Leaving Lockdown – Is your dog ready?
After six weeks, it appears the UK “lockdown” in respect of Coronavirus is likely to be lifted soon. For many people, this will come as a welcome return to reality but what will the impact be on the nation’s dogs that have become accustomed to a new routine and not being left alone?
The answer is “we don’t know” – the lifestyle changes we have had to introduce have never been experienced before. We do know that as sentient beings, dogs are able to feel stress and anxiety and that this can be triggered by changes to their lifestyle and routine. To limit the impact of us returning to our “old routine” now is the time to start implementing changes to help your dog adjust.
Please note – If you believe your dog is already (or is highly likely to be) displaying symptoms of anxiety or depression as a result of you living them for longer periods you should seek immediate advice from a suitably qualified professional. The following guidance may not be beneficial to your individual dog.
- Write down what your new routine will look like and when this is likely to take effect. You should begin to work with your dog as soon as you know your current routine in likely to change.
- Monitor your dog’s current routine and write down:
- What time they are fed
- What time are they walked
- Their walk duration and who is walking them
- When and for how long are they are resting or located within sight of you/your family
- When and for how long are they are rested or located out of sight of you/your family
- Any days when they are not walked
- Compare your answers to 2 above to how a “normal” day or week would look. Be honest and practical, if your dog is not normally walked every day but has been in lockdown this is a big change that needs to be re-introduced carefully and gradually where possible. Similarly, if your dog has been walked two or three times by different members of the family and will go back to just once – that is a big change!
- Create a “Re-adjustment” plan. Begin to build up your “normal” routine around your current lifestyle. Once restrictions are lifted on daily exercise this could mean taking walks without your dog so they can have short periods alone. If the normal family member “dog walker” has been replaced with someone else, this is another norm that needs to be re-introduced. Having a “dog free” room (this could be the kitchen or an office) where your dog may be able to see you from a distance – through a baby gate – to have some space away and settle may be a good way to slowly build up time apart. Slowly build up periods where you dog is allowed to rest out of sight of you and your family and is not disturbed.
- Any changes must be made slowly and carefully and you must continue to monitor your dog’s reaction throughout. If you believe your dog is struggling to be left (showing stress signals – panting, drooling, barking, destructive chewing, pacing etc.), now is the time to seek professional advice. Anxiety levels will not decrease due to prolonged exposure and no dog should ever be placed in a situation that is knowingly likely to cause it distress.
- Remember chew toys and feeder toys such as Kongs help to create serotonin, which is a chemical that can calm our dogs. They could be used to create a positive association with alone time but should be used in lots of different situations to avoid the toy itself becoming a trigger for you to leave them alone.
Hopefully, the lockdown will be gradually lifted which means it may be a while before our daily routines change significantly, but that doesn’t mean action should be delayed. Like dogs, we too are creatures of habit and if returning to work is likely to be stressful for you taking action now whilst you are able to dedicate time to your leaving your dog will be one less thing to worry about when it’s time to go back to work.
Louise Burton IMDT
Hilton Dogs Training Academy
Vet recommended puppy and dog training services
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