Since the start of lockdown earlier this year, our lifestyles have changed quite a bit, and our pets have felt these changes too.
With lots of us working from home and generally being in the household more in recent months, our pets have become accustomed to a new lifestyle. As we start to move out of this period of restrictions, and some of us return to work, our dogs may become uneasy and stressed with the changes once again to their routines.
To help make this transition as stress free as possible, we spoke with our Kennels team to get some tips and advice to help you prepare your pooch for another shift in routines.
Top tips for leaving your dog home alone
In recent months, our dogs may not have been left at home alone very often, if at all. If you brought a new puppy or dog into your household during lockdown, the chances are they will not have spent much time without you, and so could find it very stressful suddenly being left at home It is very important that we gradually re-introduce our dogs to staying at home by themselves again, and now is a great time to start doing some training as part of your dog’s daily routine.
Whilst these tips will help your dog feel comfortable being left alone for a few hours, we don’t recommend leaving your dog at home by themselves for more than four hours a day.
Slowly build up the time you can leave your dog alone
Whilst you are still at home, start by feeding your dog in another room. Either tether a treat somewhere or pop their meals in a separate room, to help build up a positive association between being in a separate room from you and having a tasty treat.
Some of our dogs like to follow us from room to room, so try to break this habit by scattering treats around before you shut a door between you and your pooch. This could be done whilst you go to the bathroom or when you pop into the kitchen for a short period of time.
It is also helpful to create a safe space for your dog, using their crate or a small den, where they can retreat to and feel comfortable and safe.
Try taking your dog out for a walk before you leave to go to work. They will need about half an hour to unwind and settle down when you come back from your walk, so try not to leave soon after you get back.
Mental enrichment can also help keep your dog occupied and stimulated. Try hiding treats in snuffle rugs, Kongs and other brain games for your dog to have fun with as you leave the house. Not only will this keep their brains busy working on puzzle solving, but it will also help reinforce the positive association between being home alone and getting a tasty treat.
Homely sounds and relaxing reggae
During lockdown, our homes have probably been noisier during the week than our pets were used to. As we start to leave the house more, be it to go to work or to spend more time outdoors, our homes will be much quieter, and this new change could be stressful for your dog.
When you leave your dog home alone, try to mimic the sounds they would have grown used to during lockdown by leaving a TV or radio on. Our Kennels team regularly play reggae to dogs, as previous research has indicated that helps them to relax, so try leaving a reggae radio station on for your pooch to unwind to.
“When reggae music plays, our dogs show more relaxed resting behaviours and a decrease in stress. We regularly play reggae to our residents, helping our dogs relax, whilst also creating a calm environment for our staff and students to work in.” - Tanya Madden, Deputy Head of Animal Welfare at Mayhew
Breaking up the day
Breaking up your dog’s day is a good way to ensure they are not left home alone for too long. If you work close to your home, try popping back during your lunch break to see your dog and give them a little exercise. You can also get dog walkers, neighbours or family to pick up your dog from your home and take them out for a few hours. Some offices are pet friendly, so ask if your dog can accompany you to work from time to time too.
Leaving a dog alone for any amount of time can be a stressful experience. Whilst some dogs cope well with being left alone for longer periods of time, other dogs may become easily bored or even distressed when separated from their owner.
Bored and distressed dogs will show tell-tale signs that they are not comfortable being left alone. Some dogs may display destructive behaviour, howl or bark frequently or toilet inside your home. There are also more subtle signs to look out for, like excessive salivation, trembling and even pacing. If you are worried that your dog suffers from separation anxiety, speak with a dog behaviourist as they will be able to help diagnose the cause of this anxiety. Your vet will be able to recommend behaviourists, and some pet insurance policies will cover these costs.
Even if you think your dog is happy being left alone for a short period, we recommend that you check every so often for the more subtle signs of stress when you are out. You can do this by setting up a camera and recording your dog’s behaviour whilst you are out.
Using dog trainers and dog walkers
Using a dog walker or ‘doggie day care’ service can help break up your dog’s day. Speak to other dog owners in your area to see if they recommend any dog walkers or day care centres in your local community. If you can, go and meet the dog walker or visit the day care centre, and be sure to watch how the other dogs there behave. Do they seem happy, are there a lot of dogs, do they enjoy being with the dog handlers?
Out and about with face masks
Dogs are very good at reading changes in our facial expressions, which helps to tell them how we are feeling. Face masks block most of our face, and so naturally hinder a dog’s ability to read all of our facial expressions. As face masks become more of a normality, your dog may be slightly worried when meeting new people, such as dog walkers and doggie day care staff, who are wearing masks. The good news is, you can teach your dog that masks are nothing to be worried about. Starting at home, you can introduce your dog to a mask, and to you wearing a mask, using plenty of treats for positive reinforcement.
Once your dog is comfortable with you wearing a mask, try and have another member of your household walk into a room wearing a mask, though ignoring your dog. If your dog remains calm, give them a nice reward. If they show signs of being anxious you may need to go back a few steps. Once your dog is calm with someone they know approaching them with a face mask on, your dog may feel more confident and comfortable with strangers wearing face masks. Keep rewarding your dog as they stay calm around strangers wearing face masks, and of course remember to maintain social distancing.
As we ease into a new pace of life, with more services opening up, returning to work and lockdown measurements relaxing, our dogs may find changes to their lifestyle confusing. It is important that we help our dogs navigate through these changes and minimise the stress they may feel as we start to spend more time away from the home.
These tips are just a few ways you can help your dog to feel comfortable and relaxed, but using dog trainers or behaviourists can be a great way to get more tips specifically tailored to your dog, helping both you and your pooch successfully find a positive, stress-free and enriching daily routine. Don’t forget, training should be fun for both you and your dog. For a list of certified dog trainers, you can look at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers website, or ask your vet for recommendations.