The corona virus pandemic has been hard on everyone, not forgetting our dogs, who not only don't understand what's been going on, they also don't understand why now, after 18 months of us being at home more, we're now home less.
We've all had to adapt to different routines and most likely your dog has had to adapt also to not being able to go out to different places that they're used to and meet up with friends. What the heck is going on?
For puppies that came into our lives during this pandemic only know this world, so how can we help our dogs through the upcoming changes?
The most commonly asked question from my clients, friends and family is "Does my dog have separation anxiety? Do you have any advice on how to deal with it" - Well, the answer is most likely yes and secondly... take a seat, this could take a while!
Dealing with separation anxiety is probably, for the most part, going to be the most important factor here. There also isn't a quick-fix overnight cure. You need to prepare your dog weeks in advance, especially if you're going to be leaving them for more than an hour or so.
Get them used to being left - go upstairs, to the bathroom, outside without them. A baby gate is a great tool to have, so that they're separated from you but can still see you. Build this up so you're separated longer, they're unable to see you but hear you, then unable to see or hear you completely. Eventually, leave them with the door closed, repeating the process. Then when it does come to actually leaving the house, start out for short periods and build the length of time up gradually. Like I said, this is going to take time.
Ensure they've had a good walk before leaving them - a good walk isn't walking their legs off so that you think they'll be exhausted. Often this has the opposite effect and can make them hyperactive. A good walk means allowing them to walk at their pace and allowing them to sniff; mental stimulation.
Provide mentally stimulating toys like puzzle toys, snuffle mats, licky mats and stuffed kongs. Swap out their toys to re-ignite interest. Leave the TV or radio on to provide a background noise, and if you can, close the blinds or curtains to block out environmental distractions which may exacerbate their anxiety.
When leaving them, don't make a fuss and keep the routine simple. If they start to get anxious by you putting your shoes and coat on, do this as a build up process so that they don't always associate this part of the routine as being left. Upon return, don't make a fuss. Keep it simple.
Dog Sitters and Dog Walkers are great for helping to ease this process and maintain socialisation.
Having guests visit you will be a novel experience for your dog, especially for pups who aren't used to this at all. Ask your guests not to make a fuss of your dog when they arrive, only paying attention once the dog has settled. Have distractions for your dog for when your guest arrives; a pot of treats for you to throw on the ground, or have your guest throw them to your dog as they enter.
Your dog may be excited to see this visiting play mate for the first time ever, so be prepared for your dog to lose all inhibitions of everything you've taught them about manners. Remember, your dog has had to adapt to the new routines, or as a puppy, has never had this experience before. It's a natural reaction for you to turn your back or raise your arms to a dog who is jumping up, often this encourages the dog and makes them more excited. Instead, raise your knee up in front of the dog to prevent it from jumping, whilst moving forward, keep raising your knee to stop jumping up until the dog backs off. As an owner, provide treats as a distraction, but only reward when your dog has done what is expected.
At last!! We can travel further afield with our dogs. This is super exciting and great for helping to socialise your dog with new sights and sounds... but remember, popular places are going to be busy. A new pup will find this extremely daunting, especially if it's busy with people and other dogs. Introduce gradually, even if it's just 10 minutes to begin with.
Again, this will be a daunting experience for a new pup, they may only have associated the car with visiting the vet, so spend time in the car with toys, treats, being tethered (which is the law, btw!) and getting used to the motions of the car and them not being able to access you before you go on longer journeys. It's also best not to feed your dog until after the journey, or wait at least an hour after feeding before travelling.
Dog Friendly Eateries...
Obviously we want to take advantage of our freedom and it's so tempting after an adventure to pop by the local cafe or pub for a bite to eat. Be cautious, as there will be numerous stimuli for your dog which they may find overwhelming and cause them to behave in a way that you don't expect or can't control. Teaching your dog to sit between your legs, under the table or on a specific mat provides reassurance and security as it's familiar to them regardless of the environment. Be prepared to only stay for a drink though, or not at all, if this environment is just too stressful for your dog.