Lock & Unlock—Let’s Find the Key!
Garima Singhal and Boo
We are living in strange times these days, hit by a pandemic that has spread to 216 countries around the globe and caused many deaths worldwide. -by Garima Singhal
The world is gripped by a wave of pandemic. Since asymptomatic individuals can be carriers of the deadly disease and can rapidly spread it, it is imperative to limit the movement of people to prevent the wide scale spread of the illness to ‘flatten the curve’ of the number of patients and to prevent healthcare facilities around the world from being overwhelmed.
The million dollar question – Are pets infected?
The World Health Organization (WHO) currently advises that there is no evidence to suggest that dogs can be infected with the novel coronavirus. Currently, it is also believed that it is highly unlikely that dogs will become ill from this virus. Authorities continue to recommend that pet parents wash their hands and practise hygiene around their pets. This is the time to practise compassion and kindness.
Dreadful difficult times, but this too shall pass
We are in the midst of challenging times. Your pets are probably as apprehensive as you are. They may not know exactly what is going on, but they can read your body language better than you think, and they know you’re stressed. And that stresses them out as well. They feel the fear and anxiety that you feel at this time. But make this time worthwhile. Take this opportunity to bond with your pet. There are many things you’re handling – work from home, laundry, cooking, cleaning, but still take out time to enjoy and play with your pets every day. It doesn’t need to be a structured game. Anything goofy that gets a laugh out of you and a wiggle out of your furry friend will do. Put on your favourite song and dance, sing, jump, and laugh and have some fun.
Don’t be too harsh on yourself – It is okay to be not okay
Know that it is okay to feel the way you do. The current situation is unusual, and if you are worried about running out of essentials, stressed about the health of your elderly family members and friends, worked up about work from home or just plain depressed about having to stay at home day in and day out, just know that you are not alone in this and that billions of people around the globe are in the same boat as you.
Who locked the dogs in!
The thing about our pets is that they are extremely sensitive to our moods and changes in our feelings and can immediately sense when there is a change. Don’t try to hide your emotions of restlessness and gloom. Your pet can be your best friend and ‘paw’fect therapist during this time. Make a list of 10 things that make your pet joyful and try to do at least one of them every day. It will help you as well. Try to stimulate their senses with different smells, sights or sounds. Hang up wind chimes; peel an orange, try new potpourri, play some soothing music that is specifically designed to calm hyper dogs, spend time in the balcony or in your private yard, keep them engaged and happy.
And in addition, the most important is to keep touching them. Touch is a powerful therapeutic tool that helps bond you to your pet and a gentle massage or a little session of T-Touch can be relaxing for both you and your pets.
Boom of behavioural problems is normal in these times
Right now everything is okay, but when slowly life gets back to normal and you’ll have to leave your pet at home, it can cause separation anxiety and other problems that might become difficult to manage. So this is the time to get on your toes and make sure you start taking little steps to manage, or best, keep the problems at bay Some of the potential problems that can arise are –
• Constant barking
• Velcro dogs
• Demanding attention
• Destructive behaviour
• Irregularity in bathroom schedule
It is important to keep an eye out of the early signs of behavioural problems that might manifest when you are staying at home. This sudden constant access to you might teach your pet to become a little clingy and attention seeking. So, if he follows you everywhere, barks for attention, paws for attention, sleeps in your bed a lot (unless that is his place), or is constantly being patted, these are early signs that something is amiss and steps needs to be taken to make sure that your doggie becomes an independent baby once again.
Take small steps and start prepping for a happier tomorrow
It is important that maybe for an hour every day, teach your pet to be by himself. Make sure it is a time when he is naturally in a sleepy or tired state of mind. Lead him to a quiet room and leave him there. It would be nice if you give him a toy or a bone to spend his time. Shut the door and let him know that while you are around, you are not easily accessible. Teach him to be independent like he was before.
This way your pet will learn to not be entirely dependent on you. This way, he gets used to your absence while being calm and peaceful. Attention seeking dogs are not dogs who are deprived of attention. They are those who typically get plenty of attention and just keep wanting more and more.
When toilet training goes for a toss! And its remedies
Don’t go for long walks and don’t allow your pet to socialise with other street dogs and pets. You should also avoid touching other dogs. Reduce your time outside as much as possible and take small walks. Take them outside for short walks when they can do their business and then bring them straight inside. This will create the opportunities for you to entertain your dog indoors more than you did before.
You might have to come up with novel ways of teaching of your dogs what is the right and wrong way of doing their business. The way that I always prefer to teach a dog to do their business is to ‘go’ on command. If this training in place all the way from their puppy days, you will have no trouble remodelling it a little in these unique times. The idea is to figure out when the puppy likes to do his business. Usually these times are right after he wakes up from a nap and usually after a meal. Take the puppy to a designated spot to do his business and use a desired command – say ‘pee’ or ‘go potty’. Use the command repetitively until the desired result is achieved and when that is done, you can reward him with a treat. Over a short period of time, pups learn to associate the command with emptying the bladder or bowels. Have a separate command for pee and potty business. If your pup were not already trained to go on command, now would be a good time to teach them. You already know their schedule. At their fixed time, take them to a fixed spot in your house, which is separate and away from their eating, sleeping or playing areas, say a bathroom or balcony in the house where you want them to do their toilet, and is easy to clean, and use the designated command repetitively. When they do their toilet, reward them with a treat. Do this at all their regular bathroom times, and within a few days, your pet will learn to associate that command with going to the bathroom. This will take away the stress of making them do their business.
Teaching them to pee indoors
Let your pet go to the bathroom in the balcony or outside at their selected spot and soak up a pee pad or a newspaper, which works just as well. Place this soiled newspaper in the bathroom or balcony that you have chosen to be their bathroom spot. At the fixed time when you regularly take your pet for a walk and they do their business, do all the things that you regularly do. Get dressed, put on your shoes, put on their harness and leash, pick up the keys. Give them all the cues that the moment of going down and release is coming. Their brain is now ready for the moment when they get to do the actual action of urination and defecation.
But instead of going out of the house, lead them to the bathroom or balcony where you have laid out the newspaper and let them sniff the paper. They might look at you confused but eventually, the signals that their brain is giving them will take over and they will pee. When they do, reward them with a treat. Doing this several times a day will help them make the connection and they will start doing their business indoors with success. The only drawback to this approach is that you will have to train them again to go outside. Instead, you can lay down some much or sand or get one of the garden patches that look like a patch of grass and let them go on it in your bathroom, so they never forget the feel of grass or outdoors for going about their toilet business.
What if you are in quarantine?
The instructions are pretty much the same as are issued by the FDA to mothers who have newly delivered a baby but have tested positive for the virus.
• Keep your interactions with your pet minimum or none at all if possible. If you can get someone else to care for your pet for this period without breaking isolation, that would be the best solution.
• Make sure you have toilet trained your pet to go in the house, perhaps in a bathroom or a balcony, because a pet owned by a corona virus positive patient can carry the infectious agent on its fur. Such pets should not go for walks and should not mingle with other humans and dogs.
• Wash your hands thoroughly before you interact with your pet. Make sure you wear gloves, mask, goggles and cover your hair while interacting with your pet – i.e., during feeding and toilet times.
• It goes without saying that do not kiss or hug your pet. There should be absolutely no exchange of fluids. Make sure that no droplets from your body end up on the dog’s body.
• Do not allow the pet to lick your face or kiss you.
• Do no share food, utensils, bedding with them.
• If possible, see to it that your pet is cleaned and bathed regularly so that any contaminant that might have landed on them is washed away and is not a source of infection for others.
• Prepare for an emergency where you need to be rushed to the hospital in case of severe respiratory distress. Make sure you have someone you can fall back upon who will take your pet in such a case.
• Speak to your veterinarians over phone and apprise them of the situation. Let them know that you might be rushed into the emergency, and should it come to it, who will be taking care of your pet and that they should be prepared in case the pet is brought in.
• Make an emergency kit and leave it with your emergency contact that is your contingency plan. Make sure that this kit contains everything that your pet might need for 2-3 weeks while you are away at the hospital. This should include food, treats, leash, collar, harness, toys, blankets, all medication and supplements, your veterinarian’s number and contact, vaccination records and anything else you think your pet might need.
Make sure you devise a contingency plan, someone who will pick up your pet, with instructions about feeding and medication and updates about your medical condition and make sure you have a plan if the worst happens. And eventually, when you are well, you and your pet can be reunited. It is hard to think about the worst-case scenarios in this stressful time but it is best to be prepared. In the interim, maintain basic hygiene around your pet, stay safe and stay well.
(Garima Singhal is a pet behaviourist, neurobiologist, school teacher and a long-term pet parent)