With the gradual lifting of lockdown measures just around the corner, it is important to prepare pets for a return to some form of normalcy.
Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS says that lockdown has been beneficial for both pets and owners, the latter obtaining much-needed emotional support from their furry friends during the crisis and the former enjoying the extra attention and presence of their humans.
But given the gradual return to ‘normal’ life in many countries, the charity urges to prepare pets early for this change to ensure their well-being.
Sarah Ross, Companion Animal Expert at FOUR PAWS says that “in order to get pets used to a normal routine again, it is important to gradually leave the house for a longer period and show them that their owners will always return home.”
Dogs might present a particular challenge, Ross explains, as they develop close relationships with their owners during the time they spend together and things might get tricky if they lose that everyday attention.
“With insecure dogs that have previously had to leave supposedly safe homes or have lost an important person, even a temporary separation can lead to behavioural problems. With the right training, fear of separation that often manifests itself through destructive behaviour like damaging furniture, barking and yelping until the owner returns, or depression as a result of loneliness, can be prevented,” she said.
Cats tend to cope better in such circumstances, Ross said, and do not present the same behavioural problems.
“Although many cats appreciate the attention and closeness of their family, most are independent and also structure their days themselves. It’s easier to prepare them for being alone again,” she said.
One way owners can help pets cope with the new reality is to teach them how to be alone and enjoy it.
“For example, feeding games keep the animals occupied longer and distract them from the absence of their owners. If an animal demands excessive attention, it’s fine to ignore it to a healthy degree and not give in to every request. Pets should also be given breaks and should be respected if they withdraw of their own accord,” Ross said.
Similarly, the Oregon Humane Society’s Training and Behavior team believe that pets should be prepared ahead for the changes in their routine post-lockdown, and shares some tips on what action to take now:
- Try to keep a very similar daily routine now as how it will be when you go back to work and the kids go to school, so your pet’s life isn’t radically changed again.
- If your pet normally spends time contained somewhere during the day, then try to have him go in there at that same time every day now (even if you are home).
- Be aware that taking up running with your dog at this time is a great stress reliever, but try to keep this up when you go back to work.
- If you have temporarily changed a room at home into an office, is this room available to your pets now and after. If they won’t be allowed in there when you go back to the office, then don’t let them in there now.
- Keep in mind that there are things we should not be teaching our pets, even though they may seem safe right now. For example, don’t let your pets run out into the street just because there isn’t much traffic right now.
When you go back to work / kids go back to school:
- Get the whole family involved in before and after-school playtime.
- Give your pets fun things to do when you are gone, like puzzle toys and kongs stuffed with treats, new enrichment items for their habitats etc.
- Consider taking your pet back to school, too – enroll your pet in a training class or teach them a new trick each week to open up their vocabulary.
- Consider a dog walker, especially if you have been enjoying long walks daily and can see the benefits in your dog’s health (both mental and physical) and want to keep that up.