This blog is going to be different than the typical, because life as you know it is anything but typical right now!
For all of you dog moms and dads who are struggling to find balance these days, this is for you. You have so much to juggle. Working from home, attempting to stay focused, keeping your emotions at bay, and to add to that, caring for your dog.
You love your dog so much your heart could burst. So what is with the random outburst at the tiniest thing that your dog has done wrong? Why can't your dog just self-entertain while you write the report that's due in an hour? Why does your dog have to pull your arm out of the socket to greet the other dog? Hello, we are social distancing!
Dogs don't get it. They know that something is different, but don't know what. They know that you are home, and that is causing them the most joy you can imagine. They want to be with you all the time and spend time with you, because they love you. So your heart breaks just a little with every frustration that comes along when your dog is making you absolutely crazy.
If you live in an apartment, condo, or a place without a yard, I bet you feel this pain. And oh boy, can I relate.
Here's the key though - you've gotta get into a routine. Your dog needs a schedule!
The schedule is not just for your dog, but for you too. Your productivity and mental health depend on it. You've got to stay focused right now, and find your calm. Here's what's helped me and River, and I hope it will help you too.
1) Plan out the next day before you go to bed.
I'm serious! I cannot tell you how much this has helped me.
Take a look at your to-do list for work. Write down how much time you think it will take to get each thing done. Be generous. It's always better to have more time to finish the task than not enough.
Now block in the times you need to walk, feed and play with your dog. I personally need about 2 hours in the morning, midday, and evening. Your time might be different, depending on your dog's needs. I HIGHLY recommend the midday break, even if your dog was used to you being gone 8+ hours a day. It's not only good for resetting your mind, but you're going to have a much calmer dog with less pent up energy by the end of the day.
Don't forget to plan in time for self care. Yes, this includes setting a bedtime, so you have enough energy to tackle the next day. For anyone who really knows me, I know this is a shocker to you. I have learned to sleep, and my world is SO different now. Do something relaxing for yourself. Yoga, meditate, run, anything. Take care of your body and mind. Trust me, it will give you more patience with your dog! You have to take care of yourself first before you can take care of others.
Got your plans? Now time to make those plans real!
Put it in your Apple or Google calendar, set an alarm for each item on your list, write it in your planner. Do whatever works for you. But once you set that time, stick to it.
Working from home is distracting enough. It's so tempting to sleep in, grab a snack, watch tv, and of course, play with your dog! You need self-discipline to stay on track.
Resolve to follow this schedule the very best you can. It's not going to be perfect. But it's the guideline to help you get through each day. And just having that framework makes a world of a difference.
2) Be fully present during your dog time.
You're busy. Emails, phone calls to return, reports to write and data to analyze, etc. Oh and checking in on your friends and family that you can't see right now. It's really tempting to try to multitask, and do those things while you're walking your dog or throwing the ball.
The day I decided to give River my undivided attention is the day she settled down and I regained focus. No joke.
There was one day where I felt like even though I was with my dog all day, it seemed as if I barely even saw her. My brain felt full and for once I didn't listen to a podcast on the walk. I decided, let's just walk, and not look at any messages, emails, etc. Complete disconnection from outside distractions. Not only was that the best walk we've had in a very long time but it recharged me, and River felt that new energy. Her behavior on that walk was spectacular!
From that day on, I resolved to be fully present in the time I set aside for River. The result has been priceless. We have a stronger bond, we are both happier, and River plays hard when we play indoors. When I sit at the desk, she knows that it's time chill out, and lays under my feet.
You can have that too! But you've got to put the phone away, turn off distractions, and commit that hour or two to hanging out solely with your pup.
3) Give your dog things to do!
A busy dog is a good dog.
I firmly believe that. You've got to keep your dog busy, and plan ahead...because meal planning isn't just for humans anymore. Meal plan for your dog too!
Let your dog play with his/her food. This is where your fur baby differs from a human baby. Please, please let your dog play with his/her food. I encourage it!
With kibble, meal time can last hours. If you are feeding out of a bowl, you are missing out on some serious brain work for your dog and free time for you! Feed the kibble out of a food dispensing toy, or use it as a reward when training a new trick.
If you feed your dog wet or raw, put it in a slow feeder bowl and freeze it. This takes your dog twice as long to eat it. If you have a tiny dog, it might take even longer. Go for it!
Grab a Kong or other food dispensing chew toy. Fill it up with something your dog loves - yogurt and bananas, pumpkin and sardines, cream cheese and tuna. Fill it up the night before, and freeze it. Maybe you have a video meeting, or an important phone call. That's time the to give your dog that special treat. This is your life raft when you're on a deadline and you just need 30 minutes of clarity.
Don't know what else to give your dog to do? Here's a fun activity! Grab a muffin tin and some tennis balls. Put in a little kibble, or freeze something yummy in the little cups. Cover each cup with a tennis ball. Give it to your dog to find the food! If it's kibble, have a pre-measured amount to feed, and don't put it all in the muffin tin at once. Maybe 1-2 pieces in each little cup. Then when you dog has found it all, repeat until the allotted amount of food is gone. Make it last!
Having a bunch of activities planned for your dog to do will stimulate his/her senses, which tires out the brain. It's work for your dog! How's that for a "take your dog to work" day?
Finally, be consistent. Dogs need routine, and you do too. Routines help everyone focus, because you know what is to be expected.
These days, with the world changing minute to minute, you need more than ever to create a routine. It centers you and keeps you moving forward.
Take advantage of the gift of time you have right now. Yes, it's stressful and overwhelming out there. But, you have a very special secret weapon to help you through. It's your dog!
Your dog gives you unconditional love.
Your dog brings joy and laughter from being silly and pure.
Your dog teaches you resilience, and how to live life to the fullest, each and every day.
Look for the goodness and the joy. My dog is my calm.
Follow these 3 simple steps - plan the day, be fully present, and give your dog things to do. Create the routine.
You'll find your calm too.