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Chill out!

by | 23 Sep, 2020


It’s Wednesday. One of the four days a week that Other People are on my property. This routine has, in some form or another, been in place for YEARS. You’d think we’d all be used to it by now.

But we aren’t – all four dogs will spend most of today awake. By the end of the day everyone will be stressed and exhausted. Tendai will only manage a few of his afternoon Frisbee catches before he’s panting like a train. Eleanor will have done her 10 000 steps and be hoarse from barking. Mouse and Pandora will just collapse exhausted early in the evening.

For the first few months of COVID lockdown in 2020 there were no Other People on our property. What a change – the whole house just chilled out. The barking levels dropped. Everyone just relaxed.

New routines were developed: Gavin moved his office into a cottage on the property and Eleanor started to go to work with him. We moved a bed and a crate in for her to rest when he really, really couldn’t have her on his lap. They both came home for lunch, then went back to work. This routine and increased rest took my frantic little girl down to calm. It very obviously improved her quality of life. Even now when Other People are around, she spends the day with him ‘at work’ and is better for it.

We are now using this newly discovered place of refuge for all the dogs on occasion. We installed a nice thick rug over the hard unforgiving tiles. When all the dogs are there (and once Eleanor has got over losing full control of HER empire), they all just lie and sleep. Regardless of what Other People are around. Everyone is calmer.

A recent post on Facebook by Rebecca Hanlon of Speak Dog spoke about how we should consider the amount of sleep our dogs need and get, not just about how much exercise and stimulation they get. Dogs need a lot more sleep than we would imagine – between 12 and 20 hours a day depending on age, breed, size, health and individual make up. So on the days there are Other People on my property, my dogs are clearly not getting enough sleep.

Rebecca mentions that lack of sleep can ‘impair memory and cognitive function and be detrimental to health.’ I can ascribe to that – I’m useless when I’m not getting enough sleep and ‘everything’ irritates me. Needless to say that rubs off on my dogs, so it’s in their interest that I get enough sleep as well! There’s a study that backs this up: a study of the hair cortisol concentrations of 58 dog-handler pairs by Sundman et al suggest that “dogs, to a great extent, mirror the stress level of their owners”.

Our dogs don’t get taken on daily walks off the property, but usually have one or two fun outings during the week and we do ‘stuff’ at home. Lockdown put paid to most of the outings, and we resorted to things like food and toy searches in the house and garden. Food bowls were adapted to make eating a bit more challenging. When we could go out with them, they loved it.

So where am I going here? I agree with Rebecca. We underestimate the value of sleep and relaxation.

So many of us spend so much time trying to keep our dogs busy that they never have time to chill and relax.


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Liz is a Certified Trick Dog Trainer and offers private and small class dog training. She uses force-free training methods and believes in developing the handler's skills as much as the dog's. She has worked with many different breeds, ages and ability of dogs. Liz doesn't use a cookie-cutter approach to training – each dog and their human get what they need to meet their goals.