Thoughtful border collie

How COVID-19 is teaching us about our dogs’ lives

You’re stuck at home, and it’s frustrating.  You can’t do all the things you normally do when you normally do them.  Some things you can’t do at all.  It’s no fun—but it does give us a window into what our dogs’ (and other pets’) lives can be like every day.

Our pets are always on stay-at-home orders

Think about your dog’s pre-COVID-19 life. Sleeping most of the day. Leaving only for “essential” business. Trying to find things to do without being able to go explore new smells or check the pee mail on the block. Sound familiar? Some of the details are a little different of course, but as I type this while many of us are still subject to varying degrees of “Safer at Home” orders, I can totally relate. No wonder Fido has decided that rearranging your couch cushions while barking at every leaf that blows by is a good solution!

To help make both of your days a little more interesting, try taking Fido for a walk in a different direction.  You can even get in the car and go walking in a different neighborhood.  You’ll still have to stay at least six feet away from everyone, but at least you’ll be doing it in an area you haven’t seen a thousand times!

Our pets can’t socialize with other animals the way they want

Even when our dogs do get to go on walks, they are on semi-permanent isolation orders.  Just like you can’t hug that neighbor you always chat with for five minutes (while Fido sits there thinking, “Man, these humans really do go on and on, and they are missing so many interesting smells,”), your dog doesn’t get to greet every interesting-looking person or dog.  (Note, by the way, that this can be a good thing in many ways—read this article for more on that topic.)

Here’s another example: Most of us can’t get together for birthdays, weddings, or holidays right now.  Dogs also can’t get in the car and go to their friend Fido’s house whenever they want.  Our pets can’t even ask us to have their favorite human over for a visit!  And it probably goes without saying that virtual meetings are not particularly meaningful for animals who find scent so important.  (I must admit I find virtual hugs less than satisfying, too.)

Being in the same place all the time gets boring

Let’s face it: There’s only so many times you can rewatch Stranger Things before it starts to lose a little of its oomph.  And our dogs can’t even use the remote control to choose their favorites!  Seriously, though, while our dogs know and love everyone in our household, sometimes a new face is a nice change of pace.  (Also, everyone in the household is a little stressed now, too.  Our pets usually pick up on that kind of thing, and it adds to their stress.)

Our pets have also sniffed and explored every inch of our property a thousand times—talk about “been there, smelled that.”  Maybe if they’re lucky, a squirrel visited the yard last night.  All too often, though, it’s “same old, same old” everywhere on our property.  Variety is the spice of life, as they say, but our pets rarely get much variety.

Our pets don’t even get to go to work

I know work may not be everyone’s favorite thing.  I’ll even admit there are days I’d rather sleep in too!  But now that going to work is not an option, I suspect many of us are missing our jobs—at least a little, right?  Dogs and other animals also enjoy having jobs, at least some of the time.

Unfortunately, like people in “non-essential” fields today, most dogs—some of whom were deliberately bred to perform specific tasks— don’t get the challenge of work to distract them from the monotony of their daily lives.  Permanent vacation may sound nice, but it can get old pretty fast.  This is especially true for animals who are designed for activities such as hunting.

Having no control over your life gets frustrating

One thing a lot of us are experiencing right now is frustration.   Frustration that we can’t go to work.  Frustration that we can’t find toilet paper anywhere.  Frustration that we can’t visit friends and family.  And we have no control over when things will go back to normal.  That is both annoying and stressful.  (Side note: Research shows that a lack of control leads to all kinds of stress-related issues.)

We’re the lucky ones, though.  Having this little control is unusual for most of us (at least the adults living in a first-world country).  But it’s the typical status quo for our dogs.  All they get to control are flies in your home and the postal workers.  (“I told you I could scare that person away by barking ferociously!”)  They can’t even decide what to eat, where to walk, who to see… you get the idea.  A lack of control takes its toll, and that is our pets’ reality every single day (not just when stay-at-home orders are in effect).

What can you do now—and later—to make your pet’s life fuller?

I hope this has helped give you a better understanding of what your pet’s life is like a lot of the time.  I also hope it helps you empathize a little more on days when your pets get antsy, or zoom around for no apparent reason, or bug you while you’re at the computer (after all, they are also having to live without toilet paper).  The good news is that there are many ways to help your pet live a richer life, some of which take very little effort.

To start with, make a pact with Fido to go on a walk at least once each day.  You may also want to start feeding your pet out of food toys, rather than a bowl.  For additional suggestions on how to make your pets’ lives a little better—not just during this crisis, but all the time—check out this article.


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