There has been a lot in the press recently about the changes in lifestyle that most of us are going through relating to working from home. And while some people are enjoying this change, they have realised that their dogs are becoming used to their humans being around more. In fact, their whole routine has been disturbed. I’ve had messages from lots of clients asking about what happens when they go back to their normal work pattern and they have to leave their dogs again. It’s something that people are worried about.
I’ve thought about this a lot this week and I can honestly say to you that your dogs will be fine. If they were used to you being at home (like my two) then it’s no change. If you work or have a busy lifestyle and are out a lot your dogs will be happy for you to go out when you can. I put my two in a crate when I go out. It’s their safe space and they are more relaxed and rested when I get home. I’ve done it since they were both puppies and I’ve never had a problem with leaving my dogs from day one. But I have two dogs and they are together all the time so it does make a difference.
When I used to do doggie day visits or dog walking, the dogs got into a routine pretty quickly. They recognised my footsteps or my car and they knew that after the walk or visit I would be leaving again. What we forget is that our dogs need more rest, especially during the winter. I used treats to settle them down again before I left and made sure that they felt safe, comfortable and happy. Most of the time I’d leave the radio on (Classic FM or Heart or even Radio 4 were the most popular) or in some cases – and I do this for my own dogs – I’d leave the television on. These days your dogs can see the screen and seeing a welcoming face or hearing a normal programme is good for them. My two love Bargain Hunt or Money for Nothing. I read yesterday of a zoo that’s been playing cartoons for the chimpanzees to watch as they missed having visitors. So do think about the tv if you can.
Note: I had a client – an Italian Greyhound called Monty – who loved to watch daytime tv. One day he had changed channels to the news before his first visit of the day. Coming back in on the second visit, he’d changed the channel again to Only Fools and Horses. So it’s fun to find out what your dogs recognise. Edie also loves MasterChef… it’s her sleeping music.
So, unless your dog has shown signs of separation anxiety before the lockdown there is very little chance that your dog will be upset when things go back to normal (whatever that will be). However, if your dog has been very clingy or is quite young and not had the chance to learn to be on their own, you will have to start your routine again.
Firstly, your dog will know you are going out whatever you do or say. The old idea of putting your coat on and having a cup of tea so that your dog gets less stressed at you putting your coat on doesn’t mean that your dog is going to be calm when you leave. The biggest clue to my two is either me putting on my work fleece (well, that orange is a bit bright) or shouting “won’t be long” at them when I put them in the crate. They know that the crate means I will be a long time… more than an hour… but they are okay with it because they know that I will be back. Don’t worry about what cues you are giving your dog. And try and stay calm.
Secondly, use an enclosed area or a crate where your dog can relax, away from the front door, the hallway or windows that they can look out of. Put a t-shirt in their bed or basket that smells of you so they have something to sniff. Set up the area as a “chill out” zone for your dog before you even leave the house. Leave a few toys and a chewy treat or a filled Kong. And start to use this NOW when you go in the garden, to the car, out the front door to chat to the postman or even to go and have a shower or do some work. The more your dog gets used to a calm, quiet area, the less stressed they will be.
Start by building up the time you are gone gradually – a minute, five minutes, 15 minutes and so on. If you have to shut a door between you, again build it up gradually. Your dog may bark or whimper or scratch the door (which is why I use a crate). Don’t return until your dog is quiet even if they shut up for just a second. And reward them for being quiet. Edie used to get a treat when I left and a treat when I came back. Eventually, she was shoving me out the door to get the treat because it was a special treat that she wanted and me hanging around was delaying her getting the treat!
What do you need to do when you do leave? Get a routine going. Walk your dog or play with them before you are going out. Not a long walk, just enough to stretch their legs and give them something to sniff. Playing or doing some training – maybe clicker work – will wear them out. Then feed them. A dog with a full tummy will settle down and sleep a lot. Not a whole meal, but enough that they are filled. Wet food always makes them more relaxed, I think, just like when I’m going to sleep I will have a hot milky drink or a biscuit.
Get ready to leave. Be calm and just say “bye” and go. Don’t keep worrying about the dog. It’s the first 20 minutes that are crucial. During this time they will be a bit confused about where you are going. Leave a very chewy treat like a pigs ear or a filled Kong that will last longer than a few minutes. And give it to them before you leave so they are focussed on it before they are left alone. By remaining calm, you will set the tone for the dog to feel that things are okay.
Finally, if your dog is really struggling there are lots of remedies – both chemical and organic – to help your dog over come the anxiety. I recommend the Valerian & Scullcap tablets from Dorwest Herbs or Dr Bach’s Rescue Remedies in their water. But it may be that a visit to the vet would be a good idea to check that your dog is healthy before you think about doggie Prozac!
It’s never easy being a dog owner and with things so changeable at the moment, we are right to be concerned that our dogs are finding this current atmosphere rather stressful. They will be picking up on your stress and worries. So try not to worry too much about something that may or may not happen. Enjoy the time together and if you do find that things are not settling back into your routine then I’m here to help you with some more techniques.
Have a good week, stay home and stay safe!
Sara, Edie and Rupert