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Don't spoil your dog during self-isolation, says scientist

As we work from home we’re realising just how excellent our pets are as colleagues.

They give you cuddles when you’re stressed and just having them nearby is soothing.

But as you spend lots of extra time with your cats and dogs, remember that you will eventually have to go back to work once the COVID-19 pandemic dies down.

So in the meantime, don’t spoil them too much.

A behavioural scientist has warned dog owners should not shower their pets with attention during self-isolation because it’ll make the transition when you go back to work too hard.

Being at home for an extended amount of time could give dogs a false sense of security, putting them at greater risk of separation anxiety when owners eventually return to normal working life.

Professor Daniel Mills, from the University of Lincoln, says people should focus on spending quality time with pets rather than giving them too much fuss.

‘There is certainly some data and anecdote from clinicians that if people are off work for a prolonged period, for example, if they break their leg and have to stay at home, then when they return to work, actually dogs may be at greater risk,’ he said.

‘Perhaps given that a lot of us are going to be shut up at home with our dogs, here is a great opportunity actually for you to spend more quality time with your dog, but not to overly indulge your dog.

‘Instead of watching Facebook and the news, use the time to improve your dog’s confidence.’

How to spend quality time with your dog in self-isolation:

Blue Cross has a number of useful suggestions for things you can do with your dog in indoor spaces.

These include games such as:

Find it:

  • Show your dog that you have a piece of food/treat in your hand
  • Say ‘find it!’ and then throw the piece of food/treat across the floor
  • When your dog finds the piece of food, say a clear ‘yes!’ so they know they’ve followed through on the action that you wanted from them

Fun with food

  • Instead of using your dog’s normal food bowl, think about using a Kong, food puzzle or activity ball to keep them entertained
  • Use the ‘find it!’ game to hide all of their breakfast/dinner so they play as they eat


You can play fetch inside the home with soft toys that don’t bounce (to save your TV), ensuring that you do this on a carpeted floor to avoid your dog slipping when they’re running after the toy.

A new study into separation anxiety among dogs suggests the condition should be seen as a symptom of underlying frustrations rather than a diagnosis.

The research identifies four key forms of distress that can lead to separation anxiety in canines.

These include a focus on getting away from something in the house, wanting to get to something outside, reacting to external noises or events, and a form of boredom.

More than 2,700 dogs representing over 100 breeds were used in the study.

‘Labelling the problem of the dog who is being destructive, urinating or defecating indoors or vocalising when left alone as separation anxiety is not very helpful,’ Professor Mills added.

‘It is the start of the diagnostic process, not the end. Our new research suggests that frustration in its various forms is very much at the heart of the problem and we need to understand this variety if we hope to offer better treatments for dogs.’

Researchers, who published the study in the academic journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, hope to investigate in more detail the influence the dog-owner relationship has on problem behaviours triggered by separation.

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