Do you have a new puppy at home? Since the lockdown has your dog started to follow you everywhere you go? Do they seem to want more attention than ever before? Now is the time to act to prevent separation anxiety.
What Is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is where dogs exhibit signs of anxiety or major distress when their owners leave them. It can happen when you leave the house, or even when you just leave the room. Separation anxiety can happen for a number of reasons, sometimes it can be because a dog has not formed positive associations to spending time alone, other times it can occur in rescue dogs who have been re-homed.
Symptoms of separation anxiety include, toileting inside, howling, barking and destructive behaviour. Some dogs may cause damage to themselves through obsessive licking and chewing in an attempt to self calm. Other dogs may develop anxious obsessive behaviours such as pacing or spinning.
It is great that you and your furry best friend can spend so much time together at the moment, playing games, walking, and maybe even training new tricks. Your dog is probably loving all the extra attention and company all day long!
However, during this lockdown if you have a puppy it is important to still teach them how to be alone, so that they are prepared for when you return to your normal routine.
Even if your dog doesn’t show symptoms of separation anxiety it is still important to put these practices into place so that they are also prepared for your return to work or simply leaving the house without them to visit friends and family.
How Can We Prevent Separation Anxiety From Developing In Our Dogs?
1. Desensitise your dog to the cues associated with leaving the house.
Think about your normal routine to leave the house. For me it’s usually getting dressed in something other than pjs, ha ha! So, I put on my work clothes, or maybe something a bit fancier if it’s date night! Then I get my bag out and pack it with things I need for going out. Then I check I have house keys and the car key. I check all the windows are closed and the back door is locked. Then I put my coat and shoes on and leave the house. How many of these things are you doing right now? These are the things that will very quickly become cues to your dog that you are going to leave them home alone, and this will be when they start to feel anxious. This whole process can take an hour, during which your dog is starting to get more and more anxious, so that by the time you leave they are seriously distressed.
So, while you are home during the lockdown, practice some of your house leaving routines. It is also important to practice them out of order. For example, picking up your house keys and sitting down to watch tv, or putting on your coat and shoes then making a brew. This helps to stop your dog back chaining the events to leaving to the home, which reduces the risk of anxiety building. This can also help dogs that get seriously excited about leaving the house. To do this you can also build in picking up the lead and harness into your non-routine training.
2. Spend time in different rooms in your home
Set your dog up with a good (natural) chew or a stuffed Kong, then leave the room and go and do something else for a while. This could be leaving your dog in the lounge, in their crate (if crate trained), while you go take a nice relaxing bath, or work in your home office, or binge watch your favourite tv programme in bed for a bit. Leaving them with a yummy treat builds up a positive association with you leaving. The chewing also acts like a self-soother and helps them relax. You can freeze stuffed Kongs so that they last longer, this is also great for puppy who are teething.
If you are doing this with a puppy, or a dog that is already showing signs of anxiety when you leave the room, start small. Start by leaving the room for just a moment before returning, and slowly build up the time apart. You may find that covering your dog's crate can help them feel more secure. This also helps when you come to actually leave the house. If they are used to having chill time with the cover over while you are home, they shouldn’t worry so much when you leave, plus they won't see you leave.
Remember also that your puppy needs between 18-19 hours of sleep a day. If you are around all the time, interacting with them, they may not be getting enough sleep, which can lead to unwanted behaviours such as hyper activity, chewing, steeling and puppy biting. Giving them time alone not only helps with preventing separation anxiety but provides them with the opportunity to get much needed rest.
3. Pretend to leave the home
Follow your normal routine with your dog, so for example, toilet them and put them in the crate or wherever you leave them when you go out. Step outside for a short amount of time and then ‘return home’. For pups and dogs that are showing symptoms, again start off with a very short amount of time, and slowly increase over time. Leave your dog with a yummy stuffed Kong – make sure that it is the correct size and toughness for your dog so that it is as safe as possible. I do not recommend leaving your dog with raw hide chews. Not only are these full of chemicals, but they can be a choking hazard. If your dog has the run of a room you can also sprinkle some kibble and yummy treats onto the floor, the sniffing around for the treats can also reduce anxiety levels.
4. When you do leave them, do not make leaving or returning home into a big event
It is tempting to give your dog big hugs and fuss when you say goodbye, and tell them that you will be right back, and won’t be long. Then when you come home and you are both happy to see each other, there is more hugs, fuss and kisses and attention. But what this does is create an event in your dogs’ mind. Its best to keep things simple. For example, pop them in their crate or room with their treat and not say a word as you leave. When you return, let them out to toilet, pop the kettle on and then after a little time has passed say hello to your dog. These strategies also help with dogs that get super excited and jump all over you as soon as you return home.
It's a difficult time for both us and our dogs, so try to enjoy your extra time at home with your dog. Activities such as brain games and trick training are not only fun for us all, but they will help tire your dog out ready for chilling out and alone time.
Wishing you all the best during these unprecedented times.
The Rewarding Dog Trainer
Helping Your Dog Form A Secure Attachment To You.
If you have any questions about anything in this blog, or your dog is showing serious symptoms of separation anxiety, please do not hesitate to get in touch.