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How well will your dog cope with Christmas?

Helping your canine chum to learn how to settle in social settings or when spending time at home alone is super important

The Christmas period provides the perfect opportunity for lots of longed-for get-togethers with family and friends. This may mean that your canine chum has to get used to being in lots of different social settings – or spending a little time at home by themselves.

While some dogs take a change of scene in their stride, others can find it all rather nerve-wracking – particularly if they’ve got used to spending most of their time at home with you during lockdown.

Likewise, while some canines cope well with being left home alone for a few hours, others can suffer from separation anxiety, which is really upsetting for both dogs and their owners.

Rachel Casey, Director of Canine Behaviour and Research at Dogs Trust advises: “Whether you plan on bringing your dog with you when out socialising or you expect to leave them at home for a little while, this transition is likely to be difficult for them if they have been used to being at home with you for so long during lockdown.”


If lockdown has knocked your canine’s chum’s confidence for six, what can you do to help them be less fearful around other dogs so that they can enjoy life to the full? >> 


Learning to settle actually has a whole host of benefits for your canine companion. Rehoming charity Battersea reveals: “Giving time for your dog to settle and relax allows glutamate, which is linked with brain development, cognition, learning and memory, to rise. It also releases dopamine, which makes them feel good.”

From teaching your dog to ‘settle’ in unfamiliar settings, to top tips to help your dog feel OK when they have to spend a little time on their own, we’ve lots of great advice from canine behaviour experts.


Training your dog to learn to settle

Dog Trust says: “For a happy family life, it’s important that dogs learn to relax and have time on their own. It’s especially important for them to do this when you’re busy at home – with guests, making dinner or cleaning, or outside with friends at the pub or a café. It’s hard for your dog to learn how to settle when there are distractions, so it’s best to begin practicing somewhere quiet.”

Importantly, the charity states: “The aim of this training is for dogs to ‘learn for themselves’ that lying next to you is the best thing to do.”

  1. START BY REWARDING RELAXED BEHAVIOURS

  • Sit quietly on a chair with your dog on a loose lead and a blanket or mat on the floor. Drop tiny bite-size treats to your dog as a reward for settling down on the blanket. Don’t say anything to your dog while doing this.
  • Gradually reward more relaxed behaviours. This will vary between dogs – some will automatically start lying down so you can quickly progress to rewarding your dog only for this behaviour.
  • Then move to reward specific signs of relaxing like sighing, weight shifting and head resting.
  • Some dogs will take longer and might struggle to stop pulling on the lead or staring at you. If this is the case with your dog, you’ll need to take things more slowly be rewarding behaviours such as standing quietly, disengaging from people or sniffing their blanket.
  • Always make sure your dog is having a good time when settling, whether enjoying their toys, chews, or simply dozing and snoozing.
  1. NEXT, INCREASE THE TIME YOUR DOG MUST BE SETTLED BEFORE YOUR REWARD THEM

  • When your dog is relaxed, start increasing the time they must be settled before you reward them. Gradually build up by a couple of seconds each time over multiple training sessions.
  • Once your dog starts to get the hang of it and is shifting their weight so they’re comfortable and relaxed, you can start practising with them off lead. You need your dog to learn that they can settle whether they’re on or off their lead – useful skills for lots of different situations.
  1. TAKE IT UP A LEVEL BY ADDING IN SOME DISTRACTIONS

  • Slowly start building up distractions by practising the ‘settle’ initially in familiar, quiet surroundings and then in increasingly busy areas, or ask a helper to create a distraction by walking past, progressing to more exciting activities like sweeping or skipping.
  • If your dog becomes unsettled or gets up, ignore them and wait until they settle again before rewarding them. If they won’t relax and settle, increase the distance from the distraction or make the distraction less interesting.
  • Once your dog has learnt the basic objective of being settled, try training in different locations with more distractions.

Remember, it’s about your dog learning what to do. Try to resist telling your dog what to do during training. The aim is for them to learn for themselves to be calm and to relax. This is a form of learning that requires your dog to learn to settle without needing to be asked.

WATCH the Dog’s Trust teaching your dog to settle training video >>


Whatever the waggy-tailed trait that drives you up the wall, the fact is, your dog is not doing it to be naughty – he or she is simply exhibiting normal canine behaviours >> 


Training your dog to enjoy spending time alone

Battersea says: “Sometimes referred to as separation anxiety, some dogs can find being left on their own an overwhelming and stressful experience. When a dog is emotionally attached to someone and that person goes away, it can cause fear, frustration, and anxiety. It’s important to remember that each dog is an individual and will progress through training at different rates.”

Dogs Trust adds: “It’s normal for dogs to want to be with us, but ultimately you want them to learn to enjoy being by themselves and to not follow you around and rely on your attention. That way, they will be able to cope better when you do leave the house and they are alone.”


As you go about your daily activities, have you noticed your dog staring at you, following your every move? And have you ever wondered why your canine chum just can’t take his or her eyes off you? >>


As with all training, starting slowly and gradually building up and repeating each step will help your dog to learn how to cope on their own. And the more you do this before you actually need to leave the house, the easier it will be when you do.

START BY HELPING YOUR DOG TO LEARN TO FEEL HAPPY SPENDING TIME BY THEMSELF

  • Make sure they have a comfy bed or build them a doggy den.
  • Teach your dog to settle down calmly when you are busy, rather than giving them attention when they follow you around.
  • Use baby gates across doorways to introduce time apart, so your dog can still see and smell you and know that you’re nearby.
  • Leave them with a long-lasting treat or toy that releases dry dog food.
  • Slowly increase the time you leave them alone while you’re in the house.
  • Start to build up the time you leave the house for.
  • Factor some time apart into your daily routine.

Dogs Trust stresses that it’s important to build up time apart very gradually and associate it with something positive, such as a long-lasting treat. Monitor how your dog responds, and shorten the time left if they show any signs of anxiety.

NEXT, PREPARE YOUR DOG FOR BEING LEFT ALONE

  • Before you leave your dog alone, make sure they have been out for a long walk. This will give them a chance to burn off some energy, tire themselves out and go to the toilet. That way, they will hopefully be ready to settle down and sleep while you are out.
  • Make sure your dog has everything they need before you go out – access to water and their dog foodor a long-lasting treat.
  • Leave an old item of clothing that smells like you in their bed, which will help make them feel safe and relaxed. Leaving the TV or radio on may also help with this.
  • Don’t make a fuss when you leave or return – you don’t want to make you leaving and returning to the house a big deal for your dog. Make it as uneventful as possible and don’t make a big fuss of them.
  • Get everything ready, so you can leave quickly and calmly. You could also use a word or phrase (such as “see you later”) that helps to establish a routine.
  • Don’t tell your dog off. Dogs develop separation anxiety because they are worried. Telling them off or being angry when they behave in a way that you don’t want is likely to make things worse. Instead, focus on rewarding them when they remain calm and relaxed.
  • Don’t leave them on their own for too long. Dogs shouldn’t be left alone for more than four hours. If you do have to go out for longer, organise for someone to pop in.

WATCH the Dog’s Trust teaching your dog how to be alone training video >>


Something tasty for every dog

Every dog deserves a first-class dinner. Burgess Pet Care is a British, family-owned company and all our dog foods are made in our own factory in the heart of Yorkshire. We use premium ingredients to ensure excellent quality and superior taste to help keep your dog happy and healthy – from puppy, to adult and senior.

We’ve also developed foods to meet the specific nutritional needs of sporting and working dogsGreyhounds and Lurchers and dogs with sensitivities. And we’re very proud of our Paul O'Grady's 'No Nasties' dog food range, which comes in Hypoallergenic and Grain Free varieties.

All Burgess dog food is a complete food. This means, whatever variety you choose for your dog, it will contain all the nutrients they need in the correct balance. And, by signing up to Subscribe & Save, it’s easier than ever to give them the top quality, tasty, nutritious food they deserve, every single mealtime. Simply:

  1. Choose your pet’s favourite Burgess Sensitive dog food and click on the Subscribe & Save 10% option
  2. Decide how often you’d like your food delivered
  3. Head to the checkout and complete as normal – then sit back and relax, knowing that your order will be delivered straight to your door!

Is your dog a Burgess dog? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

CARE MORE Find out more about caring for your dog from Burgess, the pet experts. Training, nutrition, grooming and general care. It's all here >>


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