How to help your Spaniel puppy when we are all out of the dog house?

March 26, 2021
Spaniel dog

As we wait for lockdown to lift, with glimmers of bars reopening, hair salons taking bookings (thank goodness!) and the world coming back to ‘normality’ from the 12th April, you might be wondering how will my Spaniel adjust to normal life?

How will they cope when I’m not in the house 24/7?

Your dog has been at home with you for at least a full year now, and they are bound to be thinking that this is their ‘normal’. They will be used to your zoom calls, how many cups of coffee you have in a day… how many glasses of wine you have at night and they will be accustomed to the new strange routine that you have found yourself in.

With Spaniel puppies who have never known any different than you being at home, it will be an even bigger shock for them when you finally leave the house to go somewhere other than your local supermarket.

So, how can you help?

It’s important to stay patient and calm, as with all dog training. If you feel your puppy will struggle being left make plans for them to go to a friends, or to a good dog walker/doggy daycare while you teach them to feel happy left alone.

Be prepared for separation anxiety or stress to occur. After all your puppy loves you so of course they are going to feel strange when you start to be out of the house much more. We are likely going to initially feel strange when we can leave the house more to!

In the past 12 months since January last year the Kennel Club has seen a 120% rise in the amount of people searching on its website for dog training, behaviour advice and resources. You can more about read my puppy advice here in the Leamington Courrier, where I talk about the increase in puppies being bought through lockdown.

If you’re feeling the pressure of being a stay at home pet parent, and experiencing some behaviour from your dog that you’re not used to, you’re not alone.

Without the added stress of a lockdown separation anxiety is common unfortunately. There is still some terrible advice given out to new puppy owners to help prevent seperation anxiety such as leave your puppy to cry, do not do this, this will not prevent it, in some cases this can cause Seperation anxiety to develop.

Studies have shown that leaving puppies to cry can actually increase the chance of separation anxiety and separation related problems when they are older, ironically usually the very thing people are trying to prevent from occurring. I explain this more in my previous blog post.

As much as our dogs love to be around us, it’s incredibly important that they have time to themselves also, throughout lockdown I have asked all my clients whose dogs are happy already being left to ensure they still on a daily basis leave their dog, even if that is sitting outside in the car to check their emails! And also just because you’re at home 24/7 it does not mean you need to give your puppy 24/7 attention and cuddles.

I know as a Spaniel mum, that my boys would happily spend their day wrapped around my neck as some sort of strange Spaniel scarf if I let them! But really that’s not healthy for either of us, so I have had to make a real effort throughout lockdown to ensure they still have some time alone. Ensuring that just because I am at home working, I am not always working in the same room as them.

Whilst lockdown has meant that we have had a chance to deepen our bond with our dogs, when you return back to work or a busier life outside of the home, your dog may be at risk of developing distress from separation.

As we pet parents know, dogs can’t speak and tell us how they feel… if only they could! My job would be a lot easier! So their way of communicating their feelings can be through an array of different types of behaviours.

With distress from separation, this could cause your dog or puppy to feel very anxious when they are away from you. They may show signs through barking, trying to scratch or bite at doors or windows, trying to get out of the room or house themselves.

Or they may chew or bite themself in a distressed way or even urinate on the floor. Other signs include not having an appetite or trying to be around you all the time.

So what can you do?

Make the front door incredibly boring. Think about it the front door is where a lot of exciting things happen, walks happen, deliveries happen, if you’re anything like me during this lockdown takeaways happen… with your dogs sense of smell being so high, scientists predict that a dog’s sense of smell is somewhere between 10,000 to 100,000 time more acute than ours can you imagine how good that pizza smells to them?!

So with the front door walk towards it, walk away again, walk towards it touch the door walk away sit back down, walk towards it, press the handle down sit back down, walk towards it open the door, close it sit back down. Until you almost see your dog look at you and yawn. Keep practising this and you will see your dog become less interested in what’s going on out there, and more interested in their toys or just catching some Zzz’s.

If your Spaniel doesn’t have an off switch and you struggle to get down time or any time away from them in the house, you could try to teach them a settle exercise:

For this:

  • Lure them into a down
  • Feed them between their legs when they’re in a down
  • If they get up at any point the food stops, give them 20 seconds or so to think about it, if they don’t go into a down, ask them to go back into one and restart feeding them.
  • As they get better at this pause for a few seconds before feeding them
  • Aim to do this 3 – 4 times a day for a couple of minutes at a time
  • When you finish the exercise throw the treat away and say finished
  • Work on incorporating this into your daily life, so if you’re sitting down to have a cup of tea or using the computer use this as an opportunity to do this exercise.

You could also try the flitting game to help them feel more confident in being alone and give them independence:

  • When your pup settles, walk to another room and allow them to follow you.
  • If they do ignore them and just get on with some jobs and act as normal. 
  • As soon as they lie down/settle again, move to a different room and repeat. 
  • When they start pausing and not following you pop back into the room they are in and back out again. 
  • Intermittently you can also give them a chew/Kong/licky mat when you do this. 

Our aim is – following you is really boring – it also introduces – you going out of their sight = nothing bad happens.

With Spaniels and Spaniel mix breeds it’s also really important to remember that no matter how many exciting walks or games of ball you play with them they are likely to still have tons of energy!

Trust me, I’ve been there with my legs aching from walks, my arm dead from throwing the ball and my Spaniel still doing laps around the living room when we get home.

The most important thing with Spaniels to help them calm the hell down is to let them use their all important Spaniel nose. For example when you’re on walks you could throw treats on the ground for them to sniff and find, or even hide some treats around the house and let their nose do the work! This also teaches them that good things happen when they go and search for treats away from you in another room. I share more secrets in helping your Spaniel calm the hell down in my e-book.

Although we all want to be really exciting for our Spaniel and be the source of all the fun things, we also have to sometimes be boring, We do not want to teach them we are the provider of 24/7 entertainment otherwise they will expect 24/7 entertainment.

And of course if you’re really struggling I would advise to speak to a pet professional who can help give you tailored advice for you and your Spaniel. Working with a breed specific trainer, such as myself can mean that you get a really friendly and direct approach to your dog’s breed. Investing in training now could save you a fortune on new furniture bills in the future! And it is far far easier to work on this while your dog is a puppy than several years down the line when the behaviour has become more ingrained.

Spaniels are bred to be highly sociable and want to be with us, but we do have to teach them that they can also be happy by themselves. 

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By Hannah Antrobus

Hannah is a spaniel specialist dog trainer for spaniels and spaniel crosses. Her catchment area is Warwickshire but she offers video sessions and works with clients nationally and internationally so don’t hesitate to get in touch from wherever you are in the world!

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