Helping Your Dog Survive During a Quarantine
Written by Randy C on March 20, 2020
Quarantine means no one goes out — and that includes your pup, unless you have a private outdoor space for them. Here’s how to help your dog thrive while you’re both stuck indoors.
By Sassafras Lowrey
The only good thing about Covid-19 is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.), World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and other experts are in agreement that there are no meaningful signs that our pets can get this virus or spread it. That said, although our pets aren’t getting sick, Covid-19 is changing the lives of pets across the country, especially for dogs and in particular those living in apartments.
If you are not yet quarantined and have time to prepare, think beyond toilet paper and instead, about supplies for your pets that you need to have on hand.
Heather Loenser, D.V.M. and senior veterinary officer at the American Animal Hospital Association, expressed concern that many pet owners weren’t going to be prepared with the supplies that they might need if they weren’t able to leave their homes for a couple of weeks. Pet food and cleaning supplies should be at the top of your list for things to stock up on. Dr. Loenser also advises pet guardians to plan to have extra monthly preventive medication for conditions like flea, tick and heartworm, as well as any prescription medication and specialty diets that your pet may need. If you are not yet needing to quarantine and your pet hasn’t been to the vet in a while, now is a good time to go and make sure that your pet is up-to-date on all vaccines.
The potty problem
A primary issue for urban dogs who are quarantined with their owners is the inability to go outside to relieve themselves. This is particularly concerning for dogs who live in apartments and who, under normal circumstances, must be walked multiple times a day, as opposed to dogs in other parts of the country who are able to use their private yards. Under quarantine dogs in apartments are going to need to do their business inside.
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Ettel Edshteyn, a certified trainer at Karen Pryor Academy and owner of New York City’s Poodles to Pit Bulls Clicker Training, says the easiest way to teach your dog to potty in your apartment (something you probably spent a long time teaching it not to do) is to act as if you are going outside.
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To do this, you should prep for how “you would normally for a walk,” she said, which can include grabbing a leash, bags and treats. Cue to your dog that this is business as usual, even if it’s in a corner of your living room instead of down the block.
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“Walk your dog to the area where you want them to go during a time when you think they need to potty,” Ms. Edshteyn said. For most dogs, this happens in the morning, after exercising, after eating or after a nap. If at first your dog doesn’t go, give yourselves a break and return to another area of your apartment to hang out. Then watch for signs that your dog needs to potty and try again.
For cleanliness and to protect the area of the floor of your apartment that you are designating as the potty area, you can use newspapers, commercially available “pee pads” or even fake grass or sod patches, which can be delivered. Dr. Loenser says that while having to potty your dog inside, it’s important to “practice good hygiene yourself when handling any excrement or urine, not because of Covid per se, but because you don’t want to become ill from other transmissible diseases, like giardia or leptospirosis, and tax an otherwise overwhelmed health care system.”
Keep them enriched, indoors
Although you might not be able to keep your dog as physically active while under quarantine, you can still keep your dog mentally exercised. Dr. Loenser advised owners to “consider getting puzzle toys or treat dispensers to use in the house.”
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Ms. Edshteyn suggested that you could “feed all meals from food toys,” which would make mealtime more enriching for your dog.
Looking to distract yourself and your dog? Ms. Edshteyn said that training goes a long way toward stimulating and exercising dogs who were stuck inside during a quarantine. She suggested saving one of your dog’s daily meals to use as rewards for training sessions. Dogs who are used to a lot of physical activity can handle more physically demanding training such as physical tricks like spins, rollovers, sitting pretty or weaving between an owner’s legs. If you and your pets are struggling, it’s always a good idea to reach out by phone to your vet or dog trainer. You can even make puzzles for your dog with items you already have around your home. Two simple puzzles that will entertain your dog:
- Box Puzzle: If you have been getting a lot of deliveries, you probably have boxes. With your dog in another part of the apartment, arrange empty boxes on the floor and hide treats in some of the boxes. Show your dog the boxes and let your pup use its nose to find the hidden treats. Rearrange the boxes with more treats.
- Cupcake Puzzle: Take an empty cupcake baking tray and 12 (or as many as you have) tennis balls. Place treats or pieces of your dog’s kibble into some but not all of the baking tray’s cups, and cover all of the cups with the tennis balls. Show your dog the tray and see how long it takes for your dog to move the right balls to find the hidden food. Each time you play, change where you place the treats in the baking tray.
The challenges of isolation
Like people across the country and around the world whose lives have suddenly been turned upside down by Covid-19, dogs who are stuck in quarantine with their owners may experience stress and even depression.
Ms. Edshteyn said that “we might see an uptick in depressive behavior like trouble sleeping, losing their appetite, not wanting to play or seeming listless,” but that some dogs might also “become more destructive and anxious, exhibiting behavior like increased reactivity, increased barking or difficulty settling.” She added that increasing enrichment and structured playing inside the home could help. “Most of the time, dogs want something to do, and when that’s taken away, they can struggle,” she said. The same goes for their human companions.