Published: 06:00, 24 April 2021
Dog owners should dress up in work clothes and leave pets to play on their own as they prepare for post-lockdown life.
That's the advice from pet charity Blue Cross, which is warning people not to overlook the impact of Covid restrictions being eased on our furry companions.
There is no time like the present to start training for 'new' routines as our day-to-day lives start to return to something approaching 'normal'.
Lockdown has seen a huge surge in pet ownership and puppies, in particular, need to learn how to behave in bustling parks and also have to be taught how to spend more time alone, should people be returning to workplaces.
Ryan Neile, Blue Cross head pet behaviourist, said: "We should be proactive in making plans now and not delaying.
"Go to a qualified expert - such as the Animal Behaviour and Training Council - for advice if you're concerned about anything in relation to your pet's behaviour and start building a plan."
But what quick advice can you put into action right now? Consider these three tips:
Make alone time fun
Owners going away all day can be new and scary which can lead to separation anxiety, especially in new dogs who aren't used to being alone.
As it's not always possible to get a neighbour to pop round to keep your dog company, one way to reduce their anxiety is to gradually ease alone time into the dog's daily life and make it fun.
Ryan said: "We would recommend people start giving their pets experiences of being by themselves.
"That might start by helping them to cope with being in another room so they're just building up experience of not always being on somebody's lap or directly in somebody's company.
"That can be done really constructively by using positive things and rewards.
"Let's say I have a free evening, rather than spend the whole evening with my dog on my lap, what I might do is get something like a stair gate that will block one room from another, fill a treat toy and leave my dog playing with it alone.
"I'm giving them an activity to engage in so they learn being by themselves is actually quite rewarding and it's not for them to be worried or frightened of.
"Also try, when you go out for a walk, not taking them with you."
Dress up in your busiest clothes
We can't tell dogs that we're going to work. So, instead, dog owners can rely on their canine's intelligence to let them know what the plan is for the day.
Ryan said: "Dogs are really switched on and very clever. They're contextual learners.
"What they'll notice is if you're wearing lounge-wear, like a lot of us in lockdown, these are the clothes that we wear that indicate 'I'm not going out, I've got no plans all day'.
"The moment I put on clothes like a shirt, they will then recognise these are the clothes I use when I go out and their expectations of what their day may be will start to change.
"A good thing to do on the lead up to going back to the new normal is to put on the clothes you would put on when you're going out to work at about that time very pointedly.
"So do this when you're going out just so you're bringing back in those clues which will let your pet know what's happening next."
Be the most interesting thing at the park
Imagine going from walks through virtually empty parks every day to suddenly being surrounded by picnics, families playing, spring-time animals to hunt and many more fellow dogs than before.
All of this may make your dog very excited and difficult to control when going for a stroll in the park.
While many owners may punish their dogs for trying to take a bite out of someone's lunch or interrupting a family game of rounders - Ryan suggests a different, more positive tact.
The behaviourist said: "Dogs are our responsibility. We should be raising dogs to be safe within society and they should be under control at all times.
"The way that we can achieve that is to make you the most fun and most interesting thing down the park.
"There are distractions which may encourage your dog to go off and explore them. As trainers what we encourage owners to do is to be more rewarding so your dog - given the choice - will pick you.
"That's a relationship. So things like dog toys and food, these are all things that can really enhance that relationship.
"My dogs will always come to me regardless of what's going on around them, because I've taken the time to develop that foundation of training."