It's likely that all dog owners have experienced some form of separation anxiety from their dog at some point. Whether it's your pup yelping at your locked bathroom door or when they bark incessantly at you as you get ready to go to work, no dog likes to be left alone.
Dogs are pack animals and are not made to be left alone. Unfortunately, our busy schedules mean that nearly all dogs will need to be left alone at some point in their lives for a significant amount of time. This sometimes results in anxious displays from our dogs as they fret about being left.
The Coronavirus has made separation anxiety a reality for many pet owners. The virus forced us all into lockdown, and our dogs were suddenly living their dream scenario. Their owners were there 24/7 for cuddles, play and walkies. They experienced months of companionship with their favourite people.
But what happens now that lockdown has eased? As many people face going back to work, our dogs will be the ones who suffer.
Signs that your dog may have separation anxiety include the following:
Urinating or defecating inside
Chewing, digging and other forms of destruction
Separation anxiety is a notoriously difficult habit to break. Here are some tips for helping dogs overcome their anxiety:
Don't leave your dog for longer than 4 hours at a time.
Take your dog for a nice long walk before they are left alone. This will help to tire them out - they will hopefully nap/relax until your return.
Don't make a big deal when you are getting ready to leave the house. This can work them up.
Try to break up your morning routine. Dogs can recognise a routine that they know leads to you walking out the door, so changing it up will prevent them from realising what is about to happen and they can't get worked up about it.
Leave your dog with a friend or family member if you know you will be out for over 4+ hours. Consider hiring a dog walker to help break their time up at home. Make sure they are let out by someone regularly so they can toilet.
Give them something to do while you are out. Leave the TV or radio on so they feel less lonely, or give them a toy to keep them occupied. Make sure it's a safe toy that they can't hurt themselves with. Avoid giving them chews which they could choke on.
Try a home video camera. Many companies have created pet cams which allows you to watch your pup when they're at home. Some even have microphones so you can talk to your pet. Others allow you to dispense treats using your phone.
Do NOT lock them in a crate while you are gone. Crates are there to provide comfort - they are not there to be used as a doggy prison.
Try not to over-excite them on your return. You want your dog to see being left alone as a nice thing; over-exciting them when you come home could make them associate your return as incredibly positive, which will make them even sadder/more anxious when you leave. Instead, give them plenty of calm and reassuring love.
Practice leaving them alone for short periods of time. Close the door and wait for signs of anxious behaviour. If they exhibit none, reward them and try again for a longer period of time. If they show immediate signs of distress, start slower.
Do not make a huge fuss of a barking dog. Some dogs bark for attention, and if you reward this behaviour by picking them up or giving them fuss, they will learn that barking works. Instead wait for 3 seconds of quiet with your back turned, eyes averted, and then give them the attention they want. This will teach them that excessive barking is not something you want, which may help keep them quiet when they are left alone.
Unfortunately, separation anxiety is a difficult habit to break and it will take patience and understanding to help them through it. If you know you are regularly away from home for extended periods of time, don't get a dog - it's not fair on them.
If you're struggling to help your dog overcome separation anxiety, contact us now for help.