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Navigating the new normal with our dogs ...

Anna Webb – Broadcaster, Author, has studied natural nutrition and therapies with the College of Integrated Veterinary Therapies (CIVT). She lives in London and is owned by Prudence a Miniature Bull Terrier and Mr Binks, a re-homed English Toy Terrier.

As we all begin to navigate a new normal where the foreseeable future is very uncertain, it’s no wonder anxiety is still running high in both us and in our dogs.

For many of use we’re still in ‘lockdown limbo’. With an uncertain economic forecast and the worries of Covid 19 being here to stay, affecting our lives and our dogs on many levels.

The RCVS is in the process of studying the impact of Lockdown on dogs not only in the UK, but also in Spain and Italy.

Initial findings reveal that 37% dogs are more ‘nervous’ and barking a lot more whilst conversely over 60% of pet parents concur that their dog has been and continues to be a massive emotional support.

It’s important to remember that our dogs still don’t know that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic.

My concern is that communication could be getting lost in translation. Dogs know how to ‘talk’ to other canines using eye contact and body signals, and they transfer this skill to reading us like a book too.

Plus they bring in their extraordinary sense of smell to literally know when we’re happy, sad or really stressed out by sniffing the fluctuations in our cortisol levels through our breath and our sweat.

It’s impossible to lie to a dog not least as with over 300 million scent receptors in their noses (compared to our humble 5,000), dogs can sniff out a teaspoon of sugar diluted by two Olympic swimming pools!

In a way they’re born bi-lingual! But sometimes we don’t understand what our dog is saying back as we’ve not learnt to speak ‘dog’.

Prudence my Miniature Bull terrier is like a stress barometer and tells me to ‘calm down’. She does this in no uncertain terms using exaggerated head turns and huge yawns that are both examples of ‘calming signals’.

In fact Prudence has been known to leave the room when I’ve huffed and puffed at the laptop for too long!

Checking our behaviour by observing our dog’s reactions means we can save a situation that could otherwise make a dog anxious by unwittingly rewarding it.

Taking a pre-emptive and proactive approach with acclimatisation and training to navigate the new challenges like social distancing and wearing face coverings now mandatory on public transport and in shops.

By ‘disguising’ our faces dogs aren’t able to understand the full ‘picture’, causing confusion and misunderstanding.

Too much eye contact can trigger a defensive or nervous reaction as its not in context with the rest of the face at that moment.

When I travelled on London’s Overground for the first time with Mr Binks, my re-homed English Toy Terrier, he most certainly noticed a difference.

Despite wearing my mask indoors, taking it on and off, so both Mr Binks and Prudence could get the idea of this new ‘human fashion statement’, Mr Binks was confused on the train.

Sat beside me he kept reaching to my facemask with his long pointy nose, just nudging it as if to say: “why have you got this on, we’re in public? It looks weird, take it off!”

By taking the time to train your dog to the new normal demands like working on your dog’s heelwork (to keep you close together); the recall to maintain social distance and observing what triggers any ‘extra’ barking will help turn a negative into a positive.

And by listening to what your dog is saying to you, my hope is that relationships will get stronger.

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