Separation anxiety in English cocker spaniels / How to prevent separation anxiety when staying at home at coronavirus Covid19 Lockdown rules / Cooper, sable English cocker spaniel by Natalia Ashton (C) Perfect cocker spaniel pet blog and cocker spaniel book guide grooming, training, health, puppy

Separation anxiety as a side-effect of COVID19

For me, there is nothing better than self-isolating in a company of dogs. Spaniels, to be precise, for I adore them so. They are the light, the warmth, the soul and comfort. They know when I am down or happy, and do their ultimate best to be in the right place at the right time (besides, there’s always a chance of a biscuit!).

I know that many people feel exactly the same about their pups. I’ve heard so many say that they are having the time of their lives because it’s like a dream to be with their dogs 24/7.

And this is where I casually pop into your life to get you out of this reverie and unceremoniously bring you back to earth with a flashing lights that spell two words.

Separation Anxiety.

It has been one of my main concerns since the lockdown started. I knew that suddenly a lot of cockers will find themselves in a situation where they camp with their much loved family for many days and nights, finally living in what any cocker would refer to as “the perfect world”.

So if one day (and this day will eventually come) this world comes to an end, many dogs  will find themselves alone, without the company and attention they’ve been indulging in for weeks, if not months. For a dog who is naturally prone to separation anxiety, this will come as an unbearable life-changing blow… and potentially the starting point of a psychological condition that can be very difficult to resolve.

What is SA? The long explanation would be “a psychological syndrome” consisting of many symptoms with several potential psychological and physiological underlying causes, which are not always easy or straight forward to diagnose or treat. In short, it’s a panic attack. You know the one when your brain shuts down, you are struggling for breath, feel limp and the ground starts to spin? That’s the one. If you’ve ever experienced it you know what I am talking about (and for the sceptics – yes, I get them myself, the worst happening a few years ago at, wait for it, the tower inside the Sacre Coeur – so no dome panorama for me, thank you very much). The worst thing about SA in dogs is that it takes hours and days for the poor pooch to return to normal, with every new episode adding up to the mighty cocktail of emotions and hormones – not simply happening as a single occurrence.

You might have seen the symptoms already without even knowing what SA really is. They can develop gradually and take many forms, but most common include excessive barking, whining, howling, destructive behaviour (think ripped carpets, chewed shoes, furniture and skirting boards etc.), changes in toilet habits (the dog starts to eliminate indoors), self-mutilation by excessive licking, chewing or biting (typically paws or rear end) and signs of stress (salivation, pacing, heavy breathing, “blowing bubbles (when the cheeks move in and out), enlarged pupils, red eyes as if the dog hasn’t slept, changes in body posture and position of the ears, elevated pulse and heart beat). The dog exhibits these signs as soon as he senses that you are about to leave – and continues getting worse whilst alone.

By the time you return, he is a hyperventilating wreck because ultimately, he is attached to you so much that if you, as his point of love, care and safety, are not there, he is broken physically and emotionally. In most families this form of dog to person attachment is stronger than the other way around, that is why it can be hard for people to comprehend the seriousness of the problem unless they look at it from the dog’s perspective.

Naturally, I have my concerns and fears that dogs who have never experienced SA may develop SA in one form or another, when their families can resume their normal activities and return to work.

If you are one of them and dreading the moment of leaving your spaniel alone, here are a few things you can do now to prevent potential problems.

What is separation anxiety in dogs? How to prevent separation anxiety in english cocker spaniels? Mummy will be back soon cartoon by Off The Leash (C)

Stick to the routine 

Dogs love routines and schedules, especially the ones who are particularly sensitive and prone to SA and hyper-attachment. They know the time you get up, can read the signs for departure (putting on make up, or wearing high heels, or picking up a certain bag or set of keys) and remember your habits and even certain body language.

Try to mimic this to a degree. Put on mascara, wear different shoes, jacket, or pick up keys a few times a day as if there’s absolutely nothing special about it. Then walk around the house, sit down with a cup of tea or watch a movie. Repeat until your dog absolutely does not care about his mum waltzing around the house in her PJ’s yet the prettiest and most inappropriate footwear.

Spend some time apart

You can put on proper clothes, get outside and sit in a car with a book or a movie as if you went to work. You can stop the dog from following you to the toilet, sitting nearby when you are having a bath or taking out the bins.

If you work from home, shut the door to the room for an hour or two (the timing will depend on your dog’s behaviour because you must make sure that he is absolutely content and relaxed at all times!).

If you have a garden, dedicate some outside time to your plants – and leave the pooch at home.

Time these activities to imitate your regular “work away” schedule whenever possible.

Build up on separation time.

If your spaniel absolutely cannot be alone, build up the distance gradually. You can still do all of the above, but stop your dog from following you with a help of a free-standing barrier. This way the dog can see you, yet cannot follow you, but he knows you are there and it’s ok. Calmly praise him with words and a treat when you return even if it was a minute or two.

It is very important to vary the length of your departure when you first begin to part with your pup. This will help to avoid predictability of the routine and expectations. As you leave your dog, return within a few minutes, then (and only if he is definitely fine with not being with you) – 10 or 20 minutes, next time – come straight back within seconds, followed by a longer departure… If you notice any signs of stress in your dog, switch to a pleasant and fun activity that involves both you and the dog to help him relax.

Next – and only when he is calm, you can leave him with a stuffed Kong toy or a few bits of kibble scattered around the floor to be occupied and pleased with himself. However, when you do this, make sure that your spaniel knows that you leave and come back – don’t just sneak out!

You can even roll out the good old friend Furbo at this point. It’ll let you observe your cocker – and shoot out treats whenever necessary.

Stay calm!

Never ever make a big deal of any of the above activities. You don’t have to fuss when you leave the house. Act as if it’s nothing special, as if you simply walk from one room to another.

Do the same when you return – as tempting as it is to fall down to your knees and get covered in kisses – don’t. Quietly say a few words to your pooch, stroke him gently if he calmly sits down waiting for attention – and carry on.

The only exception to this rule is when your dog has already been accustomed to jumping up, doing “the wiggle bum” dance, cuddling with you, and kissing you as soon as you return. If you suddenly stop and change to someone indifferent, it will not only confuse the dog, but can make him anxious and stressed.

If you see any signs of stress in your dog just before you leave – do not get frustrated, raise your voice or punish him. Just think how you’d feel if you had a panic attack and people shouted at you instead of helping you to calm down.

Remember that dogs can smell our emotions and raise their stress hormone levels in response. If you are truly calm – they are likely to remain content, too.

If necessary break any of the above steps into smaller portions and steps measuring the “dose” carefully and always making sure that your dog is relaxed.


Don’t postpone this until the last moment. The sooner you start, the better chances you have to have everything back to normal, the old normal, just the way your dog remembers… 


Image credits: Coop photographed by me, Off the Leash via Facebook official page

A few little moments in a blend of days

I know I skipped a few weeks of isolation updates. Just didn’t feel like talking. The days, although mainly good days (because who am I to complain!), blended into a phase, a stretch of blurry captures that become barely recognisable and hardly meaningful after a while. It’s like a photography hiccup – even though the beautiful object is out there before you, it takes a skill to focus on it properly.

We are still here. Isolating. And I am thinking of starting walks as the situation seems to be improving somewhat. By that I mean that we have fewer people dying and fewer – getting sick, and we are at slightly lower risk of catching the virus.

Of course, it’s not brilliant. And it will take a long time to feel different. But I am so tired of being afraid all the time. So we are going to try and get out.

This morning I needed to pop out to post a few cards. It was early in the morning. Just me and the birds. I walked through the village that felt unfamiliar, same but different, very odd.

The birds are reigning. They have never been particularly timid over here, but now they give you a piercing, quizzically judgmental look as if you came to their party uninvited. And forgot to bring the gifts.

But that was the good thing – to see them living the life as they’ve always done. Because the sun still comes out every morning, the sky is blue (most of the time), the rain is wet and the air is filled with the intoxicating fragrances of hackberry and lilac.

I came home, hugged my boys and finally, first time in many weeks, took out my camera. We shot a few photos, had a play before the rain hit the ground, and lived without agenda getting one more day closer to the moment when we can simply be again…

Dog nutrition tips / can my cocker spaniel eat dandelions / is dandelion toxic to dogs / diet advice for puppies / Perfect cocker spaniel dog blog / (C) Natalia Ashton

Can my dog eat… dandelions?

One of the most frequent questions recently was about dandelions. Does your cocker spaniel eat dandelions? Because a lot of dogs and puppies seem to enjoy them very much. Fred is one of such pups. Sometimes I wonder if the boy was a sheep in one of his previous lives. He is the only one among all of my dogs who grazes. My first two were into eating peas straight off the plant. Oscar didn’t care about grass at all – instead he loved to relax in a shade of his favourite hydrangea. Coop adores the lavender.

And Fred… Fred loves his dandelions. He can find them anywhere, hunting and sniffing out the youngest leaves, barely visible in the grass, just sprouting out… They probably hope for a long life in the sun. Fred his his own plans that don’t fit that brief.

Every morning we step outside and Fred goes off looking for his favourite snack. I often help because I have fingers and can pick smaller leaves. “Lets find dandelions” I suggest, and he (almost) patiently trots beside me searching….


The answer is YES. Absolutely!

And spring is the best season for harvesting them. The leaves contain plenty of vitamin A (beta-carotene) required for healthy cells, skin, bones, and vision, plus immune-boosting vitamin C and vitamin K essential for proper blood clotting. Zeaxanthin in dandelion leaves is also a powerful antioxidant that protects the cells and DNA from damage.

The plant is also rich in calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and manganese.

Therapeutically, dandelion is known as a wonderful liver tonic that can also support kidney function and may help to purify the blood.

The dogs seem to know when they need to eat the plant, which parts of it are the best for  them, and can determine the essential quantities, too. So don’t panic if your spaniel starts munching on the leaves at every given opportunity. Just make sure the plants are organic (well, if they grown in your own garden free from chemicals and in clean soil, they are likely to be), not covered in pesticides and herbicides, and don’t grow near a road due to pollution.

The fondness for dandelion will not necessarily mean that your cocker has an underlying condition, but if your dog is on blood thinners, diuretics or have a diagnosed illness, consult your vet first.

If your dog is a picture of health in every way, yet shows zero interest in dandelion, you can either let him be, or, if you want to boost his vitamin intake, pick a few fresh young leaves, wash them and add about 1tsp of chopped dandelion into your spaniel’s food once every 2-3 days.


Image credit: Pezibear from Pixabay

Fred, chocolate and tan English cocker spaniel puppy / Covid coronavirus self-isolating with two spaniels / Perfect cocker spaniel dog and pet blog (C) Natalia Ashton

Self-isolating with two dogs | Week 2

Unlike my sourdough starter, we are doing relatively well. Two weeks of the house and garden. No walks. Perhaps a bit extreme for many but I can’t take risks…. Not because I am particularly concerned about dying. Frankly, I don’t give a damn. But I can’t go knowing that, should the worst happen, my boys will be left without their mum. As simple as that. I am responsible for their lives and so it is my job to ensure that we all get through without extremes.

Our days changed a little compared to the previous week. The late nights swallowed most of the early mornings, though nobody seems to be complaining. Pups still wake up at 6 for their breakfast and garden, but then return to bed for a snooze… And the extra two hours in the morning allow me to nourish the aftermath of my anxiety-induced insomnia.

At night I lie in bed inhaling the scent of Fred’s forehead and stroking Coop’s back. I watch movies until Fred starts to fidget and tells me off for the flashes of light and sound.  I hug him, and eventually fall into abyss of most vivid dreams. Somehow (and I have no idea why) I always feel that I will wake up to the new day where the world is free from the virus and the nightmare. I feel that not sleeping all night will bring this day closer at a much faster speed.

Then we wake up slightly blinded by the bright sunshine and the reality of “sameness”, get dressed (well, relatively) and walk into the garden for our morning training and play time. It takes us about an hour to work on the issues that need attention, learn something new, play, sniff, practise the old tricks and simply sit outside on a porch listening to birds whilst Fred feasts on dandelion leaves.

Afterwards, I still groom them as usual, as if we were out and got muddy paws.

I know the pups miss their walks, but they seem very, very content with our current activities. They are relaxed, happy, playful, so much so that they happily go for a nap mid-morning and allow me to continue with my studies and reading until late lunch.

After lunch we do everything all over again, cook dinner, play, and relax. Well, they relax whilst I often go back to my computer and dive back into my course work.

I have been inventing new puzzle toys and games for them, too. Will need to do a proper post about this as the list is getting longer. I won’t lie, it can get labour-intensive at times. Once every few days I get to the point when I just want to sit and watch TV for hours doing absolutely nothing. If I didn’t have the boys – I would… But they come to over for a hug or a kiss, bearing a toy or asking for a little bit of training outside. So I get off my bottom and do what every mum is supposed to do: make a cup of coffee to perk up – and leave it to go cold because I am outside entertaining the troops.

But that’s ok. It’s all ok. I only hope that we will soon get a glimmer of hope for better things to come.


Image source: Fred photographed by me

Current BVA and RCVS guidelines and rules for veterinary care for dogs vaccinations, emergency treatments, appointments, medication, wormers, anti-flea treatments, how to take the dog to the vets during COVID19 / Perfect cocker spaniel pet blog / (C) Natalia Ashton

The Do’s & Don’t of veterinary care for your dog during COVID19 pandemic. All your questions answered.

On 27 March Niall Connell, president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), the governing body for the veterinary profession in the UK, addresses his colleagues in a video message providing further guidelines for managing their practices and work during coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.

His message was clear. “The public safety must override the animal welfare”, Connell said with a heavy heart. This is the bitter truth of the current situation we are all in. This also means that the wellbeing and safety of our dogs, more than ever, is in our hands and our sole responsibility. Even though the veterinary practices can remain open, they have every right not to see anyone for routine enquiries, treatments or sale of a medication that is not essential for life.

To make it clear and simple to understand (and take the necessary pressure off the vets’ shoulders) I put together a list of questions covering all the Do’s and Don’t’s. It is based on the most recent guidelines and rules issued by the government, RCVS and BVA (British Veterinary Associations).

Will my veterinary practice be open?

The veterinary practices can remain open. This decision can be made by each individual business, so you will need to call and check. Under the government guidelines, the practice may reduce their working hours, limit the staff members available at the time, the number of clients they see and the ways they see them.

Can a vet see my dog?

The vets can see a limited number of patients to prevent the spread of coronavirus and reduce the risk of COVID19 infection among themselves, their families and clients. They may agree to travel to your home, but only if they deem this essential and risk-free. Many vets can see you and your dog via a video call.

You must always phone the practice before travelling to make further arrangements.

Can I get wormers, anti-flea treatments or vaccinations for my dog?

All these fall under “routine treatments” that are not associated with disease or deterioration, and according to the government guidelines “should not be carried out until further notice”.

If your dog has been seen by a vet in the last 6-12 months, has been given all clear, is in good health and has been on these medications without any side-effects, your vet may agree to either post them to you or issue a prescription that you can use to purchase these treatments online. Any online purchases are done at your own risk, so please double-check the name, dose, expiry date before you administer anything.

Can I use an alternative medication or something “natural” whilst I can’t have my usual ones?

No. Going down this route means that you will be playing a Russian roulette by giving your dog something that may cause a reaction or put his life at risk. Many natural treatments also contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs. None of them are tested to be effective. If anything happens to your dog as a result, you may not be able to take him to the vets immediately.

Are there any exceptions for vaccinations and boosters?

At the moment, any annual booster vaccinations are not urgent or essential. However, according to the BVA and RCVA guidelines “there may be scenarios where, in professional judgement, vaccines are being given to reduce a real and imminent risk of disease: this includes in the face of an animal disease outbreak, or in a scenario where a part of a vaccine course has been given and the animal may be exposed to the disease. 

In this case, veterinary judgement is paramount and the risk of leaving an incomplete course must be weighed against the ability to see the animal whilst maximising social distancing.

NB if the Government’s social distancing restrictions last longer than the current review date of 13 April, this guidance may change further.”

This means that your vet may agree to complete a vaccination protocol for your puppy if your puppy has already received the first part of his vaccine, or at high risk of disease due to being unvaccinated. However, do not expect or demand your vet to carry out this procedure as a mandatory treatment.

Bear in mind that if your adult dog has had his regular boosters, he is likely to have enough antibodies to remain safe against the core diseases for at least a few months after his booster is due. The only exception is leptospirosis, so if you live in an area known to be at risk for lepto, keep your dog at home.

Can I still get my repeat prescription for certain drugs?

Some practices will still dispense repeat prescriptions that are essential for the animal’s life. In this case, you will need to contact them in advance to arrange a safe handout or collection.

Although this is not ideal, your veterinary surgeon may agree to issue repeat prescription for any medicine categorised as POM-VPS, NFA-VPS, or AVM-GSL or advise on a suitable alternative. You will need to be registered with the practice, give your full consent, check and administer medication at your own risk, and contact to vet in any emergency situation associated with the treatment. Any vet holds the right to refuse to issue a repeat prescription or provide their client with certain drugs via remote means.

What treatments are classified as essential?

Any treatment that “essential to maintaining the future food supply chain” (which applies to farm animals, not dogs) can be carried out.

For dogs, the veterinary surgeon will only see them “in emergencies or where, in the judgement of the veterinary surgeon, urgent assessment and/or treatment is needed in order to reduce the risk patient deterioration to the point where it may become an emergency in the near future (i.e. within the three-week time frame currently laid out y the government for these measures)”.

What treatments are classified as an emergency?

These include any cases that would normally be seen out of hours or fitted in on the same day regardless of the scheduled appointments (poisoning, allergic reaction, injury, bleeding, loss of coordination, etc). According to BVA, such cases are “immediate threat to life; significant impact on health/welfare and high risk of deterioration of left unmanaged”

Any dog who is in stable condition but can deteriorate due to poor health or trauma, will also be seen.

What if my dog needs to be PTS?

In the current situation, this can be very heartbreaking because you will not be able to accompany your dog to the veterinary practice. Should the vet agree or must carry out euthanasia, he will be the only person who will stay with your dog.

What if my dog becomes unwell while I am self-isolating due to COVID19 infection or because I have symptoms of coronavirus?

Your dog will only be seen if his condition is classified as an emergency. If not, your vet is allowed to postpone the treatment until you either recover or come out of quarantine. The assessment of your dog can be done via video call.

If the dog is in need of an urgent care, the vet can weigh any possibilities of putting his own health, or health of anyone he’s in contact with, at risk before arranging an appointment. Should he decide to go ahead, you will need to find a healthy asymptomatic person to take your dog to the surgery followed by necessary precautions to keep everyone safe.

What steps do I need to follow if I have to take my dog to the veterinary practice?

Not every veterinary practice will provide face-to-face appointments. Most have now issued a letter either via their official website, social media or post to inform their clients. Do your best to find this information before calling.

If you need an appointment or have a question – email for anything that is not urgent or call for any emergencies.

Most vets now ask that the dog is brought to the practice by one person (meaning your other half must stay at home and you need to ensure that your dog travels safely).

Call the practice from the car park upon arrival. Check if they have their own lead and collar, or slip lead. Remove your own lead if they ask you to do so.

Practise social distancing to ensure that you and the member of staff remain two meters apart.

Pay by card, over the phone or via bank transfer. Do not rely on cash or cheques.

Agree on further arrangements of whether you can wait for your dog in the car park or need to return to the practice in a few hours.

When you bring your dog home: wash your hands, wash your dog thoroughly whenever possible, follow with a blow dry, disinfect your car, dog’s collar/lead and bedding.

What else can I do to protect my dog?

To keep everyone’s safe and sane, only take your dog out if it is absolutely essential. Most dogs, including cocker spaniels, can be content at home as long as they have an access to the garden.

If you do need to take your dog out, always wash his paws after each walk, never let him off the lead to avoid any situations when your spaniel can get attacked, run off, injure himself or potentially find and eat something toxic.

Do not take your dog to your relatives as this can increase the risk of viral spread (either via air or surfaces or your dog’s coat) and can make you ill and unable to care for your dog.

Stay at home! Remember that no dog ever died if he hasn’t had walks for a few weeks. Some may get bored, but it’s better to have a bored and healthy pooch than risk his and yours lives.


Image source: athree23 from Pixabay