There are two chairs in my new home office. One for myself, the second for my canine buddy, Romy Power.
My 10-year-old miniature Yorkshire terrier has transitioned to the new arrangement by curling up as close as she can, snoozing to the tapping sound of my keyboard but always vigilant. She is on high alert and keeps a watchful eye on any trips to the kitchen.
‘Not too much coffee’, she blinks at me. Long stares from those gorgeous brown eyes. At first, I thought she was confused at seeing me 24/7 but her alertness to sounds, especially a ring on the doorbell and desire to stay uber-close is because dogs pick up on human anxiety. Romy is Mammying me.
I can’t deny it, we are both benefiting from these longer walks before and after work, plus now there’s an extra one thrown in at lunchtime too. Wine waist, be gone.
Last week, as we set off walking at 7am in order to avoid meeting people on crowded footpaths, it struck me how being with my dog day and night was the only positive on this scary landscape we now find ourselves living in.
Speaking of rare positives here, the clocks going forward next Sunday will mean brighter evenings too, so we can get a later walk in before bedtime and hopefully sleep better as a result of this exercise because I, for one, am not sleeping.
And it’s Romy Power to the rescue again because when I’m lying there, staring at the ceiling at 3am, it’s the sound of regular breathing and her occasional snores from the end of the bed that help lull me back to sleep. It’s comforting. She’s my Delta waves calming music.
Psychotherapist Dr Kevin Murphy says that people lucky enough to be pet owners, dog owners in particular, will probably see a great benefit from their company and the regular exercise walking them is a de-stressing aid.
“For those people on their own, it’s such an obvious comfort because they have a pet they can focus on, distract themselves with, lavish attention on and derive love from,” he says.
“For those in more crowded circumstances with all the family now at home, the pet becomes a focus away from the other human individuals, which is always a good thing. Living in close quarters, we can become tetchy, irritable, lacking in patience and the presence of a pet can be a wonderful distraction from all of that and bring a sense of calm. I think there are benefits all round.”
“Having a pet does put a time schedule on one’s day. They have to be fed at a certain time, they have to be walked or let out, or have their cage cleaned, or the water has to be changed in the tank if you have goldfish.
“It puts a structure on what can become, at a time like this, a very unstructured schedule which in itself, can cause anxiety for people who are used to a workplace, a routine and having to be places.”
The only downside, he says, is if dog walks bring you into close contact with people not observing the social distancing guidelines.
Dog trainer Sinead Hughes says self-isolation will give humans an insight into their dog’s life. It’s a case of ‘Welcome to my world’ and see how it feels being left indoor for hours on end, with no physical interaction with people, day after day.
Sinead recommends now is the time to do the ‘snalk’ – her word for the sniff and walk.
Apparently we’ve been doing it all wrong on those brisk ‘duty’ walks we’ve been doing with our dogs before going to work.
“Dogs are not about getting from A to B on a power walk,” says Sinead. “Things that dogs would do naturally as canines in the wild would be basic things like sniffing and picking out information, because that’s a dog’s way of socialising.
“They’re not very visual so that’s their way of reading their mail or their Twitter feed. A dog’s way of understanding their environment is through their sense of smell. A walk for a dog is about ‘the journey’ and gathering information. It’s nothing to do with the destination.”
Right, so I’m walking Romy at my pace, rather than her pace. Good to know, since we are hopefully going to be doing more of it, most probably early in the morning, late at night. And in between games in the garden.
In her Facebook blog, Sinead Hughes recommends we use this free time with our dogs constructively.
“This is the perfect opportunity to give our dogs more of us. Play ball and tug of war, do little bits of training for mental stimulation and to tire them out,” she says.
“Get a little sand pit so they can dig. Instead of just feeding them from a dog bowl, put their food into little containers, like lunch boxes, and set up a little scent detection course in the garden where the dog goes around and sniffs out their food instead of them inhaling it from a bowl, and not even eating it from a bowl because we put so much food in it.
“Double their physical exercise and a huge amount of behavioural problems could diminish like boredom barking, stealing things or jumping up on furniture just to get our attention.”
But what will happen when things change and we go back to working outside the home again? Pet behaviourist Suzi Walsh says if your dog is already used to you going to work during the day and home at weekends, they will revert back to the way they were before, unless they have low-level separation anxiety.
When it came to responding to the current crisis, I focussed on getting supplies of Romy’s canned Hepatic food in from the vet before I bought a can of beans or a loo roll.
Medication for her eyes was a priority too and it was heart-breaking hearing a man pleading for more heart tablets for his cat because they are not sold in bulk. These are the things that will stress out pet owners.
On the grooming front, in the end, it was either Romy’s coat or my hair that got attention before I went into isolation and since her groomer answered the phone first, Romy got the trim.
I’m delighted because with all the running and walking and ball playing we’re planning to do, if only in the back garden, Romy would have been very hot in her winter fur coat.
As for my own ‘hurr’, I can always do an aul DIY job on the roots.