As the world ground to a halt over the past year, where we were all asked to stay home as a result of the pandemic, hope is now on the horizon with the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Meaning that we can begin to resume our regular lives once again, but what might be cause to celebrate for people across the country, might not be such good news for pets.
In the wake of the pandemic, a puppy boom emerged. With more people than ever introducing new pets to the family whilst working from home.
After a year of getting used to their humans being home and around them all the time – for a pet who has not been taught to cope on their own – the imminent absence of their parent when the world opens back up and could cause them serious stress and separation anxiety.
Sustainable cat litter brand, Natusan together with Animal Behaviour Expert, Dr Tammie King have put together five top tips on how to help get your pet ready for when you spend more time out of the house.
Step 1 – nominate a nesting space
First and foremost, look to create a safe and comfortable space for your pet in the house. For example, a crate or a secure room – perhaps in the kitchen or even a utility room – somewhere where you know they like the rest.
Animals are known to be territorial creatures, so ensuring your pet has a safe space to call their own can assist in creating a sense of independence and safety.
In the wild, cats and dogs would often go long periods of time without water or food, therefore they would stay around territories which they knew to provide both. So look to make the area their own by putting down their water and food bowls – with their bedding and toys too.
With cats, be sure to separate this safe space away from their litter box to avoid cross contamination or animal anxiety.
This is because cats are notoriously known to be clean creatures – which is why the position of their litter box within the home is important – as the smell of their spoiling spot can cause them stress.
Step 2 – Get them in the groove of going to their happy place
Next on the agenda; look to educate your pet that their sacred space is a happy place – somewhere they will associate with feeling content – not threatened.
Begin by regularly taking your pet to this area to teach them that it is a safe environment. A good trick is to start feeding them meals in their safe place, as this will help them to associate the area with positive experiences.
Try your hand at implementing this tip whilst you’re not near them – so they can enjoy the space without feeling you need to be present. Also, if your pet seems calm within the environment – look to reward happy and content behaviour.
Step 3 – Practice leaving and teach them with treats
Now is the time to train them up with treats. Enclose your pet in their safe place with a treat while you leave and head into another room for a brief period of time.
Then return to the room – and release your pet without making a fuss. This is important, as you need to teach them that leaving and returning is an entirely neutral event – one which is not cause for fear or excitement.
Look to gradually increase the time you are away from the room in small increments. As this will help your four-legged friend to learn that good things – not bad – will happen when you leave (i.e getting a treat).
Step 4 – Gradually start heading out of the house
It’s now time to start leaving the house. Similarly to the step before, make sure to slowly build up how long you leave each time that you pop out. Don’t suddenly head out for hours on end, as this will likely alarm them and will be detrimental to all your hard work achieved so far.
Make sure to check in on your pets’ state as you leave and when you arrive home. Dr. King states; “If your pet becomes stressed or anxious, return to the level where they were most comfortable and confident. There is no set time you are meant to achieve this in – so go at your pets’ pace.”
If you follow the steps above and make sure to go at your pets’ pace, then ideally at this point, your furry friend should be comfortable for you to leave the house – as they have learned that good things happen when you do head out.
Step 5 – Create a routine
Pets thrive with predictable routines in their lives – from allocated feeding times and toilet breaks to designated play time and walks.
When the world is back in motion and the office doors re-open, try to leave the house and arrive back home around the same time each day. This way, your pet will get a sense of how long you are gone for each day. Predictability is key with pets. And for those who have more flexibility, try to schedule set days in the week where you work from home versus when you head into the office – so that your pet can get into the rhythm of routine and will know when you will be home and when you won’t.
Dr. King advises; “When you are at home around your pet, make sure that they receive enough mental stimulation and exercise, such as; playing games and teaching them tricks using positive reinforcement. This also works as great bonding time together. Also, remember to reward calm, relaxed behaviour. Every pet is different – and they should be the one to determine how quickly you can progress. Reminding an older pet of old routines is very different to teaching a young or new pet something new. So be patient with them.”