Although many people won’t be rushing back to working 9-5 in an office every day there will come a point where we are allowed to venture outside again (hopefully!). Life after lockdown won’t be quite how it was before, but it will still be a big surprise for our pets. Everyone has been spending more time at home. Even if you’ve worked through the pandemic your free time will probably have been spent glued to the sofa like the rest of us. Many dogs have loved this, others are probably reminiscing fondly of the days where they could snooze uninterrupted. Either way when we start leaving the house again it will be a shock for them. That is something we should be preparing them for.
Separation related behaviour problems are a very common issue in pet dogs, and this is likely to be an even bigger concerns after lockdown. Our dogs have had months of us being available 24/7 and a sudden return to days on their own won’t be easy.
There are a variety of reasons why dogs can display problematic behaviour when left alone. People often focus on ‘anxiety’ associated with separation from their owner, and that is a common cause. However, some dogs may be destructive, vocal or toilet indoors for different reasons. They may fear noises for example and use their owner as a coping mechanism, without that option available to them they become distressed. Others might be bored and frustrated that there is no one home to let them in the garden or play a game with them. Regardless of the underlying reasons it is important that we start to get our dogs back into the routine of being alone. It is vital that this is done in a way that teaches them that being alone isn’t really that bad, and that they feel able to cope with it. Leaving dogs who struggle with separation alone to just ‘get used it’ will only lead to more severe distress.
Here is a suggested plan to help get your dog ready for the end of lockdown. At every day it is important that the separation is associated with something nice. You could use this time alone to give your dog a tasty chew, a stuffed Kong or other form of food enrichment:
1. Use a baby gate to start to introduce brief periods of physical separation. For example, having your dog the other side of the baby gate whilst you cook or eat dinner.
2. Once they are happy being the other side of a baby gate you can start to reduce their visual access to you by closing the door a little more each time.
3. If you need to pop to the post box or nip to the shop leave your dog at home rather than always taking them with.
4. If your dog is coping with the above start to gradually increase the time they are away from you. Practising at different times of the day and for variable amount of time.
If your dog becomes stressed at any point in the above steps, stop and go back to the beginning. Try again but taking things more slowly and using more tasty treats for the time they are alone.
Whenever leaving our dogs for more than a few minutes ensure they aren’t hungry, have been out for a walk and they don’t need the toilet. Some dogs like to have some background noise such as the TV or music on. Always leave them with something to keep themselves entertained too.
If your dog is unable to cope with the steps above despite taking your time and building things up very gradually it would be wise to speak to a behaviourist who can provide further personalised advice on how to help your dog cope.