The Dog Barn in St Helens share their top tips on keeping your dog happy after lockdown ends
3 years ago
We’ve all sighed with relief since Boris announced the road map to lifting lockdown and getting back to normality.
But while there are many of us who can’t wait to get back out and into the office, for dog owners it’s introduced a new worry:
Will my dog be okay when I’m not around?
“There’s no doubt that many dogs have got used to having their owners at home all day, and spending every moment with them,” says Alison Long, head trainer at The Dog Barn in St Helens.
“And that might be especially so for the many puppies that people – especially those living alone – got for company during lockdown. Those puppies have never known anything else.”
There is such a thing as separation anxiety.
Adds Alison: “A dog who has been constantly by your side will go through anxiety with separation.
“They don’t understand a sudden change to any routine, and that’s particularly difficult for those puppies who have never known any different or those who have been rehomed and have been with an owner constantly.
“For a dog who’s five years old for whom it’s been the norm for you to go to work and come back, it will still be disruptive, but if it has a relaxed nature, it will soon adapt.”
And there is no need to despair. With a return to normal life on the cards, you can get dogs used to not having you round and adjusting to a new routine, but it’s best to start now so you can introduce it gradually.
Alison’s top tips:
* Dog owners should make gradual changes now, rather than waking up one Monday and everything changing when they go back into work. That will be a big enough shock for the owners, let alone the dogs! So introduce a little bit of separation now.
* If your dog has been with you working from home, by your side for the last eight weeks or more, try popping them downstairs while you’re working upstairs, or having them in the kitchen while you’re in the living room.
* Leave them with something to do, like giving them a Lickimat or a Kong toy which you can fill with vegetables or fruit that’s okay for dogs to eat, or doggy peanut butter, or cream cheese or natural yoghurt which you can freeze and your dog can lick. Licking and chewing releases endorphins in dogs that leaves them happy and relaxed.
* Start by doing this for small periods of time, perhaps 15-20 minutes at first, and gradually build it up. For a dog who stresses maybe start with one or two minutes and build it up.
* One of the things we suggest to owners if that you introduce separation while you are in the shower. You won’t spend too much time in there and you’ll have something to do so you’re not sitting there worrying about your dog! Leave them comfortable, have your shower and then reunite. That’s a good regular routine to get into and a nice time frame for the dog to be on their own.
* Exercise. One of the things people have not considered – and was a problem in the last lockdown -was how much time they have spent out walking dogs and exercising them. This is great because it means a lot of dogs are physically and mentally very fit – but that mental fitness can cause destructive behaviour if it stops or is reduced. So, make time in the day to play with your dog.
Activities to help drain mental energy such as teaching your dog basic obedience commands, working on distance commands, playing games, and sending your dog to bed in a different room can all help in easing anxiety which can build up if your dog is not mentally stimulated.
* Try not to worry! People overly worry and dogs are amazing at adapting (it’s one of the reasons why they’re fantastic) as long as we don’t make an instant change.
And it doesn’t have to be too gradual a build-up time. Once you have introduced a period of separation and your dog is comfortable with that, they should cope with longer separation. A lot of dogs cope well and are comfortable when their owner is away for longer periods and then come back. But balance everything!
* One of the problems in summer once people went back to work was that they didn’t make time for their dog AFTER work because they were too keen to socialise with their friends afterwards. That meant their dog was left alone in the evening too, then the owner came back and went to bed. If you are out working all day, make sure you spend some quality time with your dog afterwards.
Alison has worked at The Dog Barn, a family business in St Helens which offers grooming and training, as well as a shop and a private field for hire, since it was started 12 years ago. She says if a dog remains very stressed you could consider a dog carer or walker who can go to your animal throughout the day, or you could consider going home for lunch if you’re able.
“Some dogs find it harder than others. Some breeds find it harder than others. There are also dog daycare centres,” she adds, “although remember that they are there to make sure your dog if happy – not to train them!”
And Alison smiles: “Dogs are part of the family. They are part of our world – and particularly, for those on their own during lockdown, they were their world.
“So people will find it a struggle to leave their dogs too.
“But remember, if you are stressed and anxious when you go, your dog will be too, and they’ll think you’re never coming back.
“So, when you leave, you need to stay calm and relaxed as well. Our dogs have helped us during lockdown, now it’s time for us to help them.”