Post-Lockdown Changes to Dog Behaviour
Advice from Harringtons
We now know what a big change can do to us emotionally – the same goes for our dogs
Following the government’s rollout of the roadmap that will take us out of restrictions and lockdowns, there will be a lot of changes for both humans and our pets. Have you thought about how your dog’s behaviour and routine may change once the restrictions are lifted?
Some dogs, for example those who were new puppies during lockdown, will never have experienced the routines that we know as ‘the norm’, and may never have been left alone.
Dogs are social animals and they are at their best when in the company of humans, being the natural, loving & caring dogs that they are. So, when they are going to be left alone again for longer periods than they have been used to over the last 12-18 months, some separation anxieties and boredom signs may start to appear.
In addition to changes at home, now that we are able to get out and socialise more, the chances are that on some occasions, our dogs will be involved – after all, it’s natural to want our best friends to enjoy the good times with us!
However, as everywhere has been so quiet with people staying indoors for so long, it could be that some dogs are not used to meeting new people (or sometimes other dogs). This is especially true for puppies who were born during the pandemic, but also for our older dogs who haven’t seen many new people for such a long time.
It is possible that our dogs may not behave exactly as we expect when approaching or talking to new people or dogs, or when we have visitors to our houses. For example, if they are unsure, they may feel scared, anxious and defensive – this is natural. It’s important that we understand our dog’s viewpoint in these situations, and guide them through it so that they learn to adapt at their pace.
Hints and tips for helping your pets through change
By all means, don’t completely stop giving attention to your natural supporters; this could be at a detriment to your dog and more than likely will be confusing, so it needs to be gradual. Try to initiate interactions so that you are not inadvertently rewarding an attention seeking behaviour.
Showing your dog it’s ok to be by themselves
You can leave a radio on for them so they have background noise. Don’t make a big fuss when you leave or come back to your dog. They can predict when we’re about to leave them, by spotting subtle cues and signals we’re giving out such as putting on our best shoes or picking up car keys. If we make a big fuss of them when we return, we make it even more rewarding. Instead, greet them calmly once you’ve got indoors and have put your keys away.
If your dog is very young and has never been left before, remember that they’re more likely to need to go to the toilet more frequently than older dogs. When teaching them about being left, limit their time alone and, where possible, time it for when they’ve had a play and would normally be going for a nap.
Gradually return to a routine
Working from home has more than likely caused some very different working hours than being out at work, so it could be that your dog’s walking, eating and bedtime routines have changed. To help your dog to feel more at ease when things are back to normal, it’s a good idea to start now.
Work out what your timings are going to be when you’re back to work, and then gradually introduce that routine now. So if your dog’s morning walk has become 10am and it needs to get back to 8am, start by leaving 10 minutes earlier each day until you reach your target time. The same with feeding and bedtimes.
When you return from your walks, try to introduce a routine whereby your dog understands that it’s now rest time, and he/she will not be interacting with you, perhaps introduce the routine of going to their bed with a Kong™ or similar toy filled with some Harringtons wet dog food and then leaving them and going into a separate room. Build up the time that you are separated gradually. This should help your dog to feel comfortable with the new normal, and with you not being around or interacting with them. It will also provide them with information about when to expect their next natural play or walk time.
Careful introductions to new people
Whilst older dogs may drift comfortably back into social contact, some may take a while to get accustomed to it again, and obviously our young dogs may not have had the chance to socialise during their natural puppy socialisation period, simply because everyone was at home.
To avoid putting your dog under pressure, let them investigate new people at their pace – they may be worried if someone stoops over them to stroke them.
Ask other people to be ‘hands-off’ until it is clear that your dog is asking for their attention (relaxed body language, tail not tucked but loosely wagging, freely approaching the person and looking up at them without any signs of anxiety such as yawning, licking the nose, averting their gaze, growling, barking etc).
If there are no other dogs around, you could ask the other person to throw a Harringtons FreshBake treat towards your dog on the floor for them. Doing this rather than asking a dog to take a treat from someone’s hand means that the pressure is off. All this will help to naturally create positive associations with strangers.
It is important not to punish your dog if they show any fearful, aggressive behaviours – this is an indicator that your dog is feeling scared and punishment will make this worse. Instead, gently take your dog away from the person to allow them some space. If you are finding that this is happening with your dog, we recommend that you contact an accredited behaviourist for help.
Visitors to the house
This is going to be a strange one as most of us have not been allowed to do this! Let your visitor know that your dog isn’t used to this and that you would like to let them take it at their own pace.
Follow a similar process to the one above, and ask your visitor to ignore your dog unless your dog is openly asking for attention from them. Again, let your visitor throw a Harringtons FreshBake treat on the floor for your dog, away from them so that there is no pressure for your dog to come close to the visitor if they don’t want to.
Dogs and the law
Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, it is now an offence if your dog causes a person to feel that they are in danger. This means that your dog doesn’t have to actually attack before someone can make a complaint.
A change to the law now means that this is the case in a private dwelling as well as in a public space, so if someone feels threatened by your dog in your home or garden, you could be liable.
If you notice that your dog is displaying any kind of fear aggression or territorial behaviours – lunging, growling, barking, raising their hackles, showing their teeth etc, ensure that they are in another room when you have visitors and contact an accredited behaviourist for professional assistance. Again, It is important that you don’t punish your dog in any way for these behaviours, simply take them away from the thing that they are reacting to.
New Behaviours that you haven’t seen before
Whilst your dog may not be fearful of being left, or of new people, it could be that they begin to display behaviours that you’ve not seen them doing before. As dogs naturally enjoy routine – it’s rewarding to know what to expect – any changes may just send them ‘off kilter’ slightly. If they aren’t sure what the new routine is yet, they may instigate play or ask for walks or seem restless at unusual times. They may start to follow you about the house closely or seem withdrawn and lethargic. Perhaps they aren’t responding to your requests like they normally would, or appear confused.
Importantly, any changes to your dog’s behaviour, eating or drinking habits, or toileting issues should be checked out by a vet first. If there are no medical issues then please see our advice on how to help your dog to adapt to a new routine and try to remember how strange everything is from their point of view.
If you are concerned about any of your dog’s behaviours and you feel that you need some advice, please contact your nearest accredited behaviourist https://ukdogcharter.org/
These unprecedented times have meant huge change for all of us, and an array of emotions. Getting back to normal is likely to take time too. Let’s do this together with our natural companions. With positive associations to new experiences, understanding from the person they trust, and gradual implementation, we can all do this. Naturally, we at Harrington’s are here to help.
Frequently Asked Questions
What help can I give my dog to reintroduce them to being comfortable alone when I am in the office?
How can I start preparing my dog for my return to work?
What if my dog is scared of strangers/visitors?
What will your new routine look like?
What is separation distress?
How will I know if my dog starts to have separation distress / anxieties / boredom after lockdown?