For many of us our dogs have been our lifeline during lockdown, providing companionship and consistency in such uncertain times. They have kept us active by demanding daily walks, rain or shine, and interaction which has helped positively boost our mood and given daily structure to our lives. They love us being around as much as we love their company and they have certainly been relishing the extra attention, more playtime and new enthusiasm for walks - who would blame them?
There has also been a huge increase in demand for puppies and dogs during the past year during lockdown which means for some dogs, this lifestyle will be all they have ever known. Dog ownership is a wonderful thing, but it is also a huge responsibility and a commitment that spans way beyond lockdown. As restrictions ease and we slowly welcome normality back into our lives, it is important we consider the implications for our canine companions and give them a helping hand to adjust to the new normal. Few dogs will have been able to socialize with other dogs, experience new visitors in the home, apart from the regular deliveries appearing at the door, or have been left alone for long periods at home.
So, what can we do?
As we slowly ease back to pre-pandemic life, return to the office and begin socialising again, now is the perfect time to start preparing our dogs for not being with us 24/7, building up experiences and helping them learn or relearn independence. We want to try and avoid any possible separation anxiety or overcome this behavioural issue if your dog is already showing signs of stress when left alone. Here are a few tips and tricks to help our dogs adjust to life after lockdown.Top Tips
- Whilst at home, spend time in different rooms to your dog and gradually increase the length of time you spend apart.
- Create a ‘safe space’ for them with a comfy and cosy bed or covered den and encourage them to spend more time in their bed alone when you are engaged in another activity. If your dog seems unsure of their new safe space at first, you can try scattering some tasty treats in there and giving them praise or gentle touch when they get into their bed and lie down. You should be able to gradually reduce this positive reinforcement as they learn to settle.
- Factor in regular activity sessions at home with your dog to help them use up energy, be that play, training or enrichment sessions – try to do this in the morning or evening or when you will normally be available.
- Ensure your dog has had enough exercise before leaving them alone; if they are a little tired when you leave it is more likely that they will relax.
- Leaving the radio playing or the television on can help soothe your dog and create a calm atmosphere for them whilst you are out. Having background noise will also help prevent your home from feeling too quiet in your absence.
- Experiment with mental stimulation such as a food dispensing toy to keep them busy whilst you are out.
- It can be helpful to set up an indoor camera which you can watch live from your phone to keep an eye on your dog whilst you are out and ensure they are settled and relaxed.
- When you leave and when you return home to your dog, do so quietly and calmly and do not make a huge fuss. This helps your dog understand that your absence is nothing to worry about that you coming and going is perfectly normal. Once your dog settles you can reward their calm behaviour.
- When you take your dog out with you to a social event, be mindful of the fact that they may struggle with the distractions, sights and smells which haven’t been familiar for a while and their behaviour may be different from what it was pre-lockdown. Take note of any changes in their behaviour and if they do show signs of stress and anxiety, you need to take it slower.
- For puppies, slowly introduce them to places that you could not visit during lockdown – all the new smells, sights and sounds they experience when they are younger will help them have less fear as an adult dog.
It’s important to remember that that you do not have to do this alone and if you need support and advice or you are concerned about your dogs behaviour, you can always speak to your vet, a qualified dog behaviorist or the many advice charities such as RSPCA, Battersea, DogsTrust who will be able to help.
Link to Dogs Trust's Roadmap to helping dogs ease out of lockdown: Click here