Preparing our pups for a return to normality

As we prepare for a return to normality with the roadmap out of lockdown, recent research indicates that 83% of pet owners are anxious about the return to work and leaving their dog at home alone.

With 3.2 million people buying a pet during lockdown, Natures Menu, the UK’s leading expert in raw and natural pet food, is supporting new pet owners with the launch of series 2 of The Pupcast.

Featuring dog behavioural expert and puppy trainer Kerry Ward, AKA the FairyDogMother, episode one discusses techniques that pet owners can put in place to prepare man’s best friend for the upcoming changes, and how you can spot signs of anxiety.

Kerry said: “Ensuring your puppy is happy and confident in the world, along with being comfortable being left alone, should always be a priority. If we can build optimism and confidence in the early years, they’ll be much more prepared for the various things that the different life stages can throw at them.”

Kerry’s top tips for preparing pandemic puppies for a change in routine:

 Leaving a settled puppy home alone:

Build up leaving them alone – I don’t think there’s a dog out there that isn’t a little disappointed when we leave the house, but they must learn to become okay with being left home alone. Start out by making it fun for your puppies with games, then gradually build it up – leave them alone in a room, then in the house and look to increase the timescale each time. The key thing however with all of this is not to make leaving  become a big deal – quietly walk out and come back in. If you put a full leaving routine in place, it can cause anxiety in your pet before you’ve even left. As we look to return to work, start the process now by setting up your office in another room, or going and watching a film elsewhere in the house.

Set your puppy up for success with SAFE training – When leaving your puppy, you should be aiming for four key things – sleepy, all played out, a full tummy and an empty bladder. Those things combined will ensure they’re ready to relax at home on their own, they’ve had enough mental and physical stimulation and they’re not in search of food.

Become an expert in your dog’s body language – Learn what your pet looks like when they are happy, relaxed, anxious, curious or playful. Understanding your dog will allow you to read situations. It’s also worthwhile investing in a camera for when your dog is home alone so you can monitor their behaviour and learn of any pressure points throughout the day.

When out and about:

Start out by observing at a distance – Let your puppy sit and watch the world go by from a safe distance, they’ll be lots of new sights, sounds and smells. Make sure you reward and praise when something new appears to create good associations. This also applies when your puppy investigates new things – make being curious a positive experience for them.

Utilise a longer lead – Perfect lead skills can wait; we need to ensure our pups are confident out there. They should have the choice to approach or move away from things that either intrigue or scare them, and they shouldn’t be pushed into these situations. If they’re trapped on a short lead when other dogs or excited children approach without anywhere to go, they can panic, get tangled, and they start their early years on bad experiences. It also allows you to social distance!

Not everything should be up for grabs – It’s important that your puppy also learns to ignore things in their environment too. Don’t let them greet every new dog and person, otherwise you’ll end up with a frustrated adult dog that pulls or barks to get everything they want – it’s all about balance!

It’s okay to say no to strangers, your dog must come first – We’ve all experienced it, most people want to come over and meet your new puppy, but if their body language suggests they’re not ready for the interaction, then it’s alright to say no. Ideally let your puppy approach them (if they want to) and control the situation. If your puppy backs off, pins their ears back, tucks their tail under or even jumps up at you for reassurance then you need to read that behaviour – they’re not ready.