A puppyhood coach and pack therapist explains how to ease the transition from fall to winter for your canine companions, including the pandemic puppy in your household.
As the first snowflakes hit our yard, I felt my body contract in grief. Usually eager for the shimmering white blanket that ushers in the festive season, I’m feeling resistant. All those activities keeping me sane during the pandemic—namely long walks with dogs and namastaying six feet away from my yoga partners on a grassy field—are coming to an end. I’m already feeling claustrophobic. And, I sense, so are our companion animals.
Ergo, I reached out to puppyhood coach and pack therapist Kathy Callahan for tips. For over two decades, her family has welcomed myriad foster dogs into their home. Or more precisely, what she describes in her book 101 Rescue Puppies: One Family’s Story of Fostering Dogs, Love, and Trust as “our pack’s collective soul, passed from dog to dog over time until it seems we’ve just had one deeply melded, ageless pack.” (I think we need to add canine mystic to Callahan’s job title!)
Indeed, the silver lining of lockdown for animal lovers has been more puppy love! And yet, how do we provide a quality life for pandemic puppies living in this next season of our unprecedented year? Start with these tips.
Try to avoid dramatic schedule shifts.
“What’s fun for a dog about the quarantine lifestyle is that walks and engagement can and do happen all day long, from 7 am to 11 pm!” Callahan observes. Plus―fighting lockdown blues―many of us became increasingly outdoorsy this year. And our pets have benefited from this as well.
Transitioning to more indoor time can be confusing for our animal roommates―likewise, shifts in our work schedules. “Dramatic changes are hard on dogs, so do everything you can to ease into that lifestyle,” Callahan says. She suggests changing routines slowly, as well as transitioning walks and cuddle time to normal pre- and post-work hours even before you return to work. “And if you do truly go back to a 9-to-5 work/school schedule, do think about using dog-sitters, doggy daycare, or fun neighbors for midday breaks for your pup.”
Your pup needs alone time, too.
Callahan suggests that entire households should go for a 20-minute walk together daily, without the dog. “If you don’t build that in, it's easy for a dog to never have been alone in the house! Yikes! Help her to feel comfortable by giving her the chance to practice being alone in small doses. The more you can find excuses to all leave together for a while, the better,” she offers.
Further, we shouldn’t make a big deal when we come home. Okay, this was news to me, friends. I confess I enter the house like royalty, summoning my animal companions to greet me as such! Instead, Callahan advisees to just walk in and carry on with the day, not attaching the entrance with petting. “You can cuddle her a ton … ten minutes later! Just don’t teach her that your comings and goings are giant emotional events. While cuddly dog companionship is so comforting, particularly in this socially distanced era, do your dog a favor and help him understand he’s just fine when he’s on his bed three feet away from your computer and even all the way in the next room.”
Honor your pup’s needs for other relationships.
My husband must remind me not to chase after the animals in our house when I am feeling low. Often, under the guise of “I just want to make sure he is okay” I will wake up a pleasantly sleeping pet because I need affection. And so I frequently have to check my intentions. Do the pets need attention or am I demanding attention from them to make me feel better?
While reading Callahan’s book, I found myself amused that she employs a feline assistant (named Bo!) to help socialize foster puppies. I asked for her for thoughts on interspecies connection. She reflected, “It is delightful to watch our dogs welcome a new foster pup and begin to play. But when we see the kitty become intrigued, deliberately wander over to engage, suddenly it all becomes … bigger. Is it even more joyful because of the bridge that’s been crossed? The heart leaps at the surprise of an interspecies friendship. Maybe that’s because it’s just a glimmer of evidence of the interconnectedness of it all?”
Her musing reminded me of the relationships our pets have beyond us―like with the birds, chipmunks, and squirrels around our home. Or the rapport our pets have with each other. And, I suspect, the connection they each have with the “higher power of their own understanding” (as we might say in my 12-step circle). Although it’s easy to think we are the center of our animal’s universe, we must honor their interrelations.
Closing my conversation with Callahan, I asked about why she continues to foster strings of dogs that she knows she’ll have to soon part ways with. And I wondered if she was ever criticized about where she puts her focus. “I happen to be set up to help puppies in particular, so that’s the thing I do. To me, that matters by itself but … as I go through the day-to-day work of helping those puppies, it ends up feeling bigger because of that interconnectedness. It feels like my teeny tiny part of something giant and eternal,” she reflected.
“In a world filled with so much human suffering, does it make a difference to save a puppy? It certainly matters to that puppy.” Yes, beyond doubt, her dharma is doggie.
Want to meditate with your pandemic puppy? Read “Dogitation: Canine Help Along the Bodhisattva Path.”