While lockdown has been an unnatural and strange time for us, it has been the opposite for our sociable furry friends. The last year has seen us spending significantly more time indoors, especially if we’re working from home on a daily basis. Dogs are a particularly sociable pack animal who naturally live in groups. Our dogs have been spending lots more time with us, which means more treats, more walks, and more snuggles.
For anxious dogs, lockdown has alleviated some fears about being left alone for long periods of time. Those that weren’t initially clingy might have become used to a certain life by our side day in, day out. This means they might need some readjusting back to normality so that they don’t feel abandoned or stressed.
To minimise the effect of post-lockdown on our dogs, we’ll look at how you can ease your furry four-legged friend back to independence.
Re-adjust their routine
You should start considering your dog’s new routine in lockdown and how you can shift it back to its old one. Instead of drastically changing it back in one day, you should gradually change the timings of key parts of their day. For example, what time you feed your dog, what time you let them out for their first toilet break of the day, if you feed them again later, and what time they take their evening walk. You should also adjust the number of walks you take them each day so that they don’t feel confused.
Consider getting a dog walker to take your dog out when you’re working. Make sure they are professional and covered by insurance for dog walkers so you’re not worried about them when you’re away.
Spend less time together
Considering the point above, you should also adjust how much time you spend with your dog each day. Think about how much extra time your dog has spent with you compared to when you worked your nine-to-five office job or long shifts on weekends.
While it might seem like dogs can tell the time, they aren’t so much knowing what time it is but guessing based on key parts of the day – and your smell. Dogs know when to expect you coming home depending on how strong your smell is around the house. In simple terms, your personal odour lets your dog predict the time of your return.
Gradually decrease the amount of time and attention you give to your dog, slowly increasing the time they spend alone. Don’t ignore your dog when they want attention, but maybe divert them to something different like a toy or getting them to lay in their bed. You don’t necessarily need to leave the house, but maybe put your dog in a different room or set up a baby gate so your dog can see you but can’t interact with you as readily.
Know the warning signs
Be aware of signals and behaviours your dog exhibits when they are experiencing anxiety away from you or changes to routine. You can set up a camera in your home to monitor your dog’s behaviour when you’re away so that you can judge if you’re not easing them in enough and if they need more gradual changes. For example, if they are whining, howling, barking, destroying things, weeing indoors, vomiting, or in extreme cases mutilating themselves, these are signs of separation anxiety and need to be taken seriously. You should get expert advice from your vet to make sure you can help your dog become happy again.
Some extra tips to consider are:
- Don’t make a huge deal when you’re leaving and arriving. This can get your dog worked up and increase their feelings of anxiety when you’re away. Calmly pet them to keep them from experiencing intense emotions.
- As mentioned previously, dogs have a strong sense of smell and associate it with when they think you’ll be back. Leave them with an item of clothing you’ve recently worn to keep them feeling comforted.
- Teach them a command that lets them know you’ll be back and that you’re not leaving them forever.
- Consider calming behaviour products that can reduce feelings of stress and fear.
Dogs are part of the family and should be treated as such. Make sure you’re aware of your dog’s emotions and how you can ease them back into life post-lockdown.