We're not the only ones experiencing COVID-19 related anxieties...
Fact: lockdown was tough.
You traded your hour commute for a trip down the stairs to your at-home office (read: kitchen table). You were trusted to educate your children. You were confined to a 5km radius. You could only go to the shops for essential items which apparently didn't include wine and chocolate. You couldn't get your roots done. You had to partake in virtual pub quizzes and pretend like you were actually having a fun time. You had to become your own nail tech and worst of all, you weren't allowed visit your loved ones. But as difficult and frustrating as lockdown was, there are those for whom the lockdown was a dream come true: dogs.
Their human is home, and home a lot – no more watching them leave early in the morning and returning late at night, they're always around to give belly rubs and they're actually getting around to going on more walks and taking their pup with them.
However, as lockdown restrictions ease and our routines change once again, our beloved four-legged friends and they have to adjust once to their own company and time spent alone in the house. If you've ventured out at any point over these past few weeks – be it for a substantial meal or to get your nails done – chances are you might have noticed some changes in your pet’s behaviour. Just like us, dogs and cats can suffer from separation anxiety. Your cat or dog has understandably become very attached to you and they’re extremely sensitive to their surroundings so your departure for extended periods can be quite traumatic for them.
“Dogs are pack animals and not only enjoy company but need it," explains Chris Hanlon, expert dog trainer and co-founder of Werewolf Food. "For a dog, having their owner close by for the last few months, and the increased activity in the house would have been a real treat. Let’s face it, as owners we’ve loved it too, but our dogs should feel safe and confident when left alone in the home. We can’t underestimate how long five or six months is to a dog, a creature of habit."
According to Hanlon, dogs can become visibly distressed as you prepare to leave, as you put your coat on or get your keys. They will become panicky, their heart rate will rise and they’ll look agitated. Once you leave they might bark, howl or cry, go to the bathroom inside or partake in destructive behaviours.
“With this in mind, it’s important to start separation training as quickly as you can post-lockdown, to ensure your dog adjusts well to you not being by their side full-time anymore. What we need to do is normalise being left along again," says Hanlon.
Of course, this won't be the case for every dog - some might actually be happy to be alone again but if you were one of the many to open your home to a new dog during the lockdown, they will definitely experience some form of separation anxiety. “Being aware of separation anxiety is particularly important if you got a new dog during the lockdown as they don’t know any different," explains Hanlon.
The last thing anyone wants is to see their pets in distress and there are a few things you can do to help counteract this and ease them into the post-lockdown world. Below, Hanlon shares all you need to know about separation training and easing your dog back into their old routines.
train them gradually
"Separation training does need to be done gradually but with just a little bit of consistency and effort, it can be completed within a week or two," assures Hanlon.
“Start by simply opening the door and going outside alone, to where you can’t be seen, shutting the dog indoors. Come straight back in so as not to leave them too long. If your dog doesn’t whine or bark, reward it with a tasty treat," advises Handlon. "Gradually increase the time you spend outside as your dog becomes more comfortable and always reward the positive behaviour of no whining."
“You can also activate the same process in other ways when you’re at home. For instance, when leaving a room, close the door behind you meaning your dog can’t follow. Be sure to reward when you go back in if they have been well-behaved,” adds Hanlon.
keep them relaxed
"Leave the radio on when you go out so as to replicate the noise your dog will have become accustomed to," suggests Hanlon. "Play down your goodbye. Of course, it’s hard to leave our dogs but try not to be excessive with petting so that dogs remain calm."
think about their toys
"Reassess the toys your dogs have to ensure they provide lots of stimulation," advises Hanlon. "A Kong (an indestructible rubber dog toy) filled with frozen gravy or banana can keep a dog occupied for hours."
GIVE THEM SOME SEMBLANCE OF ROUTINE
As you begin to spend more time away from home, make sure to schedule in regular times for your pet. Pets like routine so you should set times for feeding and walking and try to stick to them as much as possible. "Give your dog lots of exercise before you go to work. A tired dog will sleep when you are away," explains Hanlon. It’s also important to put time aside to play and pet them. The time we have spent with our pets over the last few months has grown hugely, and as a result, so has the amount of attention they have received. Keep up the cuddles and belly rubs.
look out for warning signs
Similar to a friend or family member, you will be able to tell if your dog is anxious or depressed – so long as you know what to look out for. "Changes in appetite, sleeping more, less-friendly and wanting to be alone are all signs your pet is suffering from anxiety or depression," says Hanlon. If you suspect your dog may be showing signs of anxiety or depression, it's important to consult your vet immediately. What's more, Werewolf Food is encouraging dog owners to reach out via social media if they have any queries or feel they need additional support with separation training.
Main image by @matildadjerf on Instagram