Top tips on leaving lockdown without your canine companion

One of the upsides of the pandemic for pet owners has been the extra amount of time we’ve got to spend at home with our pooches.

Here SAMANTHA RAWSON, one of Ireland’s top dog trainers, provides some expert tip on how to help your pet with the transition as we adjust to our ‘new normal’.

We are all in a state of adjustment, so it’s important we provide a strong and secure role model to our dogs.

This is especially particularly relevant for new puppy parents to prevent problematic behaviours developing. Prevention is always better and much easier to implement than a behaviour modification programme later on.

Dogs den or designated area
It’s vital for a dog’s security to have their own consistent resting area within the home. Ideally this should be away from the door that the owner and family use to leave or enter the house, so that the dog does not see you leave.

Glass doors are not ideal in a dog household and can be detrimental to an anxious dog. The designated dog rest area needs to be a place where the owner or family members also relax.

Boundaries and doorways
To teach your dog to tolerate being left by themselves for short periods, close the door behind you when you leave the room to go to the bathroom, or for any other reason when you may be gone for a few minutes.

If we allow a puppy or young dog to follow us around the house, we are potentially creating a clingy dog that cannot cope with being left alone. So it’s our responsibility as dog owners to provide safety and security for our dogs. This means teaching them how to be alone.

Baby gates help to separate the areas between the dog area and the rest of the house, if your dog cannot tolerate being left behind a solid door.

Leaving a radio on can muffle other sounds in the house and maintain a level of consistency between your presence and absence. A recent worn item of clothing with your scent on it may also help to reduce your dog’s dependency.

Sometimes I advise owners to find a big dog size teddy bear and dress it in their old clothes so that the dog has something that smells like you to snuggle up to in your absence.

The garden
In many cases, the garden is a very underutilised space and is a much more stimulating and interesting place for a dog to be than indoors. Your dog also needs to spend time alone in the garden in the same way as it does in the house.

Scattering a dog’s food around the garden or using lick mats or food puzzles can help to distract and entertain the dog when alone in the garden.

Provide the dog with a safe secure rest area to relax in when not otherwise occupied in the garden. Your dog should be happy to be in the garden by itself when you are at home.

The best time to leave a dog alone is after some play or a brain drain game. Tired dogs will rest easier than an energetic one!

Consistency and bedtime
I believe dogs should be given a bedtime at least an hour or so before our own. This helps them to settle while they hear us potter around. It also helps to reduce the sudden loss of contact which can lead to over dependency and anxiety.

Alternatives to leaving your dog home alone in your absence may be asking a family member to pop in and have a cup of tea. Or employing a recommended dog walker or pet sitter. If you have any concerns that your dog may be suffering in your absence you can use video or recording technology to monitor their behaviour.

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