (non-aversive) equipment for your dog. I have ponies, including miniature ones, and no one would expect me to have equipment that couldn’t hold them!
A two-point harness will get you a long way. Correctly understood and used, a dog will find it very hard to pull and therefore not pull you over. I have owners using the Perfect Fit (dog-games-shop.co.uk ) and the Mekuti (mekuti.co.uk), but others are there.
If you are longline training – essential when helping a dog make its own positive decisions – such a harness using a set-up with the front point as a brake is vital. I prefer the Dogmatic as a headcollar for an assertive dog or an owner who is not so strong or non-disabled. Please note that it has drawbacks as the owner needs to be sympathetic when the dog wants to move or turn away from scary stuff.
Suitable footwear and understanding how to keep your centre of gravity, well, “central” are also necessary.
Keeping Your Dog Safe
It is against the law to have a dog out of control. And it doesn’t matter where! Again, have the right equipment on and walk where you know your dog can cope. Don’t take your dog to places where you know there might be too much for it to take in or where dogs or people can unexpectedly appear.
Once you know you can stay safe, it’s time to check out local environments where you can start the training. Large, flat, open spaces are ideal. You need to train at distances where your dog can cope with the sight of people and other dogs. Then reward them for moving away, looking away or sniffing, rather than having him drive them away. If he won’t move away, you may be too close and need to encourage him away.
The best reward will always be to increase the distance to the scary thing when the dog is not reacting; “safety” is a reward in its own right.
Check Behavioural Cornerstones
There are often drivers to unwanted behaviour or at least drivers that are not helping the situation. Examples are carb-fuelled nutrition, too much running and chasing at home or on walks, getting scared/mobbed daily, lost trust through harsh owner handling or verbal chastising and medical issues (mild hip dysplasia, a major one!). Lack of canine enrichment throughout the day will also contribute to the dog’s worry.
I always say, “don’t throw petrol on a bonfire”. Get these sorts of issues sorted as well as getting the training in.
“Practice makes progress. Progress makes perfect.”
Remember, it is all about memories, and your job as the owner is to get those positive “how to keep safe” memories locked down in your dog’s mind.
As always, if you think you will struggle with anything, then, of course, ask for expert help. Here at BTPDS, we offer a Walk and Learn service SPECIFICALLY designed for these issues. Feel free to ask us about it.
We hope you enjoyed reading our article “Dog Mental Health Post-Lockdown“. If you’d like to read more of our articles about looking after your dog, click here.