Today was a lazy day, a calm day some might say. Which is good, because we could all use a bit more calmness and relaxing in our lives. In fact, I manage my multi-dog household with calmness as a strong foundation. My goal is for my dogs to choose calm as a default behavior. If we aren’t playing or training, they should be resting. At its most basic concept, there are no bad choices when calm, only good ones. In the wild dogs spend most of their days resting to conserve energy and when our dogs do the same it means they can make better choices and perform better when working. Our days are based on Absolute Dog’s Calmness Triad: Passive Calming Activities, Calmness Protocol, and Rest. Each has its own importance, but today I want to talk about rest.
I’m seeing a lot of posts regarding two concerns for our dogs while we are all spending more time at home. The first is that they will suffer from separation related behaviors once the world returns back to work The second that they are struggling to cope with spending their entire day with the family, particularly when young children are in the home. In reality, both of these scenarios are based on the same issue, a lack of rest, true rest, where the dog spends time alone.
Dogs that can spend time apart from their families/owner have a chance to recharge and unwind, just like we do when we read a book or take a bath after a long day. By not giving our dogs a chance to relax we do them a true disservice. Dogs that can’t spend time alone don’t learn how to self soothe and can end up with separation related behaviors that can be mild (whining when their owner first leaves) or severe (tearing the entire house apart). While dogs that are not given space to rest can often seem to be unable to relax or even exhibit behaviors that seem aggressive, such as barking, nipping or lunging. When bites do occur they often seem to be “out of nowhere” when in reality that dog reached a breaking point from not being allowed time to rest.
The good news is, for most dogs, its fairly easy to allow them the opportunity to rest. However if your dog is already exhibiting seperation related behaviors it can be a bit more tricky. Another bonus, it’s easier to implement these changes while we are spending more time at home. Start by deciding where they can rest (ideally this is not in a single location - remember about Ditching the Routine!!), If they are crate trained it is an obvious choice, but you can also use a room, gated off area, exercise pen, or boundaries/place/bed if your dog has a strong foundation for staying comfortably in one place.
My dogs spend time alone at least twice per day. I like to give them a Kong or other stuffed toy when I leave them (know YOUR dog and if it is safe to leave them with a Kong unattended). This helps soothe them in my absence and often allows them to fall asleep after they have finished. For dogs that aren’t used to being alone, you can begin by just using a gate to separate you. Boundaries can be an excellent choice here, as you can teach them to lay on their bed while you are in the room before you leave it.
Aside from planned rest you can do little things throughout the day, such as not allowing them to follow you into the bathroom or leaving them outside the kitchen (behind a gate) while you prep meals or eat dinner. Take short walks, such as to the mailbox on your own, scatter feed in your backyard, leave them upstairs when you go downstairs to do laundry. Be creative, there are lots of opportunities to “leave” them throughout the day.
If your dog is distressed by your absence, you will need to reevaluate how you are introducing time apart. We’ll be exploring Passive Calming Activities tomorrow, which will help you be more creative in helping them adjust. Crying, whining, barking, and other behaviors are generally based on fear and allowing them to continue will not help your dog adjust to your leaving.
These days my dogs generally rest wherever they are on their own. However, when major life changes happen (guest spending the night or dad is suddenly home all day) they sometimes need me to step in and make sure they get that time. After all, they say a tired dog is a happy dog...and we’ll explore that tomorrow.
Owner, Head Trainer