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Avoiding your dogs for separation anxiety after lockdown

05/05/2020 - Latest News

Dogs are having the time of their lives while owners are working from home, but what happens after lockdown? Here are some tips for getting your dog ready to be home alone again.

Some dogs are brilliant at settling whilst their families are out at work. Others find staying at home on their own a bit of a challenge. If your pet has been relishing all the extra attention, it’s well worth reminding how to settle and amuse themselves while the humans aren’t there.

  • Create a safe place in the home where your dog can rest undisturbed
  • Stick to a daily routine that’s a bit like a work day
  • Teach your pet how to amuse him or herself with toys
  • Train your dog to “settle”
  • Gradually start spending more time apart from your pet
  • If possible, practise leaving your dog home alone while you go out for groceries etc
  • Use mental stimulation games such as scentwork or trick training to tire your dog out
Will your dog feel abandoned when you go back to work?
Most of the dogs I’ve worked with really relish their routine. They soon learn “what happens next” and they come to anticipate it. So before lockdown, when you got up in the morning, eat breakfast, shower and dress, your pet expected you to leave the house for a while.

Now that owners are either furloughed, working from home or self-isolating, daily routines have changed. That’s OK. Your dog is probably very happy to follow weekend rules every day of the week. But like us, the return to work is going to be a big shock to the system.

You can help, to protect your dog’s mental health (and maybe your own) by sticking to a work-day like regime. From the dog’s point of view that might mean an early morning trip to the garden, enjoying your company while you eat breakfast and then settling down for a while as if you are not there. At the end of the “work” day, doggo can be the centre of your attention and enjoy lots of playtime, walks, training and cuddles.

Ways to help your dog pass the time while you’re not there
OK, so right now you might be at home. Hopefully though, in a few weeks-time, you’ll be allowed out to work and socialise. When that happens, your dog may well be left home alone and there’s a real danger that stress or boredom will result in naughtiness.

When you do leave your dog at home, make sure that there are plenty of boredom busters to keep him or her out of mischief. Before you go out of the door, you could present your pooch with one or two of the following
  • Stuffed Kong toy
  • Frozen carrots
  • Tasty raw bone
  • Deer’s antler
  • Tennis ball treat puzzle (muffin tray with a tennis ball in each indent with edible treats beneath the balls)
Here are some home-made toys that won’t cost much to make. Some of them need supervision and I’m not at all sure about the coathanger one, but use your common sense and have some fun with these ideas. It goes without saying that boredom busters should be indestructible and not likely to cause choking etc while you are not there.

Dog toys that you can make from things around the house

Start practising with the boredom busters BEFORE you go back to work. You could make it part of your dog’s daily routine. Ie morning wee, human gets dressed, toys come out, no human interaction while I’m playing.

Training your dog to settle
Settling nicely is an incredible useful lifeskill for any dog. It can be deployed any time, any place anywhere. At home, at the vet’s, in the pub – anywhere. All you’re doing is teaching your dog to lie down, relax and stay in one place until you release him or her. It’s great when you have visitors, to stop the dog begging at the table and for any number of occasions.

I like to use a blanket or a mat to train this. Preferably one that’s small enough to be portable. That way you can lay it on the floor wherever you happen to be.
  • Start by setting the mat on the floor – if you want to, you could give it a big hug first so that it has lots of your scent on it.
  • When your dog steps onto the mat – even if it’s just one paw – mark the behaviour with a word eg “good” and reward your dog. If your pet is clicker trained, you can use the clicker too.
  • Lure your dog back off the mat (throw a treat to distract him or her) and then call them over again. Once more, if all or any paws hit the mat, mark and reward.
  • Pretty soon, your dog will start to associate stepping on the mat and being rewarded.
  • Now you can start to build on that behaviour. Ask for 4 paws on the mat before rewarding. When that’s secure in their brain go for a “sit”.
  • When you can get a “down” every time the dog goes the the mat, you can introduce a cue word eg “bed”.
  • Now start working on the 3 “D’s”, duration, distraction and distance.

Before you know it, you’ll be able to send your dog to “bed” and trust him to stay there while you are out of the room.

A couple of 10 minute sessions a day will teach your dog how to chill out on his mat while you are busy elsewhere.

Here’s a video tutorial from Steve Mann of the IMDT on how to teach your dog to “go to bed”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0wuhZK5FYU

Brain teasers to wear your dog out
Using their little grey cells probably the most effective way of wearing a dog out – ever. Regular mental exercise will help your dog to sleep the days away while you are back at work. Try some simple scentwork exercises, like “hunt the treat” or work on some obedience training. Anything that involves your dog staying calm and using his or her brain to work out what to do next.
Here are some of my suggestions for indoor brain training activities for dogs
 
You may also like to investigate some post-lockdown dog training activities
Sniffer dog training – a great way to harness your dog’s natural abilities and ease any anxiety.  https://www.premierdogtraining.co.uk/blog-post/sniffer-dog-training/
 
Dog training classes – a chance for you and your dog to socialise and learn  https://www.premierdogtraining.co.uk/group-classes-romford/
 
One to one dog walking service with inclusive dog training – so that your dog doesn’t have to be home alone all day   https://www.premierdogtraining.co.uk/dog-walking/