In talking with clients this week, I am hearing about stress from many directions. There is no shortage of that going around, along with Covid19. I often talk about using enrichment with animals, and on my social media (links below) I post photos of various ways I present my horses and dogs with things to do which enrich their lives and reduce stress. But what about us? It's important to remember to do this for ourselves as well. And many of the things I like to do to relieve stress also benefits the dogs.
For me, going outside is a big stress reliever. My first choice is walking: with dogs and/or horses. Regardless of where you live, I think all cities, states and countries allow some outside time for dog walking. I'm also outside numerous times every day doing barn chores. In warmer months, the terriers like to hunt around while I work in the garden. On the rare occasion which I am away from home, I miss those regular outside breaks tremendously. When I start to feel antsy, or my head is full of too much worry, fresh air is the first cure I turn to.
Today I thought that perhaps I should bake specifically for the dogs for two reasons. One: a month in to this stressful situation, I need to make a conscious effort to cut back on the amount of sugar-laden things I am baking, (and my sourdough needs to be fed tonight to be ready for bread tomorrow). Two, I knew I had a box of King Arthur dog biscuit mix in my pantry (available from King Arthur or Amazon) that had been in there too long. I climbed on a chair and pulled it out from the back of the top shelf to read that yes, it had expired in 2017. I'm not one to be too concerned about expiration dates of well packaged goods so that wasn't going to stop me.
I was surprised to find it was actually a yeasted mix but luckily the yeast was packaged separately from everything else so I put it in the recommended amount of water to test it.
Lo and behold, in a few minutes it was bubbling up so I went ahead and mixed up the dough. It had a wonderfully garlicky smell to it. The dough had to rest for an hour before being rolled out, cut, and baked so it wasn't a quick and easy mix. They have a recipe on their website which you can make biscuits from scratch in an hour, no mix needed. That recipe can be made by just dropping dough in a ball or rolling and cutting them. I'm not a fan of mixes and this discovery did nothing to improve my opinion. The dogs and I went for a walk during the downtime.
There are times when just sitting on the couch snuggled with dogs is what I need (see photo at top of page!). They squirm a little at first, nosing under my hand for massages. As long as I'm truly relaxing and not playing with my phone, this massaging helps me as well. A study conducted last year at Washington State University documented a drop in salivary cortisol levels of students who were allowed to interact with dog and cats. So it's not just your imagination. Eventually my dogs drift off to sleep while I sit and enjoy the sound of them breathing and the contact with them.
So please, take this trainer's advice and don't let anything about your dog add to the stress of this time. I'm a huge proponent of training as enrichment, but if it feels like too much right now, just enjoy their company. Maybe do a training session where you only work on well known behaviors they love to do. Or maybe you skip training and focus on playing, observing, and snuggling. Let their companionship work its magic. I recommend making a plan for when you will get back to training, since you don't want to stop training altogether. Schedule your break like a vacation, and on the day you choose, your dog will be thrilled for the opportunity to learn.