Helping your dog adjust to life after the COVID-19 lockdown involves determining his emotional reaction to your lifestyle changes, and taking some simple steps to help him through it.
Many of us are on lockdown with our dogs, but what happens when life goes back to normal? COVID-19 has allowed us to spend long periods of time with our furry best friends, all the while enjoying longer walks, and plenty of couch time with them at home. Being in tune with your dog’s personality changes is key to recognizing when he’s stressed out, anxious or depressed, which he may be when you return to your standard schedule! Read on if you’re a pet parent preparing to return to “normalcy” after the pandemic.
Dogs are creatures of routine
Our furry best friends, for the most part, crave routine. They seem to predict when it’s time to go on a walk, eat dinner, and head to bed. When these routines change, so do their emotional states. Though it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of their distress in times of drastic change, too many adjustments can cause them to become depressed or anxious.
Helping him adjust – first steps
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, DACVB, President of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies, offers a few ways to help dogs adjust to life after the COVID-19 lockdown. First, he recommends chatting with your vet to rule out any health issues. You may be able to use a telemedicine service during the COVID-19 lockdown. Along with a veterinary consult, you’ll need to watch your dog for unusual behavioral changes.
“Many people are finding their dog is super happy now that they’re home all day with them,” says Dr. Dodman. “However, all good things come to an end – and all bad things, too, we hope, when it comes to COVID- 19. The day will come when owners go back to work and the lonely life resumes for dogs as before. Many dogs will take this in stride – but not all of them!”
Pet parents need to recognize the signs of separation anxiety or canine depression. If your dog is stressed out, obvious symptoms include fearfulness, aggression or destructiveness, but other signs may not be as clear. If your dog is restless, sleeping more than usual or his appetite has changed, these may be red flags. Watch out for uncharacteristic behaviors, and don’t ignore them if they arise.
Be prepared for separation anxiety
Pay special attention to how your dog reacts in times of change, like when you’re leaving for work. Even if your dog is laid back, the change of schedule may trigger a new behavior such as separation anxiety. It’s important to understand that because your lockdown routine has been disrupted, he may be prone to full blown separation anxiety even if he was extremely independent in the past.
“Some sensitive dogs may go into a type of owner withdrawal syndrome – basically exhibiting some or other degree of separation anxiety,” Dr. Dodman explains. “We see separation anxiety rear its ugly head when owners who have been home with a lengthy illness or injury are fit to go back to work. Separation anxiety can occur or reoccur following almost any perturbation in living arrangements, which is what will happen to some dogs when the stay-at-home orders are lifted following COVID- 19.”
Separation anxiety can take a more subtle form, such as moping. But it can also be severe, manifesting in the form of vocalization, destructive behavior, house soiling, and more. There’s no program that will guarantee that susceptible dogs will not be affected, but there are some things that may help. Dr. Dodman recommends the following tips to calm negative stress reactions in dogs that are anxious post-lockdown.
1. Regular exercise
Exercise during and after the lockdown is key to minimizing stress in both people and dogs. Now’s the time to consider all the fun dog sports that you can do with your canine companion, all the while maintaining a safe distance from other people. “Dogs should have as much exercise as possible before you leave the house,” says Dr. Dodman. Depending on the age and breed of your dog, he recommends at least 30 minutes of running around, preferably off leash. “Remember, a tired dog is a good dog!”
2. Low key departures and returns
When leaving for work, or when going out to run errands, don’t make it a big deal! “Don’t make a loud noise with your car keys, or fuss over your dog before leaving,” says Dr. Dodman. “Keep calm and relaxed, and your dog’s behavior will (hopefully) mimic that.”
On the same note, while you may be excited to get home to your furry best friend, keep your entry calm. Don’t feed him or show him too much affection upon returning – this will just make it harder for him when you leave again.
3. Environmental enrichment
By creating an enriched environment for your furry best friend with food puzzles, interactive dog toys, TV or music, and other stimulation, you’ll help prevent negative stress reactions. Dr. Dodman advises that pet parents make their dog’s “alone time” as fun as possible so they don’t dread it. Leave treats around the house for him to find while you’re out, add interesting scents on his toys, and try to leave him in a space that has a view of the outside.
4. Practice independence training at home
Even though you’ll have less time once the lockdown ends, it’s important to keep on top of your dog’s training. “Long sit-stays or down-stays are always good to teach, plus a little distancing – not allowing yourself to be your dog’s couch mate or human pillow,” says Dr. Dodman. “Ration “huggy behavior” until the behavioral storm has passed and things are back to normal.”
With a bit of careful planning, you can help your dog adjust smoothly to life after the COVID-19 lockdown. Keep in mind that the two of you are in this transition together, so take advantage of his companionship every step of the way!