As written by Dr. Jill Villarreal, a doctor of Biology, Behavior and Neuroscience (with a certificate in Animal Behavior). If you are seeking help or need an ear to listen, Open Farm is offering free virtual therapy sessions with licensed professionals in partnership with BetterHelp. Click here.
This unprecedented time of social distancing has caused us stress, worry and general uncertainty. For the most part, our pets are happy to have us at home; however, they can sense that we are anxious and may also feel stressed with the sudden changes in their daily life. Dogs are constantly reading our emotions through sight, sound and smell so I am here to offer tips on how to make the most of this newfound time with your pet(s). Below are 6 ways we can keep our pets and ourselves calm:
1. Take a deep breath in, and let it out slowly
Look for less obvious cues that your dog is stressed. You may not realize that oftentimes when a dog yawns or their ears are back, it can mean they are stressed. It’s shown that deep breathing and being present in the moment can help calm your mind and body and reduce stress. Dogs can sense how we feel, and if we are showing calm behavior, our furry friends will likely do so as well. It’s easy to get caught up in the news or stress about our “new normal”; however, this is a relatively easy way we can keep ourselves more at peace. Try an online meditation session with your dog by your side, or even DOGA (dog yoga).
2. Act silly
Now more than ever, don’t be afraid to act silly at home! Moving around – whether it be relaxing your posture, playing games with your dog, or going into a full-blown dance routine – causes you to smile and increase the pitch of your voice, signaling “it’s all good” to your pup. This isn’t only beneficial for your dog; it also helps us feel better by letting loose and reducing stress.
3. Give your dog a massage
Dogs love massages and being pet, as it reduces stress hormones and increases feel-good hormones for dogs. Ironically enough, massaging and petting our dogs does the same thing for humans, as it promotes a positive mood by reducing stress hormones (I mean, who doesn’t love a good massage?!) Start with some long strokes down the back – without applying pressure to the spine. Then, apply gentle circular motions on areas where pets are most tense, like their hips or shoulders. You can also travel up and massage the ears. Finally, wrap up with long strokes down the back again to signal that the massage is ending.
For more information on how to massage your dog check out my tips and tricks on how to massage your pet!
4. Try aromatherapy
Aromatherapy can also help reduce stress for dogs, and lavender and chamomile aromatherapy are shown to be extremely beneficial for both dogs and people. While it’s not recommended to apply essential oils directly to your dog’s fur or skin, I do recommend using a diffuser, incense, candles with these scents to help create a calming environment.
5. Listen to calming music
Just like with people, music can also help relax dogs. In general, try to keep the music type calming – try classical, reggae and light pop, as they are all good genres to start with. The connections we share with our dogs through music indicates how connected we are with are furry family members.
6. Take a walk
Sometimes it’s hard to step away from work or our favorite TV show – especially now while there are shelter-in-place orders. However, living a more active lifestyle is good for both yours and your dog’s physical and mental health. Dog walking helps increase your bond, keeps you both physically fit and healthy, and enhances your mood while getting some fresh air. I also know that dog walking can be stressful if you’re not used to doing it, or if your dog isn’t a great walker. Remember…
● Be prepared. Always bring small treats to reward good behavior
● Don’t worry about distance. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make it a miles-long walk – even a quick walk around the block can have major benefits!
● Stop when they pull. Don’t walk until your dog is standing next to you. Don’t be afraid to start and stop frequently.
● Reward frequently. When they don’t lunge at other animals or people and praise your dog before they get worked up.
● Relax and have fun. Remember, our dogs read our emotions. If we’re stressed, they can sense it in the way we hold the leash to how we walk.
Open Farm knows how important our mental wellbeing is – especially in these uncertain times – which is why they have partnered with online counseling service, BetterHelp, to offer unlimited free therapy sessions with licensed professionals for anyone in the U.S. or Canada. Click here to learn more.
Photo by @cashew_the_boxer