DEAR JOHANNA: My dog Autumn has become a scared cat since the pandemic. Early fireworks, darkness of the evening – and now she won’t take a tour of our favorite block.
I’m afraid if we all go back to work and school she will be a wreck to be left home alone. What can I do to rebuild their confidence?
Lawrence, Woodland Hills
DEAR RIGHT: Researchers have confirmed what we animal lovers noticed in our animals during this long pandemic. Many have had personality changes and some, like your fall, seem to have developed unusual fears.
A recent study of 14,000 dogs from 264 breeds found that nearly 75 percent of pets had developed at least one fear-related behavior during the quarantine. These behaviors included barking and aggression.
Is Autumn one of those dogs that respond to pandemic stress? Your first step should be a thorough vet exam to rule out other problems and diseases. When she gets a clean health certificate, you have to ponder exactly what is causing her stress, and it may not be easy to pinpoint.
In the study, a third of the dogs had noise sensitivity, which may have been caused by most of a family’s activities around the house. The noise and activity made the dogs sensitive to other noises, including fireworks and thunder.
The researchers concluded that even though we inadvertently cause the stress, most behavioral changes could be at the pet owners’ feet. Unsurprisingly, dogs are extremely receptive animals who easily absorb and internalize our stress, which has increased, whether we notice it or not.
Concerns about the health of our families and our own, concerns about the state of the nation, fears about job loss, or the stress of not being able to do the things we used to do so easily, such as Eating out or when we see friends all can be shared with our dogs.
We shouldn’t feel guilty about adding extra stress to our dogs, the researchers assure us. The presence of our pets can help reduce our stress levels, which in turn will reduce the stress in our pets.
You are right to worry about what it means for the fall to be left alone when normal life resumes. Start now with at least some pre-pandemic routines. Give Autumn some space to be alone and live her dog life. Try to get everyone out of the house for a short amount of time and slowly build up the amount of time you are on the go. Always greet and reward them with joy when you return.
Schedule regular walks with her, and even if you walk a few yards down the street, return home if she shows fear. On the next planned walk, try to walk a little further. Over time, she should feel good again when she’s on the go.
Schedule game times inside the home that will coincide with the times available to you when you return to work outside the home. Dogs love companionship and routine.
Most of all, try not to worry so much.
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