How can I minimise stress and keep my dog happy during coronavirus?

Before these difficult times, your dog had daily activities and a routine that might look quite different to how it is currently. Walking time and playtime with other dogs are now sadly reduced and your dog may be deprived of this part of their daily outdoor exercise. At the same time, your dog now probably has more opportunities to spend time with you and your family while we all need to stay home, especially while the children aren't going to school.

How can I meet my dog's needs with limited time for walks?

There are many ways to - at least partially - compensate the reduced exercise time by incorporating more play into your pet's daily routine. There are many examples of enrichment that you can introduce, including a variety of searching games and dog puzzles are great examples of enrichment that you can introduce during lockdown (remember to start with the easiest ones if your dog is not used to solving puzzles or learning new tricks to keep them engaged and motivated).

The change in the routine should be kept to a minimum where possible. If you are not self-isolating, try to keep the usual time for your dog's meals and daily walk. Only one walk is allowed as per government advice, so for the remaining habitual walks, you can bring them out in your garden or ask another member of your family in your household to walk them.

If you are self-isolating and you cannot ask someone else to walk your dog, you may need to keep them at home, until your self-isolation is over but do still try to keep your dog's normal routine as much as possible.

Read: How to toilet your dog if you cannot go out and you do not have a garden.

How can I keep my dog calm in a busy household?

It's very important to maintain the house rules just as before. Also, remind your family not to overwhelm your dog with constant attention (being able to rest and 'do nothing' while the family is at home just as important as cuddles!).

If you're consistent and ask your other family members to behave in a consistent way, so that your dog can predict when it's playtime or cuddle time (or when is rest/do nothing time) they will be able to relax much more easily and adapt to this new lifestyle more quickly. Dogs that can predict from their owners' behaviours - when they are involved and when they are not - are much less likely to be anxious and over-reactive.

This habit is very important because some dogs tend to show excessive attention-seeking behaviours like barking insistently, jumping on, scratching their owner's legs if they get what they want in an inconsistent way. Sadly, this only serves to make your dog more and more aroused and frustrated if they don't instantly get what they want every time.

If this is the case with your dog now, try to anticipate their request and engage with them in pleasant activities in a regular and predictable way, then make it clear when the activity is finished. You can say: 'finished' and leave a treat or toy for them to play with on their own before going back to your 'human activities''

Sometimes it's necessary to help dogs to cope with their frustration by providing something for them to chew when the interaction is interrupted so that they can do something pleasant by themselves to smooth the passage from activity to inactivity.

Also consider that if you create in your dog the expectation that you are available all the time, they may develop separation-related behaviours in future. A regular routine, appropriate mental and physical exercise and enrichment along with predictable interactions will help prevent the onset and development of behaviour problems and keep your dog happy and relaxed.

Read: Signals dogs use to tell us when they are feeling happy and relaxed.

My dog had separation problems - now I am home all the time and he seems fine - but what will happen when I come back to work?

Now that you are home, there are many things that you can do to prevent the worsening of your dog's separation problem and, if you have not done this before, you should immediately ask your vet to refer you to a Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist.

Separation problems affect your dog's welfare and are warning signs of mental suffering. In this difficult period, you can discuss options over the phone or they can also do an online consultation and provide a referral. If your dog had a behaviour visit in the past for his separation issue, we strongly recommend recontacting the behaviourist.

General advice to prevent worsening of separation problems includes a regular routine where the interactions with human family members are predictable as mentioned above. Chewing a special toy or playing while the owners are present but are not interacting with them is also recommended.

Gradual absences are the next steps. It's important to then get the dog very gradually used to being alone in a room while the owner moves to another part of the house so that the exposure to the being alone condition is short but frequent.

Find out more about separation-related behaviour.

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