As we look ahead to the continued easing of lockdown, and with many of us returning to the physical workspace and starting to socialise more, something that will likely be playing on the mind of dog owners in particular is ‘how will the changes impact my pet?’.
Over the last couple of months, while many of us have been spending more time at home, our dogs will have enjoyed the extra interaction we have been able to give them. However, as things slowly return to normal, and routines change back to how they were pre-lockdown, this disruption can affect our pets and lead to some undesirable behavioural issues.
At Wood Green, The Animals Charity we offer a pet support service online and via the phone, and we have already seen a number of cases where, even when owners are just going out to do their shopping, dogs are not happy and are showing signs of stress, for example barking more or whining. This behaviour shows your dog is struggling without you, and could indicate they are anxious on their own. Even if your dog has been perfectly fine with being left alone previously, they can still be at risk of developing these issues.
There are a few ways this anxiety can be managed. As much as possible, pet owners should be preparing pets to be home alone on a daily basis. A good way of doing this is to get them used to being separated by putting them in another room while you are working or doing other things. To get pets ready for the process of you leaving the house, you can practise simply coming in and out of the door – just give them a chew to keep them occupied, pop outside the door and then come back in. Don’t make a fuss when you leave or big introductions when you return.
Once you have a date for returning to work, try and re-engage your pet’s routine a week or so in advance of normal working hours. Start getting up at the time you would for work usually and take your pet out for walks at a time that would be normal on a work day. If you can do that and you can give them short periods of time at home alone, it will be much less of a change when you do go back to your regular routine.
For owners of new puppies, lockdown has provided a good opportunity to spend more time embedding your puppy into the home life and focusing on training, albeit virtual. However, there are some important puppy lessons that lockdown will have undoubtedly hindered.
Socialisation issues, particularly with visitors coming into the home, are likely to arise in young puppies that are used to only their owners being in the house with them. You can start to prepare your puppies now for when visitors are allowed by installing a puppy gate and by putting them behind it for short periods of time. Even when there is no interaction from a stranger at this point, it will help get them used to the concept when the time comes.
It’s also important for pet owners who have got a new puppy during lockdown to be aware that these animals will not be used to the regular sounds of busy roads, aircrafts and trains, and, in earlier stages of lockdown, they will have had little exposure to car travel too. As we gradually return to our regular, noisy environment, remember that one of the reasons why your pet is acting nervously could be due to these unfamiliar sounds and experiences. To help their pets habituate, owners should engage in positive training and play in association with these sounds and experiences – some dogs will require more support than others.
As things return to normal, pet owners shouldn’t feel panicked or upset if their pet is behaving differently. We will all be adapting to new routines and it’s perfectly normal for pets to feel ill-at-ease.
Wendy Kruger, Dog Behaviour & Training Specialist, Wood Green, The Animals Charity