How to help your dog cope with life after lockdown
Are you worried about how your dog will cope when things return to normal?
Or the new normal, – whatever this might be – after months in lockdown?
With us spending nearly every waking moment at home with our dogs, the thought of leaving them is upsetting for us.
And while it’s lovely for pets to have us at their beck and call, they will have picked up on our stresses during the crisis.
Here each pet professional shares their insights on the four key issues owners may experience with their dog post lockdown
Carol Clark has this advice on Separation Anxiety
How has lockdown contributed to dogs feeling separation anxiety?
“Dogs thought Christmas had come when lockdown started, being with their owners for the majority of each day.
“Owners have loved it too – having a companion to talk to and share their feelings with and how cuddling your dog means you feel better and can relax more.
“Many dogs have started following the owner everywhere, even to the loo, and they’ve had a long time to get used to not being left alone.
“A surge in separation problems is inevitable, similar to what owners experience returning to work after having had a baby, or taken extended leave.”
What are the signs?
“Dogs may whine, howl or bark when left alone, and pace around, not being able to settle and rest.
“Some dogs drool excessively, or destroy objects, or even chew themselves in their distress and it’s upsetting for dogs and owner.
“It’s not surprising these dogs go over the top when greeting their owner coming home.”
What can people do and is there anything we can start now to avoid this?
“Treatment of full blown separation anxiety takes huge time and effort, so it’s important to act now to teach your dog to be comfortable and relaxed when left.
“There are three key things to do.
- Give your dog some time alone each day. Go out and garden, or do that outside maintenance you always meant to get round to. Go out for a short drive, or walk on your own.
- Prevent your dog shadowing you everywhere in the home. Shut doors, especially the toilet door. Close the kitchen door while you cook, or shut your dog outside, if safe to do so. Use barriers such as baby gates, or put your dog in his crate or pen for short periods.
- Encourage your dog to rest and get enough sleep. Lack of sleep in dogs causes mood swings, lethargy and difficulty concentrating and if severe, a form of PTSD or even aggression. Give your dog regular quiet times to snooze, at least a couple of times each day, in a comfy bed in a separate room. Try to time these for when you are likely to leave your dog as we move out of lockdown.”
Find out more about Carol on her website at www.downdog.co.uk
Groups of dogs living in one home may struggle when there are no humans around after lockdown is lifted
Sarah Bartlett works with owners with Multi Dog Households
How has life in lockdown been for dogs sharing a home with other dogs?
“They’ve been having more time with their humans, more attention and more stimulation from their owners being present more.
“So they have been bonding with their humans more than bonding with each other.
“With less visitors there has been less chances for them to get overexcited and practice the craziness that usually occurs when greeting.
“Less distractions so less seeing dogs and people during walks, making them more manageable to take out with less pulling, barking and improved recall.
“But they’ve also been getting less sleep and real rest as their humans are around and disturbing them during the day.
“This can grumpiness and over excitability – much like a room full of overtired toddlers!”
Trainer Sarah Bartlett exuding calm on a group walk
How do you think they’ll cope with being home alone?
“Separation anxiety isn’t a common issue as the dogs have each other for company, though I do see it occasionally.
“What I expect to see is more complaints of barking from neighbours when people pass by the house, and more movement and noise outside in general.
“I also think there will be more cases of dogs in the same home fighting.
“Not all dogs get on all the time and these dogs will have had their owners home to distract them and to ease the tension, so a change to that routine will start to cause issues.
“So there will be over excitability when owners return from work, or when someone comes through the door.
“These are common times that fights occur as the dogs can’t control their excitement and frustration and start to take it out on one another.”
What can owners do ahead of returning to work?
“Work on control when you come through the door, only paying attention to the calmer dogs and waiting for the others to calm down when greeting them.
“They should ignore any pushy behaviour when they are relaxing at home with the dogs.
“The dog that pushes in for a fuss out of jealousy should be ignored until they wander off to do something else, then sometimes called over for a fuss.
“Teaching an excellent wait command individually and as a group then teaching them to be released individually while the others stay put.
“Right now we still have time to do this. Teach them patience – good things come to those who wait.
“Try to have time each day where the dogs are shut in a separate room from you.
“And while feeding or doing something your dog enjoys, play sounds of cars, bin lorries and other voices to reduce their desire to bark.”
Sarah has a download of games for dogs living in multi dog households you can download here.
Find out more about Sarah on her website: www.houndhelpers.co.uk
Another potential post lockdown problem for owners is their dog barking endlessly
Claire Lawrence is an expert on Barking Dogs
How has lockdown been for barking or reactive dogs?
“I think depends a lot on the dog, some have experienced their dogs being frustrating and barking at home so it’s been hard for them.
“For those with fearful dogs, I think lockdown and social distancing have given them a gift because those scary things will stay at bay!”
How do you think their behaviour will be once restrictions are lifted?
“Let’s focus on the in house woofers here, people need to start working on the in house and garden barking now.
“Otherwise, when they return to work, chances are their dog is going to have full reign of house protector which means they’re barking in alarm every time a leaf blows past.
“That means you’re left with a stressed dog and fed up neighbours.
“Nuisance barking can land you in hot water if you get reported with a noise complaint and the barking will only ever increase if the dog is left to practice day in, day out.”
What can owners do to prevent this?
“Start training now! The longer it’s left, the worse it will get, that we can promise you.
“I think people confuse dog training for a boring and time consuming activity they need to do, but it really isn’t like that at all.
“Sure, you’ll have to make a few amendments, but once you start incorporating these changes into your lifestyle, we can really start to turn things around.
“Scent work, shaping (which is giving dogs mental challenge to solve) and solitude are the lessons I teach.
“These will really help dogs to stick to a routine, prevent separation anxiety, attention seeking and barking issues.”
You can read more about her work on her website: www.3sts.co.uk
Finally, if you have a puppy or young dog, how can you help them navigate life post lockdown?
Karen Boyce is an expert for pups and young dogs
“It’s like asking how parents are getting along with being locked in the home with the children and having to home school them.
“Some parents seem to be doing just fine, even enjoying it, and some are tearing their hair out.
“The same with the kids. Some are getting along fine and others either aren’t coping or aren’t learning.
“Puppy owners have more time to train, to watch and learn about their pup or young dog, to think and plan which is a good thing.
“The downside is dogs, particularly puppies, are becoming over tired.
“It can be even worse if children are in the house and sleep deprivation can cause grumpiness, frustration, biting, chewing and general destructive behaviour.
“Over attachment – an inability to move anywhere around the house without being shadowed by your dog – is another worry and dogs being stressed when owners leave.”
How do you think their behaviour will be once they’re home on their own.
“This is such an unknown area but we can guess the likely issues based on owners who take a holiday to raise a new puppy but unwittingly forget to train for isolation.
“A huge change in routine that involves a feeling of abandonment is likely to lead to a myriad of behavioural problems.”
What can owners do to support them and prepare puppies?
“Assess their puppies and young dogs ability to be left at the most basic of levels.
“They should try five minutes in the crate using the routine they expect to use to signal to the pup or young dog that isolation is about to occur.
“Testing a dog by just leaving is never the right approach. Priming the dog and then leaving and then assessing stress levels is the key.”
Find out more about Karen on her website: www.beastlythoughts.co.uk