Helping your dog cope during and after lockdown
Lots of dogs have been loving their owners being at home during lockdown.
But for some dogs the changes are stressful. And we need to consider the effects on our dogs when we go back to work or school.
A change in routine
If dogs are used to the same things happening at the same time each day, they can become worried by change.
Please try to stick to normal daily routines as much as possible.
Feed them at the same time each day and let them out for toilet breaks around the same time daily.
However, when it comes to walking and meeting their other needs, such as play, training, and social time, introduce variation to ensure your dog can cope and doesn’t get frustrated if activities don’t happen at set times each day when you return to the workplace.
Being apart from you
If your dog is used to being left alone while you're out, it's important to maintain their ability to cope when alone or build it back up again if you have been spending more time at home over the past year.
Factor in time apart from your dog each day – for example leave your dog in another part of the house for periods of time whilst working from home, so they are not with you all the time. Try and leave them in the house alone when going for essential trips as well. This will help them cope better when everyone goes back to work or school.
Watch our video for top tips to keep your dog happy when left alone.
Dogs and exercise
Your dog might be walking shorter distances with the current government restrictions and may have less opportunities to run around outside. This could leave them with some excess energy.
You can help your dog by introducing regular activity sessions to use up that energy. Play, training and enrichment sessions that are different each day will help them to use their brains and noses as well as their bodies, and be fun for both of you.
Dogs and sleep
If your dog is used to sleeping during the day, they might be losing out on vital sleep now that there are people at home all the time.
Build in time for quieter activities each day and encourage your dog to relax by providing your dog with their own safe-haven in the form of a ‘doggy-den’ area.
Add a comfy bed/blanket and some of their favourite toys so they can relax whenever they want. Make sure everyone understands that your dog must be left alone to relax when they are in their den.
Helping your dog cope when home alone
Dogs are naturally social animals, so it’s normal for them to feel worried when they’re left on their own, especially if they have become accustomed to you being home 24/7 during the current lockdown.
First teach them to be confident and relaxed when you are home, but busy and unable to give them your attention:
Make sure your dog has a comfy and cosy bed or covered den all of their own, away from the main thoroughfare of the house and distracting activities. Make sure they are never disturbed whenever they are in their bed.
Encourage them to spend time in their bed when you are engaged in another activity, watching TV or cooking for example, by giving them a tasty chew or a food-releasing toy there. They’ll soon learn to enjoy these times when you are busy and can’t give them direct attention, and they’ll see their bed as a great place to be in by themselves. This will help them to cope better when you’re not there at all.
It’s normal for dogs to want to be with us but teaching your dog not to follow you around the house is a good idea because it will help them not to rely on you being present all the time. If they do follow you, don’t speak to them, make eye contact or touch them. Don’t feel mean doing this, you’re just teaching them that following you everywhere is boring! This will help them when you actually have to leave them all alone.
If your dog persists in following you, it’s important that you don’t tell them off or to “go away”. Even though you’re trying to discourage them you might make them anxious and confused so they might seek your attention even more!
Now start teaching your dog to cope as you move a little further away
It’s important to introduce and practice separation gradually and very slowly build up your dog’s tolerance for being on their own. Pick a time to practice when you and your dog are both calm and relaxed.
- You can use baby-gates across doorways to teach your dog that you can be at a distance from them without them having to worry. They’ll be able to see you, hear you and smell you but just not physically connect with you.
- Just before going through the baby-gate scatter some treats onto the floor for your dog to search for, or give them a toy, chew or food-releasing toy to play with by themselves. They’ll be learning that being alone is okay because they’ll be having a good time! If you haven’t got a baby-gate don’t worry, just gently close the door, but be aware you’re completely going out of sight, so this is a big step! Stay outside only for a very short time to begin with.
- Start with very short periods (e.g. just one minute to begin with) then gradually build up the length of time you are away from your dog, as long as they remain relaxed.
- Gradually increase the time before you return to the room. If your dog becomes worried or shows signs of anxiety, try staying closer to the gate if you are using one, or go back to leaving him for a shorter duration. If they cannot cope with this level of separation stop and contact a qualified behaviourist for guidance.
Preparing for success when you are leaving your dog alone at home
- Take your dog for a good walk and ensure they go to the toilet before you leave. Remember to leave them with water and food if they haven’t eaten already.
- Prepare your things beforehand so you can leave quickly and calmly without agitating your dog by rushing around stressed.
- Establish a leaving routine, use a special word or phrase (that you only use when you leave), for example “stay and be good”. Routine lets your dog know what happens next, and consistency helps your dog feel secure.
- Leave your dog with food-releasing toy or something safe that is long lasting and tasty to eat. Ideally it should last at least 15 minutes and be as delicious and fun as possible, for example a Kong toy stuffed with dry kibble dog food or wet tinned dog food. Refrigerating it in readiness might help make it last a little longer.
- Leave an old item of clothing that smells of you in your dog’s bed.
- Leave soothing content on the TV or radio on to help muffle any external noises (ensure your dog doesn’t have any sound sensitivities or will react negatively to stimuli such as the sight and/or sounds of dogs/other animals on the TV/radio if leaving on unknown content).
- Once they can cope alone, think about how long your dog can go between toilet breaks and don’t leave them for longer than this period of time.
- Also consider where in the house you leave your dog when they will be on their own. For example, leaving them with access to see out the front window may result in them becoming aroused or worried and actually developing reactive behaviour when they are home alone, some people like to leave their dogs looking out windows so they can ‘protect’ the house or feel like they enjoy looking out, and of course some dogs probably do but barking out the window is a pretty common behaviour!
If your dog is struggling to learn to cope being all by themselves a qualified behaviourist will be able to help you teach them.