So while we are all at home all the time during Lockdown, your dog may be loving it. Having their humans there all the time, and even if walks have reduced, they are most likely having more attention and training at home than usual. Great! Or is it?
For people like myself, who usually go out to see clients or run classes, but actually am home a lot inbetween, my dog is quite used to me being home a fair bit so his life has not changed a huge amount. For dogs who are used to spending maybe 5 days a week or so alone for quite a few hours, and being broken up by a dog walker taking them out….this current situation is going to be a big change for them. They may be getting much less sleep, especially if you have a busy family, and sleep is so important for dogs. Dogs can sleep for 18-20 hours a day and it is so important for dogs. If dogs are not getting enough sleep that will affect their behaviour hugely. So this is another good reason for ensuring your dog is getting enough downtime.
The fact that your dog is never spending time alone now could potentially cause problems for when we do go back to work, or the children go back to school, or life returns to some degree of normality. And it looks to be a long road before we return to even a semblence of normality…meaning dogs may be spending no time alone for a very long time. This could mean that we see a big problem with separation issues, even if you have an older dog who has always been happy being left alone.
But…good news! We can do some work to help avoid these issues even while we are all at home with our dogs! This blog will run through some easy ways to help ensure your dog is happy in their own company. This is important for all dog owners….whether you have a puppy or an older dog. But….these should only be followed if your dog does not already show any form of separation anxiety/distress! If you are in this situation please contact me.
Make sure you are not always with your dog 24/7. At the moment this will mean you will have to work on ‘managed absences’ whereby you artificially create situations where you and your dog are not together.
Start by ensuring your dog isn’t always following you. Baby gates work well for this. Leave them in the house while you put the washing out…..leave them downstairs while you go upstairs to get something. Leave them in a separate room while you go to the bathroom. Small, managed absences to keep them comfortable in their own company, initially within the house and garden. If at any stage they are worried….ie they cry, or cant cope, then reduce the amount of time you are away from them. Start with just a few seconds, especially if you have a puppy who has not been left at all, or if you have a dog who has not spent any time alone since Lockdown begun.
If they are comfortable with this, increase the time you are away from them sometimes, and try and ensure that you also leave them for short periods with you actually leaving the house and acting as you normally would. Even start to sit in the car for short periods and listen to the radio. If you are going to the supermarket, and when one of you goes there is always someone in the house with your dog, maybe have you all go in the car (although one person only should go into the supermarket).
Give your dog food dispensing toys and puzzles, and engage them in activities to occupy them and encourage independence while also ensuring that you are not always involved with what they are doing. Examples would be to leave them with a stuffed kong or Toppl, lickimat, puzzle toys or scatter feeding food around the garden. These also have the added benefit of providing mental stimulation which is another vital aspect for your dog during this time.
So as much as its lovely to be able to spend so much quality time with your dogs, and rest assured they will most likely love it too, its important to look ahead and prepare them so that we avoid any separation issues developing when Lockdown measures are relaxed. Prevention is much better, and easier, than cure 😉
Angela Doyle (2020) Polite Paws Dog Training