Post lockdown: ten tips to help your dog overcome separation anxiety

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life after lockdown

Over half of UK dog owners have every day in constant company of their dogs during the lockdown, according to research commissioned by Forthglade Natural Pet Food. However, they also found that 29 per cent of respondents found their dogs became more needy over this time, with 27 per cent expressing concerns that their dogs may struggle to cope once the lockdown ends and they return to work.

Animal behaviourist Caroline Wilkinson says, “Having had this period at home has no doubt strengthened the bond with our beloved dogs; it’s been a great time to nourish relationships with our four-legged friends and enjoy more relaxed walks. It would be wonderful if dog owners held onto the positive traits developed during this unsettled time, ensuring this special connection with our pets and families is not lost.”

Dogs are at risk of separation anxiety after the lockdown ends, and it is important to plan ahead so that they don’t find themselves unable to cope when the usual routine begins to return.

Gerard Lovell, joint Managing Director of Forthglade and owner of Labrador Bo, says, “Our survey shows we have a renewed appreciation of our pets and what they bring to our lives, but it also highlights the amount of physical and mental stimulation they really need to stay happy and healthy

“People who previously left their dogs alone all day have been prompted to rethink things, which is a positive. Slowly ‘future-proofing’ our dogs for a time when we aren’t going to be around 24/7 is essential for combatting distressed and destructive behaviours.”

Below are Caroline Wilkinson’s ten top tips to ease the transition to life after lockdown. A Facebook Live event on separation anxiety will also take place at 12.30pm tomorrow (27 May) on Forthglade’s Facebook page.

Enjoy Human-Only Outdoor Time

Taking some human-only exercise – whether it be a run, cycle or walk – is a nice way to give your dogs some calm, solo time at home.

It’s so important that we think about gradually getting our dogs used to more time spent alone. It also allows you time to focus on your own mental and physical wellbeing. While out for your exercise, think about focusing on your breathing – counting your breaths in and out – really being present in the moment. If your dog has been a little needier recently, this is a great opportunity for some “me time” without your dog.

Ease into New Routines Slowly

Establishing a routine has been documented to provide us, humans, with many benefits, including better rest; improved eating; reduced stress; and an effective use of time. Our dogs can flourish with routine too – or at least some key cornerstones of predictable mealtimes and bedtime routines.

As routines were thrown out the window pretty much overnight at the start of lockdown, it’s understandable that we’ve all been feeling so unsettled and for many, sleep has been suffering. As we start to move back towards our previous routine, try to make changes gradually – so you’re not overwhelming yourself or your dog. If you’re able to stagger family members returning to work, school or Uni – so your dog doesn’t go from all to nothing overnight – this will help reduce the chances that they panic when left alone.

Build Fitness Up Slowly

All of us – both humans and dogs – might be a little less fit than we were a few weeks ago. Don’t rush back to multiple long walks a day – build up your fitness slowly.

We don’t want to risk any injuries! Playing games at home, alongside comfortable walking time, is a good way to keep your dogs’ bodies moving and their minds active!

Go on Adventures!

As the weeks go on, try not to let the daily dog walk go back onto the “chore list”.

dogs can be walked during lockdown

In recent times, our daily dog walk has become the highlight of many people’s days. The opportunity to go out, get fresh air, and discover local walks you may not have before. Keep the focus on it being a highlight of your day. Explore more local walks or venture a sensible distance to re-visit some of your old favourites.

Walking with our dogs brings so many benefits – reduced blood pressure, increased fitness, bonding time with your dog (a boost of the “love hormone”, oxytocin, for both of you), and potential for social interactions at a sensible distance.

Take Your Training Outside

Make sure you’re putting in daily training on focus exercises with your dog. Ensure the process of returning to you when called is fun!

With lockdown restricting a lot of off-lead walking time with our dogs, their recall might be a little bit rusty! If you’re not sure if your dog will respond to you, keep everyone safe by using a long training lead while you continue your recall practice.

Reduce the Chance of Social Overwhelm

As you’re building up your walks with your dogs, be mindful of not only the physical strain on their bodies but also the mental toll it might take settling back into things.

For young puppies, or anxious older dogs, lockdown restrictions have probably reduced the amount of exposure they’ve had to the world.

You may find you’re seeing more people on your walks, that roads are busier, and there’s loud noises from construction sites. This can all be quite stressful for many dogs. If you need to, change the route you take to include calmer spaces, or reduce the amount of time you’re out and about.

Build a Good Relationship with Your Pet Carer

If you aren’t back in work as yet, now is the time to get back in touch with any pet care providers you normally use – dog sitters or walkers – and re-build your communication with them.

If government guidance allows it, think about booking in the occasional walk for your dog, so they are eased back into spending time with someone else (other than their household).

Keep Your Dog’s Brain Engaged

Try to leave a visual cue out to remind yourself to spend 5-10 minutes a day completely focused on your dog.

keeping busy during lockdown

Many owners have been spending more time training their dogs at home or providing them with enrichment opportunities. When work-life ramps up it can be easy to let this slip.

A bag of treats left by the kettle could be a good visual prompt each time you make a warm drink, so you’re completely focused on your dog. Mental stimulation not only provides your dog with the feel-good factor, but it also keeps your bond strong, tires them out more than physical exercise alone will and can help in the reduction of challenging behaviours such as digging or barking.

Seek Help if You Need It

If you’re already seeing signs that your dog has become hyper-attached and are distressed when you leave the room, speak to a force-free canine behaviourist to get support.

A large number of owners are concerned about their dog’s ability to cope alone as they begin to return to work.

A step-by-step behavioural modification plan is the best way to build up your dog’s confidence and ease your concerns.

Be Kind to Yourself

Do one thing every day that you love! Do one thing every day that your dog loves!

We’re in such unsettled times and need to prioritise both our own mental health as well as that of our dogs. You might be worried about everyone around you, including your dog, but make sure you take some time for you.

Try to remove the pressure to get everything right. If on a certain day, you just don’t feel like going out into the world (remember we’ve not been used to it either), then take a rest day with your dog – ditch the walk for a little training time, some food finds, a filled food toy, and cuddles. You’ll both feel better for it.

Images courtesy of Forthglade

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