Once the coronavirus lockdown ends you may no longer work from, home resulting in a new routine for your dogs. This new routine may mean leaving your dog for longer periods of time than they are used to. Dogs are naturally very sociable animals and some may find being left alone very hard and you may notice a change in their behaviour. Some dogs may develop separation anxiety. What is separation anxiety and how can it be prevented?
What is separation anxiety?
Your dog may become distressed when you are preparing to leave home, or after you have left. He may start pacing, trembling, whining, drooling or panting. He may bark far more than usual or start howling. He may start digging at carpets or chewing furniture, such as table legs, or show other signs of destructive behaviour such as raiding the rubbish bin, or may have toileting accidents in the house. This may be in response to boredom, being left alone, or from being separated from one particular person.
This behaviour can be upsetting, so how can you prepare your dog for your return to work?
Although dogs should not be left on their own for too long the earlier actions are taken the better by spending some time away from your dog during the day, even whilst in the same house. This is particularly important for dogs that have been bought or adopted during lockdown, especially puppies, as they may have had no experience of being separated from their owner. Dogs who have been in rescue or have been rehomed several times can sometimes struggle with being left, especially in the first few weeks of being rehomed. This is probably due to a variety of factors, including the stresses experienced while in kennels and learning to adapt to a new home.
Start by leaving you dog alone for just a few seconds and then move onto minutes and a couple of hours. Take your time if your dog shows any sign of distress. If being left alone is too much for your dog you could start by being in the same room but avoiding eye contact and then move on to being the other side of a stair gate, being in another room and then finally out of sight and earshot. Give plenty of praise and rewards such as treats and toys. Being relaxed during this process will help not make a big deal out of it and the aim is that your dog feels relaxed and comfortable when left on their own for some part of the day. Being left at home should be fun!
As well as building on controlled periods of time alone giving your dog something to do will help reduce their anxiety when they are left alone and help them develop positive associations with being alone. Using food and enrichment toys such as Kong’s, appropriate chew toys, lick mats and slow feeders to keep him occupied. Provide your dog’s usual meal or healthy fillers such as cooked chicken, vegetables or peanut butter.
How to prevent possible triggers from causing anxiety?
You can desensitise your dog to any signs that you are leaving the house. Try opening and closing doors without leaving, picking up and putting down car keys throughout the day, picking up and moving shoes and bags or putting on a coat and walking around with it before removing it.
Do not use punishment as this will not work and will cause more harm
Any punishment given on returning home won’t help stop the problem. Dogs associate punishment with what they are doing at that moment in time and so a dog will not link the telling off with their actions before their owner came home, even if they are taken over to ‘the scene of the crime’. It is not that they cannot remember what happened; they just won’t be able to make a connection between the punishment and something they did hours ago.
If punished your dog will not only be feeling anxious about being left, but will also be worried about you returning, which can make any symptoms much, much worse.
Scamps and Champs provide puppy visits and a dog walking service whilst following the latest government and DEFRA advice. Get in touch to discuss your individual needs.