Pet Puja: A Letter To Pet Parents

Shirin Merchant is India’s pioneering Canine Behaviourist and Trainer. For the past 25 years, she has worked hard to ensure that dogs in India are trained using reward-based methods.

Dear Pet Parents,

We are in the midst of difficult times. Your dogs are probably as apprehensive as you are. They may not know what exactly is going on, but they do know that we are stressed, frightened and maybe even depressed. They love us and they feel our pain. 

Of course, having you at home would have initially been a joyous gift for many dogs who have to otherwise fight for our time and attention, but our dogs would have also hoped that it would have just been about fun-playtime, long walks and relaxing naps… not a situation where outdoor walks have abruptly stopped or why their friends have stopped coming over to say hello or why you are tense and anxious.

Over the coming weeks, you are likely to see behaviour problems crop up – whether it is anxiety, a spurt in aggression or a regression in toilet training. It could be your dog just behaving like he has forgotten his training or sitting quietly in a corner all day or a dog that is grumpy or moody. You may see tantrums, attention seeking behaviour or even your dog withdrawing into a shell as he tries to make sense of the situation. This is normal and expected under such circumstances. 

What our dogs need right now is to feel loved and be comforted; to know that everything will be alright again one day. It is okay if your dog doesn’t get his one hour walk or his mandatory half hour training session. Instead, why not use this time to play silly, meaningless fun games with them… bake cookies for them, put on music and dance, take naps with your dog on your lap and sit for hours side by side, watching the birds fly outside.

Do what makes you and your dog happy. Let go of your old schedule and embrace a newer, happier and more relaxed one. Don’t worry about their training regressing or how you will deal with issues that crop up. When life returns to normal, we will all be able to pick up the pieces again. 

Don’t smack your dog because he didn’t do a sit when you told him to, or scold him because he didn’t stop barking. If we can learn one lesson as pet parents at this difficult time, it should be that our dog’s mental health is more important than their obedience skills. 

Our dogs are watching us and learning from us on how to cope during adversity. These lessons will teach them far more than any training ever can on how they can cope when stressed. The memory of the love, the fun and the warmth that they get from you at this trying time will live longer in their mind than any commands ever will.

Remember that you are not alone at this time. I will be there for you every step of the way. Reach out if you need me and I will do my best to guide you! 

 Stay safe and stay well.

Shirin Dhabhar

About Shirin Dhabhar

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