As the Government sets out a roadmap to easing lockdown, the RSPCA has come up with some advice for dog owners to help their pets adjust to the new routines.
Life has changed significantly during the COVID-19 lockdown — for us and our dogs. Now, as plans have been revealed for easing lockdown restrictions, the RSPCA is encouraging pet owners to help their dogs adjust again — and the time to start preparing is now.
“You may have changed your routine with your dog if you are home more,” said Sarah Tapsell, one of the RSPCA’s regional clinical animal behaviourists. “Changes in routine are something a dog can adapt to, but it is important to think ahead and make gradual changes before you change your routine again when you go back to work. Otherwise, when things change again suddenly, it may come as a shock to your dog.
“Remember that your dog is a social animal, it is normal for him to want and need to spend time with you. This means that it is important that you aren’t leaving your dog for too long during the day, or longer than he can cope with.”
Top tips for preparing your dog
* Gradually change the timings of your dog’s routine to the way they will eventually be. If the time you feed or walk your dog has changed due to lockdown then slowly start to change it back to how it was before.
* Our dogs may not have been left alone at all during lockdown or for brief intervals only, and they’re probably getting much more attention and interaction. If this is likely to change when you go back to work, then you need to prepare your dog for that. Begin to gradually decrease the amount of attention you give him, and increase the time he spends on his own. This may include not playing with your dog every time he asks or not stroking him every time he nudges you. Don’t ignore him completely as this may confuse him, but do give him something better to do like providing a comfy bed for him to lie on, or a tasty chew to settle with.
* Help your dog spend more time alone by encouraging him to rest in his own bed or keeping him in a separate room while you do something else.
*Give clear signals about when he can get involved in interactions and when he needs to occupy himself. Chew or interactive toys can help with this.
*Try to keep to the same interaction time as will be available once your routine is back to normal, for example in the evenings after dinner.
*You may also want to think about leaving the house without your dog to help him gradually get used to this part of his routine again. If you need to build up this time for a longer duration or for more frequent absences, think about going to sit in the car to read a book, so you can leave the house and stay within government guidelines. However, if your dog shows any distress when left alone, pause your plans and seek the support of a qualified behaviourist.
*If you are returning to using a dog walker, friend, or family member to care for your dog while you are busy, it might be sensible to remain at home on the first walk or two, just in case your dog needs any extra support from you.
RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines added: “Always introduce changes gradually and in a positive way, using only positive, reward-based training. And if you have any concerns about how your dog will cope, it is always best to seek advice from a qualified behaviourist who can support you throughout the changes.”
*For more advice about keeping your dogs happy and healthy during lockdown, understanding your dog’s behaviour, or for more information on coronavirus, visit www.rspca.org.uk