Magglio and Jake Serwer during COVID-19.
Magglio with his dad, Jake Serwer, of Birmingham.

A local dog expert shares how to stay sane while stuck inside with pets.

We all love our pets. And during a time when you have little in-person interaction with other living creatures, they bring a welcome spark to your day. But when you’re stuck at home 24/7, they can also drive you nuts.

As I type this sentence, my 15-month, 60-pound goldendoodle is nudging my arm with his nose and pacing around the room because his normal feeding time is in 25 minutes. He wants food now. But I’m not giving in. 

I’ve been in more Zoom meetings than I can count with dogs yapping in the background or the owner secretly feeding a pup treats under the table to keep him quiet. Magglio (my dog) enjoys sticking his massive fluffy head in the camera. Luckily, he’s pretty cute, and people don’t seem to mind the distraction. 

Yet for all the walks and attention this dog gets during quarantine, he’s gotten a taste of what it’s like to have his “pawrents” home all day, and he can’t get enough. No matter how many times we throw his favorite blue ball outside to try to tire him out, he thinks it’s playtime. All day.

So I asked a local dog expert how owners can cope with their canines until the stay-at-home mandate is lifted.

Here’s what Keith Fishman, Paws At Work dog owner trainer based in West Bloomfield, had to say:

Trainer Keith Fishman with his rescue mix Terra. Courtesy Keith Fishman

I have conference calls and Zoom sessions that I don’t want my dog to interrupt. What can I do?

Fishman: Ideally it is best to have an office in a private part of the house with a door that can be closed. When that is not possible, it is helpful to have one particular spot for your dog to lay down quietly, preferably with a dog bed. Teach your dog to utilize this spot when you are busy, by using a one or two word command like “spot” or “lay down.”  This will teach the dog to stay quiet in its own place while you are busy.

My dog has started to wake me up earlier because he wants to play or eat. What can I do to get him to sleep in later?

Fishman: This is the typical situation of the dog trying to train the owner. Do not let this occur. If the dog becomes active too early either ignore them entirely, which will be tough the first couple of days, or take the dog back to its nighttime location and walk away back to your own room. They will catch on that you will not engage in the morning until you say so.

Magglio begging to go outside (after two walks already that day). Courtesy Jake Serwer

I need to work, but my dog is giving me those I-wanna-go-on-a-walk eyes. Are there any good toys or ways to keep him occupied during the work day?

Fishman: The best way to make this work is to make sure your dog is getting enough exercise. Try and pick a standard time that you get your dog out to play, and give them enough time to blow off steam. They will be happy to sleep or rest quietly if this is done. One of my favorite sayings is “a tired dog is a good dog.”

The result of a good fetch the ball game.
The result of a good fetch-the-ball game. Courtesy Stephanie Steinberg

My dog is fond of greeting other people on walks. Should I avoid allowing them to pet him due to the virus?

Fishman: This is definitely a personal call regarding social distancing. Remember, your dog will not catch the virus, but you will be touching the spots on your dog that have been touched by others. If you do allow your dog the petting, I would suggest you wipe your dog down when you return home. I have therapy dogs that work at a hospital, and I do this every time we return home from the hospital. 

Magglio and his owner Jake Serwer practice social distancing on a walk in Birmingham.
Magglio and his owner Jake Serwer practice social distancing on a walk in Birmingham. Courtesy Stephanie Steinberg

It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day as I walk my dog around the neighborhood, day after day. Are there other safe spots to take dogs for walks that you recommend?

Fishman: Local parks, woods, fields or any large open spot is a great place to take the dog. Utilizing a variety of places is also great mental stimulation for your dog. Just remember to take waste bags with you for cleanup. School grounds are also great places, and they are now vacant due to school cancellation.

Soaking up the sun on a nice day during quarantine. Courtesy Jake Serwer

Now that other people are out walking — a lot more — my dog sees them in the window and barks at every single walker, jogger, biker, Amazon delivery person, you name it. Is there a way to get him to stop this madness?

Fishman: This is a lot easier than it seems. First, I let my own dogs inform me when someone approaches the house, since that is their job, but they know once I say “OK,” or “Hush,” I have been informed and they should quiet down. This can be done by issuing the command to your dog, and then having them quickly sit by your side quietly after you have done so. This lets them know they have done their job, and you now have control of the situation. If needed, have a leash ready to put on them so you can enforce the command to sit by your side. They will pick this up quickly.

Watching bikers pass by during COVID-19. Courtesy Stephanie Steinberg

If the weather is too stormy for a walk, are there any indoor activities you recommend for getting a pet’s energy out?

Fishman: That is always a tough one. An energetic dog needs to burn off energy. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. If you have a basement that is not too cluttered, get a good game of fetch going. Let your dog chase things for a while. Another method is to have a good training session for your dog. Since this takes a lot of concentration for your dog it, too, will tire them out. A good 15-minute session will have your dog ready to relax. You can also do a quick game of fetch after to reward your dog for his work, and tire him out a little more as well.

My dog has taken to hopping in bed with us in the morning. (Maybe that’s just Magglio.) Is that a bad habit to start?

Fishman: It is only a bad habit if you do not want it to continue. Whatever your rules are for being in the bed or up on furniture, stay consistent and don’t allow what you do not intend to continue to become normal behavior. 

Magglio crawling into his master’s bed one morning. Courtesy Stephanie Steinberg

Why is my dog gaining weight?

Fishman: Remember that your dog is not being fed treats while you are at work and not at home. Make sure the dog’s food intake does not increase because you are there. Also, if your dog is accustomed to doggy day care, they were getting more activity than they are now. If needed, adjust the food intake or treats accordingly.

When we’re finally allowed to leave the house, are our pets going to act out or experience separation anxiety? Is there anything we can do to avoid that?

Fishman: Remember that dogs are probably more adaptable than we are. They can become accustomed to new things quickly. I would suggest, however, that while at home do not spend all your energy on the dog. Let them get used to the idea that there are times when they are the center of attention, and times they are not. This will make the transition back to normal much easier.

Magglio during COVID-19
Those who stay home will be champions. Courtesy Jake Serwer
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