prepare your pups for returning to work
Whilst the majority of us cannot wait for lockdown to end, there is perhaps one category of us that are dreading it - the pups. They have been having the times of their lives with all the humans at home 24/7, but soon, unbeknown to them, that lifestyle will be coming to an end. Operations manager at the charity Dogs for Good Dr Chris Muldoon states that “Separation anxiety is triggered by the removal of something in the dog's life that is a constant part of its life at the moment and generally that is people.” Their over-dependency on our attention could see many suffer in scenarios that never affected them before, particularly when the pack all head back to work or school and the pups are left home alone.
the association game.
Our first bit of advice is, try not to let your pup associate the front door with you leaving. This can cause them great distress when you walk through it and they can spend the entire day sitting next to it anxiously waiting for your return. To combat this, practice leaving through your front door (with your dog watching) and then if possible, come back into your house through another means, be it a back door or window etc. Walk back to the front door and surprise your pup with your arrival. This will gradually help them to disassociate you walking out of the front door with you leaving them for a day and can alleviate a lot of stress for them (and you!) when you finally do leave for a day at the office.
Another helpful trick to stop signs of you about to leave triggering their anxiety, is to pop your coat on then do something completely normal such as watching TV, hoovering or eating dinner. You could put on work clothes, pick up your keys and leave the house for a short period of time and then return. This will also help to defuse the signs your pup associates with you heading out for hours on end without them.
miss (or mr) independent.
The next tip in getting pups prepared for their new found independence, is to ask your dog to stay, while you move away. Return and reward your pup. Begin to increase the distance between the two of you and the time that you ask them to wait. If your pup reacts/moves do not reward them but do not punish them. Tell them a firm ‘no’ and move back a stage and start again until they are comfortable with the desired distance and time frame.
Another tactic to ease the pups into independence and to help prevent anxiety when you leave the house, is to start leaving the room when they are eating breakfast/dinner. Once they are used to this, you can start to leave them whilst they are playing or have a chew toy and head into another room or the garden. When they notice you have left, leave it up to them if they want to come and find you or leave them if they are engrossed in their activity. Don’t make a fuss when you do reunite, wait until they have settled down then reward them for doing so.
Once they are comfortable with this you can start locking your pup into a room by themselves (with a chew toy or treat) for half an hour or so, gradually building up to several times a day. They will start having positive experiences without you in the same space as them which will begin to reinstate their ability to, well, successfully self isolate.
you’ve left the house, now what?
The next hurdle is keeping your pup happy and healthy whilst you are away for the day (and yourself feeling less guilty). 5 top tips are;
- provide easy access to food and water
- keep your pup active (such as playing music, leaving puzzle toys or access for them to see out of the window)
- provide a place for them to go to the bathroom
- tire your pup out before you leave for work (a long walk first thing in the morning is always recommended)
- use a dog monitor to regularly check in
All of these tips will depend on your pup’s personality and need to be tailored to suit them. You could also hire a dog walker to check in and exercise your pup, even if it's just a few times a week. Dog walkers are able to continue operating (COVID-19), however please read the advice from the Blue Cross on how to do this safely whilst remembering priority should be given to key workers, and shielded and vulnerable people unable to make alternative arrangements. See the Government's advice for further information.
Start making plans now, even if you do not think you will be returning to work for weeks yet. The more preparation you can give your pup (and your own separation anxiety) the better.