The situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic has a very strong impact not only on us, but also on animals. Ann-Sofie Sundman’s research conducted with a team from Linköping University in Sweden showed that dogs reflect their owners’ long-term stress levels. Earlier research showed that members of the same species can mirror each other’s emotional states. Researchers were interested to know whether the analogous mirroring of stress levels in the long term can also occur between species, e.g. between dogs and humans. Stress levels over a period of several months were determined by measuring the concentration of cortisol in several-centimetres-long strands hair of dogs and their owners. It was found that long-term levels of cortisol in the dog and its owner are in sync – owners with high levels of cortisol had dogs with high levels of cortisol and owners with low levels of this hormone had dogs with low levels of the hormone (Sundman et al. 2019). Therefore, we know that the growing tension associated with the coronavirus pandemic is not indifferent to animals. This is related not only to our stress, but also to the changes in lifestyle and daily rituals. Dogs prefer a constant pattern of the day, and the fact that their caregivers are at home all the time breaks this ritual.
Dogs will adapt to this change very quickly, but returning to the traditional out-of-home model of working can cause many problems. The dog can quickly get used to our constant presence, which can result in later separation anxiety, frustration due to our absence and destruction of objects, as well as sudden boredom, which they cannot cope with. According to Gerrard Flannigan and Nicholas H. Dodman, dogs with only one caregiver are 2.5 times more likely to develop separation anxiety than dogs growing up in a multiple owner home (2001).
Children can also be an additional stressor as they are full of energy and dogs often have no way of escaping from children who constantly want to play with them. Remember to help dogs in difficult situations – dogs are not toys! To avoid unpleasant situations, it’s a good idea to supervise the child-dog relationship all the time and support your dog when it shows that it has enough of this contact. If the dog wants to leave, you should allow it to do so; otherwise, it will start to show calming signals and stress signs. When these are ignored, the dog can move on to the next elements of the so-called “ladder of aggression,” step by step intensifying its reaction by threatening signals, or even resolving to biting. The dog must have its basic needs satisfied, including rest and safety. It is also worth mentioning that the dog reacts very emotionally to our emotions. If we argue at home, the dog reacts to this with severe stress.
Quarantine is as hard for dogs as it is for humans. The dog is a strongly social animal; therefore, the lack of contact with other representatives of its species is very overwhelming for it. This way our pet has an unsatisfied need for social contact. When we add a limited number and length of walks, we can only imagine how our animal’s mood is getting worse.
What can we do to help our dog? First of all, it’s worth the trouble to take some of your time. It can be used for training, including basic obedience training. One of the most important commands is the one that tells the dog to go to “its place.” It is also worthwhile to get your dog used to the carrier in which it will travel in the future. You can also teach your dog various tricks, which can be great fun for both the carer and the pet.
A good solution that will involve not only the dog but also children is interactive feeding. Instead of giving your dog food from a bowl, you can give him food from toys, including handmade ones. Interactive feeding gives the possibility of psychomotor stimulation, which improves the brain’s neuroplasticity – a property of the brain that makes it able to adapt, learn and remember. In order to stimulate the brain, we should subject it to constant exercise and new challenges. Interactive feeding is about changing the system from standard bowl feeding to feeding that encourages the animal to try different things and make an effort to win a prize. Thanks to this, the dog doesn’t get bored and has something to do without human involvement. What is important, when food is finally reached, endorphins are released, so the animal is much more satisfied with its achievement than with boring food from the bowl. Furthermore, during the search for food, the level of dopamine, i.e. hormone of happiness, increases.
To minimise stress, it is also worth helping your dog with pheromone collars or other products with DAP pheromones (Hermiston et al. 2018). They will help the dog to relax. In the case of a long-term difficult situation, supplements containing tryptophan, which is a precursor of serotonin (Lacey 2016, Singh 2019), may also be given to the dog.
W celu minimalizacji stresu warto także wspomóc psa np. obrożami feromonowymi lub innymi produktami z feromonami typu DAP (Hermiston i wsp. 2018). Pomogą one psu odprężyć się. W przypadku długotrwałej trudnej sytuacji można także podać psu suplementy zawierające tryptofan, który jest prekursorem serotoniny (Lacey, 2016, Singh 2019).