Helping to prepare your dogs for new experiences as COVID lockdown restrictions lift.
Life will change a lot for all of us when lockdown restrictions lift. Going out more, getting back into the office, meetings friends and visiting family. But, what about your dogs?
Think about how their life is going to change after lockdown.
Consider what most dogs’ lives have looked like before lockdown:
- Their owners have been home most of the day – yippee!
- They’ve been likely going on more walks as people are only allowed out to exercise and walk
- They’ve been getting more attention, strokes, cuddles and play sessions
- They’ve not been playing with other dogs very much and staying on lead more
- They’ve been going to the same local parks for walks
Now, think about what life is going to look like as lockdown restrictions lift, from a dog’s perspective:
- Owners might be returning to work, leaving dogs alone
- As pubs, cafes and restaurants open up, owners will be going out more without them
- Owners will be having visitors over to their house and gardens, meaning ‘strangers’ are suddenly entering the dog’s space
- From never having anyone over for months and months, there might be daily visits from new people
- Owners might be taking their dogs out to cafes or beer gardens, in environments where there are lots of people in small spaces and other dogs around
- Owners might take their dogs for trips further afield, heading to new, unfamiliar places
- As owners are out of the house more, dogs’ exercise might be reduced if works are cut short to fit in with work and leisure activities
So, how can you prepare your pets for life after lockdown?
The key thing is to start making adjustments now rather than waiting to go back to work or normal life and ending up with problems like separation anxiety or destructive behaviour.
By changing your routine bit by bit now, you can gradually get dogs used to how things will be when you return to work. You could do this by:
- Gradually building up the length of time you are out of the house. At the start, you might have to just pop outside for 5 minutes and build up from there.
- Start walking your dog at a time when you will do once back at work, and adjusting the length of walks so that you’re walking the dog for a similar time to what you plan to do when working. This is so that the dog doesn’t get used to really long walks when you’re off work, which suddenly changes to much shorter walks once you’re working again. If this happens, the dog will have extra energy that they could take out by chewing or destroying things!
- Start to reduce the amount of attention you give your dog. For example, if your dog has got used to sitting next to you on the sofa having constant strokes, start ‘busying’ yourself around the house so that you’re not sat with the dog or by their side constantly – to get them gradually used to spending less time with you.
- Investigate some enrichment activities for your dog to keep them busy and entertained when you’re out of the house.
What you’re trying to do is to help your dog learn how to be confident and independent when you’re not there as much. Nobody wants their dog to panic and be stressed when they’re left alone.
Helping dogs to handle new experiences after lockdown
Another important thing to think about is all the new experiences that your dog will have after lockdown.
During lockdown, you might have kept your dog on the lead or away from other dogs socialising, so they might not have been used to playing with other dogs as much.
Also, you won’t have had many visitors, so your dog won’t be used to having people around and will need help getting them used to having new people in their ‘safe space’ again.
Things to think about:
- Introduce your dogs carefully to visitors, even if it’s people they’ve met before. Consider keeping dogs behind a baby gate until they’re calm and happy with the new visitors.
- Manage introductions to other dogs on walks so that your dog doesn’t get overwhelmed by meeting lots of dogs at once if they’ve been socialising less over lockdown.
- Understand that some dogs might not be able to cope with new visitors in their space just yet and may need to be kept separated from visitors for a while until they gradually build their socialisation skills back up again.
And remember, if things don’t go smoothly and your dog is struggling to adjust, then just remember that some dogs need more time than others. If you’re not sure how to handle your dog’s behaviour, then look for a reputable dog behaviourist in your area (ask your vet for recommendations if you’re not sure) or here’s advice from the RSPCA on how to find a trusted behaviourist.
For more information and infographics about animal welfare topics, head over to our Animal Welfare Resources section.