Preparing your dog to stay at home alone once more
For all of us, the year 2020 has brought upon moments for introspection, giving us a chance to slow down and spend more time with family including our furry ones. Our dogs have come to associate the donning of the mask to mean it's time for a walk, and for some, it may be more walks than the usual From your dog's perspective, it's been time well spent, hasn't it?
Having stayed at home for months during the COVID-19 circuit breakers (lockdown or stay-at-home in other places), we in Singapore are slowly moving towards potentially getting back to some level of normal life in a phased manner.
While we stayed at home and made changes to our lifestyle, we had fur friends who were delighted and became comfortable with our prolonged company. Dogs are social animals so it's only natural for them to enjoy the extended human company - not to mention the extra walks some of them may have enjoyed!
So when we move to Phase 2 of opening up, there is bound to be an impact on our dogs, who still need to stay at home while we either get back to work or at least get to venture out more often.
Some dogs, like staffer Polo, had gotten used to having their whole family around all day, hanging out beside their humans in aircon comfort. So when schools opened up and he saw some family members leave home early morning, he moped around near the door until his human sibling returned. This got us thinking on what we may need to do as life slowly goes back to the new normal and help our dogs get used to the change.
We know our fur friends are some of the most adaptable creatures around, so some dogs will not have major issues with change, but if you have a dog that does suffer from separation or anxiety issues we would recommend contacting a good positive reinforcement trainer.
From our own experience and online research, here are our go-to top tips on helping ourselves and our dogs' transit to a new normal, should the next few weeks open up as planned and more people get a chance to head out and return to workplaces:
Ease separation anxiety with small steps:
Help your dog get used to you not being around with small steps of separation, similar to what you may have done pre circuit breaker/ lockdown period.
Trainers recommend following a departure process (pick up your bag and mobile etc.) and make that your routine every time, slowly increasing the time you spend out. The idea is to let your dog realise that even if you leave, you will always return and he/she will get time to bond. To initiate your departure process, give your dog a treat and step out for a short period. Start with 5-10 minutes and increase it slowly, every time following the same routine to help your dog positively associate the procedure and understand you will be back.
Giving a small treat, a favourite chew or toy before the family leaves home is a good way to leave on a positive note, allowing your dog to realise the family are heading out. They will most likely retreat to their favourite spot to settle down and relax, knowing their family will be back later. Chewing or licking are normal dog behaviours that help dogs settle and soothe themselves so providing something to chew or lick will help.
A dog den to feel safe
Be it their own dog bed, a favourite pet blankie on the sofa or a spot by the kitchen door, most dogs will have one or two spots around home that are their preferred 'safe space' - an area they feel comfortable, safe and relaxed in. Identify your dog's den and make sure it's well ventilated and comfortable. Always ensure your dog has been fed, the fans are on and there is freshwater in the dog bowl before leaving home. If you think there is a chance of rain or thundershowers and your dog is scared of thunder, remember to close the windows and put a small lamp on as it may get dark during a thundershower.
Spend quality time together as per the old routine
Dogs are creatures of habit and establishing routines go a long way in ensuring they feel calm and safe. If you are heading back to work or plan to spend more time out, go back to your old routine of dog walks. Proper outdoor exercise in fresh air and sunshine at least twice a day is usually enough to help most dogs feel engaged and allows them to spend the balance time indoors, waiting for your return.
If you have a younger dog with more energy, a bit of play in the morning will make one happy pup rest well when you are gone. You may want to leave some safe chews around too! The outdoor time and exercise will differ from animal to animal, depending upon their age and energy levels. If you adopted a dog just before Circuit Breaker came into play, then now is a good time to establish exercise routines.
Make weekends special
As you head back into your old routine, observe your dog ensuring it's slowly adjusting to not having you around. Just like a child, find ways over the weekend (or whenever are your off-work days) to do more of their favourite fun things together - after all, spending time with your dog is good for both your and your dog's health! Dogs have an amazing internal sense of time and they will slowly start looking forward to the quality time together over weekends.
We hope you found these tips useful and if you have some other tips that have worked for you and your fur friend, please feel free to share with us!
We have our fingers, toes and paws crossed for a safe opening up and new normal in Singapore and rest of the world.