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Source: Auckland Council

Auckland Council’s Animal Management Manager Kerri Fergusson has spent the COVID-19 lockdown with her four-legged best friend but now it’s time to introduce space into the relationship.

Our dogs have likely had more attention and walks in the last seven weeks than they have had in their lives, but now the time has come to start introducing our furry friends to life in COVID-19 Alert Level 2.

With the move out of Level 3, dogs and owners are going to be separated. This may cause a lot of stress and anxiety so it’s important for owners to plan for this change.

My dog Miley, a six-year-old Jack Russell, will no doubt feel my absence when I return to the office.

Last year Miley suffered anxiety after we lost our 14-year-old Border Collie, who became unwell, leaving Miley at home all day by herself – without her “mum”. So, I am conscious it will again be similar when I go back to work.

Miley is a very sweet girl with a lot of energy. She loves to play, especially soccer, where she fetches a ball then returns and then kicks it to me. She absolutely loves going out in the car and being with us, we found using a harness in the car has calmed her down when going out.

To help ease Miley’s stress levels I ensure she is exercised daily. She gets nervous around people and other dogs when out walking so social distancing comes naturally for Miley – which has helped during COVID-19 times.

She is a very intelligent breed, so we also have “play time” in-between my at home work breaks.

I also leave the radio on if I am going out. For me this is George FM, however, Miley hasn’t indicated a preference yet.

She has a good routine and regular mealtimes and I never make a fuss when I am leaving the house. She really does know the difference between “going to work” and “potential for going for a walk”.

For example, in the mornings after breakfast she sees me getting my things ready to leave, she will see me to the landing but doesn’t come downstairs to the garage.

Any other time she likes to “take a chance” and will come down the stairs, but when I say “no” she moves back to still see me off, but understands she is not coming.

If, however she sees my gym gear on and me getting my walking shoes, she displays very excited behaviour of spinning and going to and from the stairs leading outside. She really knows the difference!

Separation anxiety can also be confusing for dogs and cause them to act out so it’s important to spot the signs. These can include; barking, destructive behaviour, vomiting, excessive licking, elimination, excessive greeting behaviour, depression, diarrhoea and constant pestering of the owner.

If your dog has a history of anxiety or barking, or maybe this has just started due to people being home all the time in lockdown, then preparation and a good routine will help.

Here are some tips:

  • Try to make the dog less dependent on human company
  • Avoid excitable departures and arrivals
  • Eliminate leaving clues (for example: actions the dog associates with your departure)
  • Introduce comfort clues (for example: things that help the dogs relax)
  • Have a regular routine
  • Anti-anxiety drugs or an anti-barking collar may also help in some situations.