These strange times of being isolated at home and restricted from approaching people even when we do venture outside are changing the relationships we have with our dogs.
Dogs are very intuitive creatures and although it may not be obvious, they can become stressed and anxious quite easily. They respond to signs of stress in their humans and recent research has shown that cortisol levels in dogs and owners often match one another, particularly when the owners start to become stressed. This mirroring of our stress levels results from the very close bonds that we form with our dogs.
They know that something is up. Many dog owners have commented to me that their dog’s behaviour seems to be changing a little as the weeks pass. The sheer continual presence of the whole family all the time is enough to make them recognise that something is different. They may be going out less, or not at all, and their owners may be ill, anxious or suffering other side effects from social isolation. Some dogs are attention-seeking more than they did before and the more attention they receive, the more that they will push for it. Their stress levels may rise leading to neurotic and unbalanced behaviours.
On the other hand, lots of dogs are blissfully happy. They have their pack around them all the time and so all is right with the world. In some ways social isolation suits many dogs. They don’t need to meet all the other canines in the neighbourhood on a regular basis – some find these meetings stressful and a break will be good for them, – they don’t need strenuous walks every day as we can entertain and wear them out with exercises at home.
Dogs are social animals, evolved to live in packs and their natural instinct is to be comfortable in company. So in some ways the confinement might be actually good for them. It fits well with their genetic need for special interaction. It’s very interesting and engaging for them to have their owners to play and socialise with them all day and any behaviourist or vet will confirm that it is never a good idea to leave your dog alone for more than a few hours at a time.
When life returns to a more normal routine though, and we head out of the door, is your dog ready for the sudden change this will bring to his life? Some are even finding it difficult to be in a separate room now so how will they cope when we leave them alone again? Our domesticated pets come to realise that being on their own part of the time isn’t something to be worried about and that we will always be back soon, but for some this lesson is harder to learn than for others and all of them have to be helped to understand. It is extremely important to help your dog to learn that life doesn’t end when he is alone and you need to start right now, before you have to leave the house for hours.
The main thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t be available to your dog all the time. At the moment you may have to intentionally organise this.
As long as he is not already suffering from separation anxiety, discourage him from following you around the house all the time by leaving him in his bed for some relaxation and shutting the door as you leave. He needs to enjoy ‘down time’ as well as we do and after all, balanced dogs can sleep for up to about 17 hours a day.
When you go out of the room, sometimes leave the house even if you can’t go too far away so he doesn’t always know where you are.
Make it worthwhile for him to stay put if he is finding this hard, by giving him something delicious to chew on instead or an intellectual game to play, such as some of the things I have shown you in my Youtube videos.
Don’t make a massive fuss of him when you come back in. This is normal life so just ignore him and get on with what you need to do.
With a little thought now, we can prevent new separation issues from arising later. If your dog has existing separation issues it is of course more complex and I recommend you contact me for advice and guidance.
Enjoy your time with your dog but consider what is best for his peace of mind as well as yours.