You would expect that having owners home more has been a giant bonus for our dogs, and for the most part this is true. However, the impacts of lockdown suggest that some worrying behaviours are emerging in our canine companions that may have some long-term effects. Prior to the pandemic the PAW report from PDSA reported around 20% (2 million) of all UK owned dogs were being left alone at home for 5 hours or more. This has decreased quite significantly in the last year to 11% (1.1 million). Testimony to the side effects of lockdown as dog owners are staying at home more often and for longer. This all sounds great, but alongside this ‘stay at home’ phenomenon is a new problem that is fast developing.
The Dogs Trust has conducted research which indicates that over a quarter of dog owners (26%) reported their dog demonstrating at least one new problem behaviour since lockdowns began. These behaviours include:
● 82% increase in whining or barking when household member(s) are busy
● 20% increase in seeking attention from their owner
● 41% report their dog being clingier or following family member(s) around the home
● 54% rise in dog owners saying that their dog has moved or hidden away when approached.
These behaviours’ are highly suggestive of separation anxiety and from these reports it suggests that they are starting to manifest whilst owners are still at home.
So the next problem on the horizon for our dogs, is how to cope when human lives start to return to some semblance of normality. Preventing separation anxiety is far easier than treating it so here are some tips on how to help your dog now to prepare for changes in routine in the future.
● Alone-time is important so build time-outs into the day to ensure mental and physical rest. Separate dogs from the household using baby gates or by leaving them at home whilst making essential trips.
● For new pups or newly rehomed dogs it is vital you introduce them to the concept of time out from as early as possible. If they are not taught that being alone is a normal and positive part of their daily routine it will almost definitely lead to anxiety.
● For those that are already showing signs of separation anxiety the use of calming aids and distraction techniques, such as playing the radio or a puzzle feeder, may help in the early stages. Alone-time should still be put in place, but in gradual steps. Consider implementing a time out just before a meal or a walk as this will help your dog to learn that there will be a positive reward at the end.
For some dogs a change in behaviour can also be down to a change in their exercise routine. With the strict social distancing guidance in place many dog owners have been unable or reluctant to let their dogs off the lead or are walking their dogs for shorter periods of time. These restrictions can manifest in frustration which is often demonstrated in destructive behaviours’ such as clawing or chewing on furniture or other items around the home. Exercise is one of the five core welfare needs and should be kept as regular and routine as safely possible.