Tips On Traveling With Your Dog During The Pandemic
Advice on the basis of public health advisories
Travel regulations imposed to help address the ongoing public health crisis have added unprecedented psychosocial stressors for dogs, which influence our relationship with them. These concerns have to do with personal protective equipment, which inadvertently creates barriers to communication. Masks absolutely save lives, but they also hinder interspecies conveyance. It is imperative to wear masks for the protection of both people and animals, but what can we do to compensate for the challenges presented by facial coverings? To remain safe and reduce stress on our pets with regard to mask etiquette there are a few easy things we can do to make life easier for our pets.
In addition to our voices, dogs rely on facial recognition and facial expressions to help them navigate as companion animals in a human-dominated world. One thing we can do is be more cognizant of nonverbal cues and gestures and our enunciation when speaking through PPE. When we have opportunities to momentarily remove our masks, it is a good time to check in with our dogs to provide them with the comfort of the familiar.
In addition to their own heightened sensitivity to novelty, dogs pick up on the anxious energy exuded by humans. Faced with time constraints and other pressures associated with travel, we often give off negative vibes that our pets pick up on. To alleviate fears, it can be helpful to expose dogs to unfamiliar environments through gradual introductions. Desensitization and counterconditioning are useful anywhere but aren’t always pragmatic when we are talking about getting on an occasional plane. What you can do, however, is give yourself and your pet plenty of time to avoid having to rush at the last minute, which invariably increases stress for both. The objective is to reduce their anxiety by reducing yours.
Traveling is also not the time to try new things with our dogs, but unfortunately, this is when people resort to force-based correction or use it for the first time. We need to be particularly prudent in choosing or adding new training modalities when our pets are likely to experience an inordinate amount of stress. The improper use of leash correction and at times when dogs are already fearful and agitated can be a recipe for disaster.
Some people use force to correct behavior when traveling because they themselves are anxious and hurried. Introducing correction and positive punishment as part of a balanced obedience dog training program is best done when dogs are in more familiar places and in more relaxed states.
It would be wonderful if clients implemented positive only practices routinely, which confers sustainable obedience. Unfortunately, long-term compliance is hard to come by and so a more balanced approach to training is often necessary. What may be idealized is often far different from what is practical and preferred given our busy lifestyles. Whether you are traveling or not and suspect you may need to employ correction, learn from an experienced dog trainer.
Jordan Schaul, PhD