Coronavirus caught us unawares. Pandemics usually do despite being, history shows us, quite regular events. The human cost has been shocking. In Britain alone, the official death toll from Covid-19 in the early days of August stood at over 46,000.
But as we slowly emerge from state-mandated lockdown and return to work, spare a thought for our furry friends.
Coronavirus has been a curious experience for dogs. On the one hand they’ve been, apart from the requisite twice-a-day constitutional, stuck indoors with us. In the early days of lockdown, we’d don our facemasks, amble around the block until Fido did his business, and then six-leg it home.
Dogs are both creatures of habit and quick on the uptake. To many if not most of them, it has been a magical few months.
Suddenly, the daily commute disappeared, and we were at home 24/7. That meant more playtime, nap-time, lap-time. As coronavirus raged, all dogs saw and knew was that a) we were with them all the time, and b) all was right and good in the world.
But assuming the UK and other countries aren’t forced to retreat into a second, more nuanced lockdown, all of that happy doggy domesticity is set to come to an end.
The transition is likely to be painful and wrenching - but it is a problem that must and can be addressed now.
When Dudley & Co spoke on the phone with author, animal rights campaigner and TV supervet Marc Abraham, he pointed to three challenges all dog owners will face as Britons everywhere rejoin the working week.
“The main concern post-lockdown for dogs is separation anxiety,” he says. “You’ve been around all day long, and suddenly you are going back to work. This will be a massive problem.”
Like us, dogs are social animals that love having their pack around. They give a lot, don’t expect much in return, and deeply miss our company and energy. When we go for the day, a little bit of them goes too.
There are solutions. You can start to prepare your dog for the stress of separation now. That can be achieved simply by going into a different room, shutting the door, and monitoring your dog via a mobile phone or Webcam.
It doesn’t have to be more than five minutes. The next day make the rupture last ten minutes, then twenty, then half-an-hour. “Increase the time period until they can cope on their own,” says Marc the vet. “That way you are setting yourself up to succeed, rather than your dog being a total mess when you go.”
Handy tips include leaving plenty of his favourite toys lying around, or leaving on the TV or radio. When Dudley (he of Dudley & Co fame) was a puppy, he calmed down if left alone for a short while in the company of Classic FM.
A few dabs of the right kind of elixir on the nape of your dog’s neck can help. Good options here are Calming Care by Pet Wellbeing, and Rescue Remedy Pet Drops by Fleurs de Bach. For his part, Dudley informs us he rather likes Vitality Extracts’ Peaceful Pup roll-on, which has the benefit of being a bit cheaper.
Remember that dogs are creatures of habit. They can handle you not being there – so long as they know you’ll come back. But planning is essential.
The other key challenge is behavioural, and it applies in particular to puppies. Many people in Britain took the chance to get a new puppy in the early months of this year, before coronavirus hit.
A dog born in, say, December has spent most of its formative existence in lockdown. The first 16 weeks of a dog’s life is an intense period of development during which habits form and character – the nature of the adult dog inside – begins to emerge.
Post-lockdown, some dogs will adapt well to the new normal, but many will not.
Marc the vet led a ten-year campaign that resulted in the UK government passing ‘Lucy’s Law’ in June 2019 – legislation that bans the third-party commercial trade in puppies and kittens. He says it is impossible to predict how an individual dog will react when exposed to new people, still less to other dogs, especially if they’ve spent most of their early life cooped up at home.
“Most young dogs will have never met a stranger - so will we have a generation of puppies who are nervous around new people, or show aggression,” he wonders. How will young dogs react to being in parks or on busy pavements, still less the sound of passing traffic. Will they play it cool – or freak out?
There are always solutions. Technology, the great social enabler and educator of our age, grants us access to some of the best dog trainers and behaviourists in the world.
Two great examples in Britain are Adolescent Dogs (www.adolescentdogs.com), a family-owned dog training company run by Jenny Trigg and Mike Newland; and Pawfect Dogsense (www.pawfectdogsense.com), founded by Hannah Molloy, an animal behaviour expert who appears on Channel 4’s Puppy School.
Both run online courses that can help you get your pup ready for life in the real world.
As it stands, the lifting of lockdown is just days away. Many of us will flee happily back to our jobs; others will go more grudgingly.
Our furry friends won’t want us to go. Some will handle the sudden separation well. Many will not – and more than a few will be a real mess when the front door shuts, the house goes quiet, and pup-pup is left all alone with his doggy thoughts. That day will come, and soon – you can and should begin to prepare for it now.