“The best time ever “, said every dog and cat during Lockdown. The extra time you have spent with your dog or cat has really reinforced your beautiful bond. And we have benefited from their company just as much as they have with ours. We’ve enjoyed their ever present company, they’ve brought us joy every day and they have got us through this isolation supporting our mental health. But things change. When life returns to normal, how to do manage the inevitable separation? Dogs will be affected far more than cats. This full time companionship is every dog’s dream. But if you have a dog that is even a little bit anxious at the best of times, or insecure, or fearful the new separation can bring on more obvious behavioural issues. For example separation anxiety can become a problem. Some dogs will bark or cry when left alone; they might lick and chew excessively; others will demolish the back door or a sofa, and others will urinate inside or drool everywhere, tremble or pace. Some dogs on the other hand will curl up into a ball of depression and misery when you’re gone. Cats tend to cope more easily because they have their own daily routine and structure. While they loved the additional attention of their humans during Lockdown, getting them used to being on their own again is much easier than with dogs. Still, they will also benefit from a graduated return to solitary life. Here are a few tips to help you help your pets: Graduated change Over a weekend , practice leaving your pet behind. Step 1 Start with preparing to go out, get your keys , a jacket, a bag. Animals are smart at associating these leaving rituals with your absence. Instead, don’t leave the house. Do this a few times. Don’t make a fuss of your dog or try to reassure them. The plan is for them to observe that you look like you’re going out, but you don’t leave. Step 2 leave the house for a few times without your dog. Leave for a few minutes come back and repeat and build up to 15 minutes, then half an hour. Structured , short periods of separation are important. It could also mean you go into the garden and leave your dog indoors. Ask them to stay in their bed while you go into another room. When you come back in through the door, take care not to provide any eye contact or attention, pats, cuddles etc, until your dog has settled and is calm. You are training them to be OK at home by themselves. If you create excitement when you come back in, the heightened emotional feelings they experience can actually increase anxiety. So keep your voice low, be calm and relaxed, and those cues will help them. Ignore your pet What? Ignoring your pet and not giving attention can actually help your pet become more self-reliant. If your dog is constantly wanting your attention and making a fuss about it, now is the time to play it cool. No eye contact, no talking about it, just you being calm, breathing slowly, and going about whatever it is you are doing. When your pet has calmed down, and is quiet, that’s when you can give the cue, “Good Girl”. Praise her for her calm behaviour, this is her reward . It’s healthy to ignore pets especially when they are demanding because this will prepare them for being on their own. Rest and Play Try to get into a routine of play time and rest time. Plan this around your new schedule, before the change. For example an early morning walk, breakfast then a rest for your dog. Try and get the schedule in line with your anticipated return to normal life, so that the routine continues. Consider a crate for rest time, somewhere your dog feels safe and secure, his little cave. It could be a blanket over a chair or a proper crate. This will remind him there is a place that’s safe for him to be chilled and calm. Self entertainment Consider some activities to create for your dog and cat while you are away. There is specific cat and dog music that can soothe them and keep them focused, rather than alert for noises in the street. Having the TV on can also be a distraction. Choose a channel without adult themes of violence so childrens’ programming is ideal, or perhaps animal planet!. A smear of organic peanut butter inside a Kong toy or similar can distract a dog and keep him busy for a while. Hide a favourite couple of toys around the house, under a blanket, behind a chair and ask them to “go find”. For your cat try a couple of cardboard boxes to hide in, sleep in and chew. A paper bag with the handles removed is a cat’s joy. Allow your dog or cat to entertain themselves so they can be more self-reliant. Consider a pet sitter to keep your dog company if need be or Doggy Day Care. Essential oils. Lavender and chamomile essential oils can help reduce stress in dogs. Make sure your home is well ventilated and utilise just 1 or 2 drops of oils in a vaporiser. Try this out in preparation for a return to work and see how your dog or cat responds. It doesn’t need to be on all the time. And some animals really like oils, others will take themselves away, so do be observant. Short exposures to the oils can help them settle and calm. Veterinary help If your dog is very stressed with the change and you are dreading it, book in with your vet. They may be able to assist with a range of advice and supports, such as medications, herbs, behavioural enrichment toys, sprays and diffusers that can help calm and reduce the anxiety. Your vet is best placed to give you specific advice, they might also refer you to an animal behaviourist. And remember Broadreach Nature have teamed up with PawSquad to offer our customers free access to Veterinary Advice 24/7 . Find out more here.