Roadmap delay could be ‘silver lining’ for dog owners

With Covid restrictions remaining in place in England until 19th July, Dogs Trust says it’s a ‘silver lining’ for some dog owners who now have extra time to prepare their dogs for normal life returning.

Since the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown came into effect earlier this year, Dogs Trust has been urging dog owners not to forget their canine companions and released its own ‘roadmap for rovers’ offering training advice and guidance to support dog owners in helping their dogs adjust as normality resumes.

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, demand for dogs has increased and thousands of people have welcomed a four-legged friend into their lives. Dog owners across the UK have spent an increased and concentrated amount of time with their dogs at home and many ‘pandemic puppies’ may have missed experiencing the different aspects of normal life that are so vital for early development.

Dr Rachel Casey, Director of Canine Behaviour & Research at Dogs Trust, said:“The delay to restrictions lifting will be frustrating news for many of us. But for dog owners, it provides an extra opportunity to prepare dogs for the resumption of normal life in four weeks’ time. This is particularly important where there may be major changes to routine planned, such as leaving dogs home alone for the first time when returning to the office.

“Many of us may have already been meeting up in larger social gatherings outside, and allowing visitors into our home. But the next four weeks will allow even more time for owners to refresh their dog’s training, practising friendly visitor greetings and, crucially, getting them used to being left alone to prevent separation anxiety when life goes back to normal.

“We’re all longing for normality to return, but our dogs may need a little extra help in adjusting, especially so called ‘pandemic puppies’, who won’t have had these early life experiences. The good news is, it’s not too late to prepare your dog and to teach them vital skills to help them cope with new experiences.”

It’s important that we teach our dogs to cope with being left alone to prevent separation anxiety developing, as many of them will have had very little time away from us for the past year. The rise in separation anxiety in dogs who haven’t been left alone during the pandemic is a particular concern for the charity.

Rachel Casey continues: “A big worry for us is what the long-term impact of lockdown will have on dogs’ ability to cope when left home alone. Dogs that had separation anxiety before the pandemic are likely to get worse when left again as owners head back to work – but we also expect to see new cases developing, because other dogs, and particularly puppies, have learnt to expect company all day. If they expect us to be about all the time, it will be more difficult for them to cope once we eventually go back to our normal lives and aren’t in the house 24/7.

“It’s important to start now to avoid future problems – and it’s easy to do. Just make sure that you factor in time apart from your dog each day to help them be able to cope when alone – this could be separated from you by a door or child gate very briefly to start with whilst you’re working. If your dog stays calm, you can build up the time separated gradually, so they begin to adjust to not being with you all the time. If your dog gets worried when separated – for example, barking, whining, panting or scratching at the door – then you know they are worried by being apart from, and you need to progress much more gradually. Go back to being apart only as long as they stay calm and build up really slowly from there to help them adjust. By gradually increasing time apart, you can ensure they are able to settle on their own and help them prepare for the time when you need to return to work or study.

“It is much easier to prevent problems than treat them, and we would urge people to visit our Dog School classes or look at our advice and videos on our website to help prevent these problem behaviours from developing.”

One of the biggest reasons why dogs are handed into Dogs Trust is because of behaviour-related issues that could have been prevented early on. A rise in problematic behaviours, due to lockdown measures, could mean families have no other option but to give up their dog, which is why the charity wants to help ‘change the tale’ for as many dogs as possible, so they remain in happy homes.

As well as providing training videos and advice, Dogs Trust’s Dog School has been able to continue running training classes online to help prepare dogs for normal life and have now resumed face-to-face classes. For more information, visit www.dogstrust.org.uk/dogschool.