Last Updated: 21st July 2020
In the UK, complete lockdown due to coronavirus lasted for seven weeks – during this time, we were unable to leave our homes apart from to walk the dog or for essential travel. This meant that many dogs were not left alone at all for this entire duration. Puppies that were taken home just before lockdown, or purchased during lockdown, received company 24/7. Even now, as lockdown continues to ease, many of us will remain home working for the foreseeable future and our dogs will continue to get used to having people around most of the time. The Vetoquinol team have partnered with Clinical Animal Behaviourist Rosie Bescoby who shares her top tips on coping with this new situation.
Author: Rosie Bescoby, Clinical Animal Behaviourist
Rosie Bescoby owns and runs Pet Sense which provides behavioural consultations for dogs and puppy problem prevention sessions in the Bristol and North Somerset area. She is a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), an Animal Behaviour & Training Council (ABTC) registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist and member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).
Dogs are group living, sociable animals, so the fact that life appears to be adjusting in the long-term to include less travel and more home working will be beneficial to our dogs.
However, the reality is that will not be the case for everyone and our dogs still need to learn to be ok with being left for some periods of time.
It is important that puppies and dogs are never left in a distressed state when left alone. Instead, we want our puppies to form secure attachments with us so that they are safe in the knowledge that we might leave them but we will always return. We want them to learn that pleasant activities do not always revolve around us, our attention is not always available (and what to do when we are not available), and that being left at home alone is a time to relax. We also want adult dogs to understand that, even though we might have been at home more than we were prior to lockdown, most of us are not able to be present 24 hours a day forever more.
Both adult dogs and puppies will benefit from being provided with independent, selfreinforcing activities that encourage calmness such as chewing, licking at a food-filled toy and sniffing for food that you might scatter in their bed area. Whilst they are happily preoccupied, build in some distance or barriers between you – it can be helpful to start with a baby gate so that your dog can still see and hear you, instead of a closed door.
It is also a sensible idea to teach your puppy or adult dog what you do want them to do whilst you are preoccupied at home and your attention is not available, and ultimately when they are left alone.
Given that dogs require 16 hours of sleep or more in a 24 hour period, settling in their bed and having a snooze is a sensible activity to encourage. Provide a very comfortable bed and start off with it next to you whilst you are busy working. You have already created a strong positive association with their bed by scattering food in it, so you then want to reinforce the positive association further with small pieces of low-value food, praise or gentle touch when they get into their bed and when they lie down in it. To start with you might need to repeat regularly so that they learn it pays to settle in their bed, and it can help to time your reinforcement (treats and praise) when they show signs of relaxing such as resting their head, exhaling or curling up. Gradually you should be able to reduce the frequency of reinforcement, and you can then start to move the bed away from where you are (or even better, move yourself further away from the bed). Introduce the barrier whilst your dog is settled, and then proceed to leaving the house. It can be useful to video them or watch them live from your phone the first time you leave them after a period of no separation to ensure they are definitely relaxed.
If your puppy is struggling to tolerate separation, or your adult dog exhibits signs of distress when left alone, always consult a qualified professional – see www.apbc.org.uk for a list of members of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.
Life can be stressful for pets
Zylkene is a calming supplement that contains a natural ingredient derived from a protein in milk called casein that has clinically proven calming properties to help relax cats and dogs. It is a peptide (protein) molecule, well-known to promote the relaxation of new-borns after breastfeeding.
Zylkene has become a valuable support for veterinary surgeons, behaviourists, nurses and pet owners for use in helping pets cope when facing unusual and unpredictable situations or before occasions such as a change in their normal environment.