Note: this blog was written during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and considers the guidelines of the CDC at time of publication in its recommendations.
Research into the intelligence and brain function of dogs can help us understand how to help our dogs be less stressed and better behaved during the COVID-19 quarantine. As scientists have begun studying the neurobiology of dogs, we have learned that dogs’ brains work more similarly to human brains than previously thought. To dog owners, this makes sense, having seen first hand the unique and varied personalities of dogs. Canine researcher Stanley Coren, PhD, of the University of British Columbia, compares the intelligence of dogs to that of 2 to 2.5 year old humans. With that in mind, it makes sense that dogs may have similar needs as young children during a quarantine scenario.
Re-establishing routine by following a daily schedule has been a major tool used by parents to help their children (and themselves!) cope with and adjust to quarantine life during state-wide “Stay at home” orders and school closings. Consistent schedules help reduce stress by providing predictability, stability, and a sense of control while helping young children develop good habits and establish boundaries. Knowing this, we can infer that our dogs will also benefit greatly from a quarantine routine.
Creating a routine for your dog.
Every dog is an individual and therefore benefits from a personalized routine that meets their daily needs. When creating an individualized quarantine schedule for your dog, start by asking yourself the following questions:
What did your dog’s daily and weekly routine look like before quarantine?
Creating a similar routine while you are home provides a sense of normalcy for your dog.
What parts of their previous routine are no longer available?
Your dog may no longer be able to go to their weekly daycare, agility facility, or groomer.
What are your dog’s daily physical and mental exercise needs?
The amount of exercise your dog needs depends on their age, breed, and personality — it is recommended that most dogs have at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.
Outlets for natural behaviors through enrichment, play, and mental puzzles are as important for an animal’s health as physical exercise, and this mental exercise provides busy dogs with a job.
What are your dog’s favorite things to do?
Now is a great time to capitalize on your dog’s favorite activities to help ease them through the changes of a new routine, however it’s best not to over-do any one activity.
What will their routine likely look like after quarantine?
Making your dog’s routine similar to what you will be able to provide them when quarantine lifts sets them up for less stress in the future.
The answers to these questions will help you budget your dog’s time so you can spend quality time doing the things they love, while keeping their routine as normal as possible.
Pro Tips for a sustainable routine.
While every dog's perfect routine will be unique, these steps can help you create a routine that will create the least amount of stress for both you and your dog.
Include nap time away from humans. This prepares them for when you start leaving the house again and helps prevent the development of separation anxiety. Naptime gives you and your dog a break from each other so your time together is more valuable. Choose times that you are typically working or need to focus for your dog’s nap time. Avoid crating them or separating them for longer than they are comfortable — if your dog is anxious when alone check out our Separation Anxiety Support Group.
Include weekends with extra flexibility and time for fun! This helps you track time and prepares your dog for the typical shifts in your routine when you are working out of the house again.
Include safe socialization in your dog’s routine. Allowing your dog to see other dogs and people from a safe distance and pairing this with fun things like play or treats, help prevent your dog from getting over-excited or fearful when they see dogs and people again after quarantine.
Maintain daily rituals. Rituals are a series of actions or behaviors that are consistently performed by an individual or group. For children, small rituals have been shown to help children overcome emotional challenging moments, such as separation. If you share a special ritual with your dog, such as morning scritches, afternoon walkies, or an after-work frisbee session, be sure to include these in your daily routines.
Sample weekday routine:
7:30am – Morning greeting ritual & potty break outside
8-8:30am – Breakfast time (give half their breakfast bowl-free for added enrichment)
8:30-9am – Calm play and training
9am-12pm – Naptime while you work
12-12:30pm – Sniff walk in an open park with treats for seeing dogs and people at a distance
12:30-1pm – Calming enrichment, training, and/or grooming time
1-5pm – Afternoon nap while you work
5-5:30pm – Outside playtime
5:30-5:45pm – Training and playtime inside
5:45-6:30pm – Dinner time & puzzle toys
6:30-9pm – Free time together for snuggling, napping, play
9pm – Kennel up for the night or go to bed
Change is stressful on all of us, but new routines can help alleviate this stress. Although our dogs love us and are happy to see us, having us around all the time suddenly is a big change for them and can cause stress. With this in mind, we can strive to have a little extra patience with our dogs during this time, and give them a little extra love and enrichment!
Bridley, A., & Jordan, S. S. (2012). Child Routines Moderate Daily Hassles and Children’s Psychological Adjustment. Childrens Health Care, 41(2), 129–144. doi: 10.1080/02739615.2012.657040
Dogs' Intelligence On Par With Two-year-old Human, Canine Researcher Says. (2009, August 10). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090810025241.htm
Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services. (n.d.). Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services, Port Melbourne. Retrieved from https://www.melbournechildpsychology.com.au/blog/the-importance-of-routine-in-childhood/
RITUALS AND ROUTINES: Supporting Infants and Toddlers and Their Families. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1808-rituals-and-routines-supporting-infants-and-toddlers-and-their-families
Why Routines Are Important for Infants and Toddlers. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.kaplanco.com/ii/why-routines-are-important-for-infants-toddlers