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Leaving your pet home alone after lockdown reading-time-icon 3 min read

One positive aspect of lockdown is that we’ve been able to spend more time at home with our furry friends.

Now that restrictions are easing, we’re going back to work and spending more time outside, it won’t be long before our pets are left on their own. 

It could be 30 minutes, it could several hours a day, but sadly, no matter the duration of your pet’s alone time, it may be a challenge for them - especially if your dog suffered from separation anxiety prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, or if they’re a puppy and haven’t yet been left alone.  

But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Calm and quiet time has its uses, after all, and with the right preventative measures in place, you can help your dog feel at ease when they’re left alone. Just follow our simple steps:

Introduce alone time early, and increase it gradually

Don’t start by just picking up your keys and driving off to work first thing tomorrow! Ease solitude into your dog’s normal routine. The sooner you start, the better. 

First off, choose an area where your dog will spend their time when you do leave the house. Aim for somewhere they’ll feel safe and comfortable, where they’ll be away from any potential hazards. You’ll want to pop their bed in this room too, plus a supply of clean, fresh water. 

Get a safety gate fitted if you can. That way, you can leave your dog in a room but they’ll still be able to see you. If you don’t have access to a safety gate, you could try using your dog’s crate.

Read more: Dog vaccinations: keeping your puppy happy and healthy.

Closing the gate

To make your dog feel even more comfortable in their new space, supply them with some goodies. Their favourite toys, plus a long-lasting treat will not only help them to view the room positively, it’ll also provide them with all important mental stimulation - which is key to helping your dog enjoy their own company, especially for longer periods of time. 

Once your dog is in the room or in their crate, close the gate as casually as you can. Stay where your furry friend can see you and only keep the gate closed for a small amount of time. Starting with just 10 seconds is a good idea - you can try 20 seconds next time, then 30 and so on. 

When it comes to opening the gate again, try to make as little fuss as possible. Don’t entice your dog out of their new hideout, let them leave in their own time - they might be enjoying it!

labrador eating treats lined up in a heart shape

Go somewhere your pet can’t see you

Once you’ve built up to over a minute and your dog is completely comfortable, your next step is to go somewhere they can’t see you. Once again, do this for tiny amounts of time, and increase gradually. 

This technique is especially useful for puppy separation, but will also come in handy for adult dogs who’ve got a little too used to their owner’s company.

When your dog is comfortable being alone in their room/crate/hideout without being able to see you, you can then practise leaving the house. 

If you’re worried about anxiety in dogs or your dog is prone to behavioural problems, you might want to install a camera so you can film your dog and see what they get up to while they’re alone. 

My dog was showing signs of separation anxiety before lockdown - should I be extra careful?

Yes. If your dog suffers separation anxiety, even during short periods of solitude, or if you’re concerned about their behaviour, it’s best to contact your vet. They’ll recommend a treatment based on your dog’s breed, age and individual needs. In some cases, your vet may recommend a qualified canine behaviourist.

Read more on dog separation anxiety training. 

Preventing puppy separation anxiety

The steps listed above should work fine for preventing separation anxiety in puppies. Make use of your puppy’s crate; if you can get them to associate their crate as a place of refuge, where they can play with their toys and enjoy delicious treats, and NEVER a form of punishment, you’ll be at a huge advantage. 

If you’re concerned about separation anxiety in your puppy, contact your local vet. 

How long can a dog be left alone? 

This will depend on a lot of things, such as how long you left your dog alone prior to lockdown, and how well they cope in their own company, not to mention your dog’s breed, age and individual needs. 

Treat leaving your pet home after lockdown like you’d treat teaching them a new trick - practise makes perfect. It’s important to take small steps, to always be patient and to avoid putting your dog in a situation where they feel uncomfortable. 

For more help and advice, have a chat with your vet. Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page, or speak to a vet online using Online Vets.

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