Lockdown Easing and Your Pets
Lockdown rules will be relaxed in most parts of the world soon, which means that many of us will be returning to work outside of our homes, at least part time. This may lead to some stressful times for your dog or cat, who has probably adapted quite easily to having their owner at home most (all?) of the time. Many behaviourists and veterinarians are predicting that these animals could develop some signs of separation related distress. This blog will focus on some ways of making the transition easier for our beloved animals.
Separation Issues: Animals hate being left alone!
Studies in the UK have shown that up to 80% of our dogs suffer some degree of unhappiness or stress when their owners leave them alone at home. Formerly this was called Separation Anxiety (SA), to label the full-fledged panic attacks that some dogs feel. SA shows itself in behaviours such as toileting in the house, chewing forbidden items (furniture, walls etc), loud howling or barking, or whining. Clearly SA animals are in hell. This is a complex condition and requires treatment by a qualified pet behaviourist. If your dog shows signs of true separation anxiety, then please contact your veterinarian or local qualified behaviourist.
Many other animals, both cats and dogs, suffer Separation Related Distress (SRD) which is a period of stress or unhappiness when left alone for extended periods of time. Many of these animals have developed coping strategies to deal with this stress, such as excessive sleeping. Owners often report, ‘oh he is fine being left alone, he just sleeps all day’. Often the animal is actually quite stressed, but has learned to cope with stress and boredom by sleeping.
For these animals, who prefer to be with their owners, Lockdown and Working From Home (WFH) is a dream come true: more walks, cuddles, conversations, games, treats, trips to the garden… And now, unbeknownst to them, this may be ending soon, as we are called back to our physical place of work. If only we could verbally explain the change to them, as we would to a child!
Making Lockdown easier on your dog and cat:
Sadly, this is not possible, so here are some behavioural suggestions for making the transition easier for both you and your animal companion:
Animals who are overly attached to one owner:
Often animals intensely bond more with one person in the household. Studies have shown that this is often due to the emotional needs of that particular owner as well as the animal’s needs. They call this ‘hyper-attachment’ and it works both ways.
If this describes your situation (we usually know who we are, as I am also guilty!), try to rely less on your pet to relieve your boredom, restlessness or sense of isolation. Call, message or text a human friend. Do a workout video, read a book, go for a walk, anything other than reaching out to your dog or cat.
If the hyper-attachment is more on the animal’s side, then have another person in the house play with them, cuddle with them, talk to them, feed them, brush them, take them for walks. This will diminish their reliance on you, and make it easier on them when you return to work as they will soon bond more strongly with other family members. If you have older children at home, this is ideal, as it will teach them a sense of responsibility and give them something wonderful to do as well.
Routines are good for pets:
Set a routine for your pet that will be similar to your return to work schedule. This means scheduling walks, meals, outings, and alone time. This make it easier for you to return to the Rigid Routine as well (and aren’t we all just so looking forward to that!).
Dogs and Cats demanding too much attention:
Prepare your cat or dog for alone time by settling firm boundaries on attention seeking behaviour (ASB). ASB includes pawing, barking, purring, chirping, walking on laptop keyboards, lap sitting etc. You know when your animals is demanding attention! Charming though it can be, it sets up a pattern of Entertainment on Demand, that cannot be followed once you leave the house again regularly. Do not reward ASB outwith the scheduled times for interaction. If you ignore their ASB, it will soon subside, and they will go about their business. Have some toys nearby whilst you are still working from home, and given them a toy to play with when they start to bother you. This will remind them that they are still capable of entertaining themselves!
Make your pet’s time alone fun, or at least ok
Prepare them for alone time by getting some new toys. Animals really enjoy food dispensing toys such as snuffle mats, Kongs or puzzle toys. In the natural world, canines and felines spend most of their awake time looking for food, so these toys help them to do behaviours that are natural for their species. If finances are tight, home made toys work well too! Just use your imagination!
If you have several rooms in your house or flat, then physically separate from them now for periods of the day. Work in a separate room and close the door so they are in another room where their bed and water dish are. Prepare them for this change by giving them a light snack, take the dog out for a pee and some exercise, play with the cat for a few minutes to tire them out, leave a toy or two out near their bed, and then go into another room.
Transition your dog and cat for returning to work
Leave the house for gradually increasing periods of time. Again, start out with short journeys and then increase to longer time periods.
If there are animal verbal complaints about this, you can start out with short periods of time, and gradually increase to several hours. When you return to them, do not show too much emotion or excitement. Ignore them for a while, and then just go about the day as usual.
Please resume Normal Life as much as possible now whilst we are in the transition phase. If you have a dog walker, bring them back on board. If the dog goes to Doggie Day Care, then start this again, as soon as they reopen. In sum, just try to resume a version of Normal Life now. This will make it easier for your animal and you to return to work.
Please get in touch if you have any questions, or if you want further information on Separation Related Behaviours. Most importantly, enjoy your time with your furry friend!!