The truth behind responsible dog ownership and how to help pets overcome anxiety

Tips on how to deal with separation anxiety and what to consider before owning a pet

·5-min read
Dogs under the care of The Oasis Singapore (Photos: The Oasis Singapore)
Dogs under the care of The Oasis Singapore (Photos: The Oasis Singapore)

SINGAPORE - Just like humans, dogs can suffer from anxiety too. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, our furry companions may need some extra care to help them adjust to social situations again.

Yahoo Southeast Asia recently spoke with Mark Woo, centre manager of The Oasis, Singapore's largest pet playground, to get some tips on how to help pets deal with COVID separation and social anxiety and on being a responsible pet owner.

Pandemic dogs and social etiquette training

Woo currently owns four Shetland Sheepdogs aged from three to nine, noticed that his youngest dog, Luna, who was born during the pandemic lockdown in Melbourne, was skittish and unsure around new people.

"For a very important period of her young life, all she saw were the same humans and dogs within the same place. When she started to get exposed to new things, it came almost like a culture shock".

Socialisation and conditioning are critical stages for puppies to go through. And it's important to train dogs to behave appropriately outdoors and around other dogs, in a multi-racial setting with high population density like Singapore, by learning acceptable and non-acceptable social cues.

To help Luna acclimatise back to society, Woo took her to new places and exposed her to new activities, always ensuring the activities ended on a positive note. In doing so, Luna learned that new environments are not as scary as she thinks.

Dogs in halloween costume (left) and dogs swimming in hydro pool (Photos: The Oasis Singapore)
Dogs in halloween costume (left) and dogs swimming in hydro pool (Photos: The Oasis Singapore)

As pack creatures, dogs need to mingle with their own kind. Things can turn really stressful when dogs are unsure of what to do in certain situations. The may rely on their natural instincts or do things alone.

"The need for training is kind of like why parents send their kids to school. Not going through training sometimes creates problems because your dog is going to pick up bad habits," Woo said.

How to spot separation anxiety and ways to ease it

Separation anxiety is another common issue for dogs, especially those emerging from pandemic lockdowns. As pet owners return to work and social activities, dogs may feel anxious and scared to be left alone, which can result in excessive barking and destruction of furniture and household items.

"Dogs can be anxious and scared to be alone. The pent up energy may come out in the form of barking which creates nuisance for neighbours. Owners may also sometimes come home to find their beds, clothings and shoes destroyed".

A Border Collie puppy beside a green sofa after pulling the stuffing out of some cushions
A Border Collie puppy after pulling the stuffing out of some cushions (Photo: Getty Images)

Woo recommends easing pets into getting comfortable with being alone by starting with with short periods and gradually increasing the time away. Giving dogs treats or toys could serve as fun distraction and reassure them that their owners will return.

"Start with five or ten minutes. Then find something to occupy your dogs with like treats or toys so that the dogs feel that you're always coming back even when you leave."

Ready to be a responsible pet owner?

But owning a pet is more than just providing them with food and shelter. Woo emphasises that being a responsible pet owner means helping your dog become a happy and valued member of the family.

"Most people think getting a pet is very easy, but it goes beyond that."

Exercise is a great way to bond with your pet and improve the health of both pet owner and dog.

"I think we always need to remember that if the caretaker is unhealthy and spends so much energy on the dogs, you are not going to be in the right state of physical wellbeing to take care of a dog."

Pet owners spending time with their dogs by the pool (Photos: The Oasis Singapore)
Pet owners spending time with their dogs by the pool (Photos: The Oasis Singapore)

Woo notes the similarities between pet ownership and caring for kids, pointing out the rising trend of young couples owning dogs as a stepping stone in their relationship.

The difference is that a kid will grow up and learn to work and support themselves, but not so for pets who will depend on you for the rest of their lives for many of their basic needs.

Woo further explains that the commitment and responsibility expected of a pet owner plays a huge factor in rising pet abandonment cases in Singapore.

"A lot of people jump into pet ownership without understanding it is a full package. It's not just all fun and cuddles. It requires a lot of effort, time and money," claims Woo.

He advises that before deciding to be a pet owner, one should question if you are ready to make lifestyle changes.

Advice for new pet owners

Here are the top three tips from Woo for those who want to become a pet owner:

Firstly, do your research. Find out about the breed you are interested in, what the requirements are to care for them and whether they suit your lifestyle.

Secondly, be mindful of their diet. What pets eat have an impact on their health. This can reduce the chances of incurring hefty bills from visits to the vet.

Thirdly, evaluate how you can fulfil the needs of your pet and how they can coexist in your household and family.

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to owning a pet. Be sure to practice responsible pet ownership. Our furry friends deserve the best care for being man's best friend!

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