The past few months have been challenging for us in many ways, from job instability, health worries and general anxiety. But if there's one group that has benifitted massively from the months of lockdown, it's our canine companions.
Where would we be without our beloved dogs these past few months? From greeting us at the door, snuggling up at night and keeping us occupied with their affable antics, they've minded us almost as much as we've minded them.
But with restrictions lifting, how do we help them get back to normal, with less time spent together? Samantha Rawson, champion dog trainer and expert, joined Kathryn Thomas on The Ryan Tubridy Show to share her tips.
When it comes to minimising a dog's separation anxiety, Rawson says "the first place to start for me is at the end, but also at the beginning".
"What I'm looking for is a dog that's quite happy in my company but while being ignored. So, a dog that can settle in a room with you, sleep on its bed, chew a chewy, chill out while you're busy working on the computer. When you walk around the house or go to go to the loo, it doesn't get upset."
She highlights the importance of having a "conversation" with your dog and structuring it the same way you would one with a friend. "Sure, look, I'll let you go now" might not have the same impact on a dog, but there are other ways to show them that chat time is over.
"If the dog is getting attention, when you're finished, you let the dog know that the interaction is over", she says. "I always talk to owners about social manners and say to people that, if you're on the phone you let people know that the conversation is coming to an end, you don't just hang up. Likewise with the dog."
If you simply walk off without "ending the conversation", the dog will demand more attention. Rawson says you can start with "visual signals".
"I'll say to a dog "that's enough", fold my arms, look away. You must break eye contact, look at the ceiling and completely and utterly blank the dog so the dog knows we're done."
While we love to see a wagging tail meeting us at the door, sometimes the constant cycle of leaving and arriving back home can cause more stress to your dog than joy.
"The dogs shouldn't have access to the area where you come and go out of the house because if the dog can see you leave, it's a bit of a daily heartbreak. Likewise, when you come back in and the dogs meet you in the hall, then you can't control that excitement. You'd almost be upset if the dog wasn't excited.
"As the owner, it's up to you to manage where your dogs are at that greeting and also departure", she says. She suggests putting your dog behind a solid door when leaving the house and coming back, as this helps cut down the separation anxiety.
As many dog owners will know, caring for a rescue dog brings with it its own set of joys and challenges, and taking one on shouldn't be a flippant decision. Some people fostered or adopted dogs during lockdown to keep them company, but may have little experience caring for them.
"Rescue dogs require a totally different approach than your puppy that you have had from eight weeks", Rawson says. They come out of shelter with separation anxiety because "they have lost their original home".
"They've already suffered a loss. If you get a dog from a rescue shelter, it's going to come with separation related issues. If you have a dog that you've had from a puppy, it's up to you to train that dog. You want it to be independent and you do that by giving it security and safety and occupying it when it's not with you by giving it a chewy.
"You've got to get your dog used to being ignored while you're in the room. As you walk out of the room, you don't allow the dog to follow you around the house", she says. This helps them get used to very short absences, like going to the loo or to the garage.
This will no doubt be a period of adjustment for everyone, but that includes your lovable, tail-wagging pooch, so try to be a little extra gentle with them these coming weeks.
For more tips from the expert, listen back to Kathryn's interview with Samantha at the link above.