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As we cope with life changes due to COVID-19, it’s essential to know that our dogs are affected too.
If you are working from home more, your dogs may be thrilled to have your constant companionship, but that doesn’t mean they don’t notice changes in your moods or behaviors. If you are acting differently, your dog likely will too.
Here’s why your dog’s behavior may have changed:
- If you are anxious about going out in public, your dog will feel your anxiety when you leave the house.
- When you take your dog for a walk and pass by people wearing masks, your dog is more likely to get nervous, as they aren’t used to seeing people’s faces covered.
- Any stress that you are feeling due to restrictions or recent life changes affects all family members, including your dog.
- If you are out with your dog and someone passes by who is afraid to be out in public, your dog senses their fear.
Dogs reflect back to us how they feel in their behavior. When we feel fear, panic, and anxiety, our dogs are acutely aware of this, and we trigger those emotions in them.
Common behaviors that your dog may exhibit due to COVID-19
You may have noticed that your dog has been barking more frequently. When their fear and anxiety is triggered, dogs are more likely to be alert for other dangers. It’s natural for them to bark more when their fear is elevated and you are feeling stressed.
Nervous to go outside to go potty
If you feel stressed about leaving your house, your dog may be nervous about going outside to potty. They may be hesitant to step outside into the yard and may have been waiting for you to go out first. This is a normal reaction, as uncomfortable dogs need extra reassurance that the ‘danger’ isn’t too close and it’s safe to go out. You can comfort them by stepping outside first and staying out with them. If your dog is nervous in your yard, it’s also important not to make a lot of eye contact with them while in the yard. Making eye contact with a nervous dog sends them the signal that you are concerned, and it increases their anxiety.
Reluctant to go on a walk
Your dog may have been putting on the breaks during your walks. Some dogs will freeze and refuse to walk any further away from home. Other dogs may pull the leash, leading you back home. It’s important to honor their fear and desire to get back to the safety of the house.
Increased reactivity on a walk
You may have noticed that your dog is lunging or pulling on the leash more during walks. Most dogs are affected by people wearing masks; we not only look strange, but they are unable to read our facial expressions, which can be scary for a dog who is nervous with people. The emotions and energy of every dog and person you pass are affecting your dog’s behavior too. Many people are stressed and nervous right now, and our dogs are sensitive and react to that. A nervous dog may lunge, growl, cower, hide, or bite — these are instinctual reactions and do not mean your dog is aggressive.
Increased separation anxiety
Has your dog’s separation anxiety increased? Your dog may believe it isn’t safe to go outside due to your anxiety, so they naturally want you to stay in the house’s comfort and safety with them. It’s critical not to make a big fuss about leaving and returning, as this will only cause your dog to be more concerned about you going.
Sarah-Anne Reed is a holistic dog trainer, and owner of Pack Dynamics, LLC ®. Her practice focuses on understanding and respecting dogs as a different species and honoring them as individual beings.
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