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EASING YOUR POOCH OUT OF LOCKDOWN BY ANNA WEBB

Anna Webb – Broadcaster, Author, has studied natural nutrition and therapies with the College of Integrated Veterinary Therapies (CIVT). She lives in London and is owned by Prudence a Miniature Bull Terrier and Mr Binks, a re-homed English Toy Terrier. www.annawebb.co.uk

As we come out of Lock-down its not loo roll, pasta or eggs that’s in short supply, but extraordinarily its puppies!

Through Lock-down the unprecedented demand for puppies has outstripped Britain’s supply, and inquiries to buy a dog are up 180% on this time last year!

Whether this sudden boom in ‘puppy love’ is a reaction to loneliness or to provide entertainment for the kids or simply to reduce boredom, many puppies have been bought without a thought about the future. One thing’s for sure a ‘dog is for life, not just for Lock-down”!

Sure - dog owners have been the lucky ones through lock-down. Offering constant companionship through the isolation, and a gateway to outdoors and exercise, dog owners have been supported physically, emotionally and mentally by their four legged friends.

As we prepare to get back to a ‘new’ normal, the concern is that dogs are now so used to having their ‘people’ at home 24/7, doggy anxieties and behavioral issues are forecast to soar.

For many who don’t usually work from home, or those furloughed, their relationships with their dog will have changed so radically that it’s easy to see how new anxious behaviors have emerged.

With owners are at home and not being exercise by dog walkers, and the children aren’t at school, dogs have quite rightly assumed it’s the weekend all the time!

Without a set routine and boundaries that factor in their dog settling alone in their bed whilst time is spent on a laptop, or teaching kids at home, dogs have been seeking and receiving constant attention, which has been rewarded and trained.
A recent study analyzing the impact of Lock-down on dogs shows that increased barking is a consistent symptom not only in the UK, but also in Spain and Italy.
It also revealed that 60% of owners found their dog to be a great comfort, whilst around 37% owners said dogs were not coping well, showing signs of nervousness, frustration and attention seeking. Another 20% owners admitted giving their dogs lots more treats!

As a seasoned freelancer my dogs Prudence and Mr Binks are used to ‘working from home’. But I’ve seen how environmental changes have impacted on them. The very dramatic sudden silence in London has been eerie for people, let alone our pets.

Its enough to put any dog on higher alert and susceptible to barking even to random sounds that become more amplified.
Transferring our own anxieties is another issue. Dogs know when we’re happy or sad. They’ve learnt to read us like a book using their sense of smell, deducing how high or low our stress hormone cortisol is in our breath and sweat.

Stress in people affects every dog differently. Dogs will communicate their anxious feelings by yawning, licking their lips, blinking at you or some might even leave the room!
These ‘calming signals’ are like a barometer for our moods. By learning what your dog is saying, you can modify behavior to your own advantage and for our dog’s sake lessen stress – often the cause of anxiety.

Coming out of Lock-down I suggest keeping a lid on our stress levels and getting busy reversing new unwanted trained behaviors.
Discouraging clingy behavior by investing in child gates to allow your dog time alone, occupied with soothing music, or talk radio to deflect from other stimuli either indoors or outdoors.
Build a strict routine around your dog ensuring appropriate exercise and enrichment. A ‘tough love’ approach is about ignoring and distracting any attention seeking behaviors.
Being consistent and working with your dog to help punctuate the day with regular breaks and playtime sessions, and build up gradually to leaving your dog ‘home alone’.

Encourage your dog to chew on long lasting options like Himalayan Yak’s Milk Chews, stag antlers, hooves as the natural process releases happy hormones, helping your dog relax and settle.
There’s a chance that through Lock-down we’ve got to know our dogs better, and that by spending more time together, including regular walks, that relationships will be stronger than before.