Life After Lockdown our top tips We conducted research to find out how lockdown has impacted the relationship we have with our dogs and found almost halfof UK dog owners have been with their canine companions round-the-clock since the start of lockdown. This has no doubt strengthened the bond with our beloved dogs; it’s been a great time to nourish relationships with our four-legged friends and enjoy more relaxed walks. While dogs have truly proven to be man’s best friend during this time, with 61% of owners claiming to have forged happier and deeper connections with their four-legged friend since March, the focus now needs to be on a positive transition into life after lockdown and the best way to achieve this is to start preparations now. We found that 29% of owners have seen their dog become more needy since the start of the pandemic, with 22% reporting an increase in barking, and 27% admitting concerns about having less time for walkies and quality time once they return to work. Dog walking during lockdown emerged from the survey as a powerful tool for mindfulness with 48% of owners now enjoying longer, more fulfilling dog walks compared to their previous routines. 46% have increased training for smarter and more obedient dogs, again supporting happier dog walks – and those polled had formed closer family bonds overall owing to greater human-canine interaction. The benefits of mindful downtime, interacting with nature, and more nourishing relationships with dogs were cited among the silver linings of prescribed time at home. 57% of dog owners cite their canine companion as a best friend, with 88% saying their dog supports their happiness. We’ve joined up with certified animal behaviourist, Caroline Wilkinson, to give your our top 10 tips for a pawsitive transition after the lockdown eases. Ease into New Routines Slowly Establishing a routine has been documented to provide us, humans, with many benefits, including better rest; improved eating; reduced stress; and an effective use of time. Our dogs can flourish with routine too - or at least some key cornerstones of predictable mealtimes and bedtime routines. As routines were thrown out the window pretty much overnight at the start of lockdown, it’s understandable that we’ve all been feeling so unsettled and for many, sleep has been suffering. As we start to move back towards our previous routine, try to make changes gradually - so you’re not overwhelming yourself or your dog. If you’re able to stagger family members returning to work, school or Uni - so your dog doesn’t go from all to nothing overnight - this will help reduce the chances that they panic when left alone. Build Fitness Up Slowly All of us - both humans and dogs - might be a little less fit than we were a few weeks ago. Don’t rush back to multiple long walks a day - build up your fitness slowly. We don’t want to risk any injuries! Playing games at home, alongside comfortable walking time, is a good way to keep your dogs’ bodies moving and their minds active! Go on Adventures! As the weeks go on, try not to let the daily dog walk go back onto the “chore list”. In recent times, our daily dog walk has become the highlight of many people’s days. The opportunity to go out, get fresh air, and discover local walks you may not have before. Keep the focus on it being a highlight of your day. Explore more local walks or venture a sensible distance to re-visit some of your old favourites. Walking with our dogs brings so many benefits - reduced blood pressure, increased fitness, bonding time with your dog (a boost of the “love hormone”, oxytocin, for both of you), and potential for social interactions at a sensible distance. Take Your Training Outside Make sure you’re putting in daily training on focus exercises with your dog. Ensure the process of returning to you when called is fun! With lockdown restricting a lot of off-lead walking time with our dogs, their recall might be a little bit rusty! If you’re not sure if your dog will respond to you, keep everyone safe by using a long training lead while you continue your recall practice. Reduce the Chance of Social Overwhelm As you’re building up your walks with your dogs, be mindful of not only the physical strain on their bodies but also the mental toll it might take settling back into things. For young puppies, or anxious older dogs, lockdown restrictions have probably reduced the amount of exposure they’ve had to the world. You may find you’re seeing more people on your walks, that roads are busier, and there’s loud noises from construction sites. This can all be quite stressful for many dogs. If you need to, change the route you take to include calmer spaces, or reduce the amount of time you’re out and about. Build a Good Relationship with Your Pet Carer If you aren’t back in work as yet, now is the time to get back in touch with any pet care providers you normally use - dog sitters or walkers - and re-build your communication with them. If government guidance allows it, think about booking in the occasional walk for your dog, so they are eased back into spending time with someone else (other than their household). Keep Your Dog’s Brain Engaged Try to leave a visual cue out to remind yourself to spend 5-10 minutes a day completely focused on your dog. Many owners have been spending more time training their dogs at home or providing them with enrichment opportunities. When work-life ramps up it can be easy to let this slip. A bag of treats left by the kettle could be a good visual prompt each time you make a warm drink, so you’re completely focused on your dog. Mental stimulation not only provides your dog with the feel-good factor, but it also keeps your bond strong, tires them out more than physical exercise alone will and can help in the reduction of challenging behaviours such as digging or barking. Seek Help if You Need It If you’re already seeing signs that your dog has become hyper-attached and are distressed when you leave the room, speak to a force-free canine behaviourist to get support. A large number of owners are concerned about their dog’s ability to cope alone as they begin to return to work. A step-by-step behavioural modification plan is the best way to build up your dog’s confidence and ease your concerns. Be Kind to Yourself Do one thing every day that you love! Do one thing every day that your dog loves! We’re in such unsettled times and need to prioritise both our own mental health as well as that of our dogs. You might be worried about everyone around you, including your dog, but make sure you take some time for you. Try to remove the pressure to get everything right. If on a certain day, you just don’t feel like going out into the world (remember we’ve not been used to it either), then take a rest day with your dog - ditch the walk for a little training time, some food finds, a filled food toy, and cuddles. You’ll both feel better for it. Enjoy Human-Only Outdoor Time Taking some human-only exercise - whether it be a run, cycle or walk - is a nice way to give your dogs some calm, solo time at home. It’s so important that we think about gradually getting our dogs used to more time spent alone. It also allows you time to focus on your own mental and physical wellbeing. While out for your exercise, think about focusing on your breathing - counting your breaths in and out - really being present in the moment. If your dog has been a little needier recently, this is a great opportunity for some “me time” without your dog. For further information on separation anxiety, read our guest blog from Caroline here.