One of the greatest challenges for pooch parents right now is knowing what impact their dogs becoming familiar with you always being around is going to have when lockdown lifts. Although a great opportunity to bond with your dog, spend time training, exercising and learning, have you thought about how they will cope when you go back to work? If you recently got a puppy or rescue, they may never have been left alone.
It’s important you set your dog up for success for when this lockdown routine ends. If not, you may find when normal routines return, they won’t be psychologically prepared.
It is fear or anxiety of being left alone. How severe the anxiety is and the way it manifests, is different with each dog. However, the basis of response is the same. Anxiety and fear go hand in hand.
Neuro-chemical and hormonal processes that occur with these emotions are not controlled by the mind. We can’t explain “I’ll be back shortly” to ease anxiety. Preparing time alone is key to preventing separation anxiety in young and rescue dogs.
Does your dog continuously follow you around the house or sleep with ‘one eye open’ just in case you are about to leave? Often there are milder symptoms that build over time and develop into bigger ones.
Common outward symptoms include excessive barking, howling, urination, defecation, destructive behaviours, salivation and pacing when left alone.
That said, there are things you can do to ensure your dog is happy and content when left alone. It’s particularly important you factor training into your day. Here are some simple tips to follow to ensure you limit the risk of your pooch developing separation anxiety:
Do this while you go and get your shoes, make a cup of tea, get showered. ‘Pup proof’ the room by removing anything that could be chewed or cause harm to your pooch while unsupervised. Start off at a level your pooch can cope with, such as 10-15 seconds, gradually building to minutes and eventually a couple of hours.
Vary the time left alone in short bursts throughout your day. Don’t do continuous concurrent increments. Make it variable, with the general idea being you increase the time left alone over time. Give your pup something to do when you increase the time.
These include Kongs, licky mats, slow feeders and appropriate chew toys. Use your pup’s meal as the food to fill the enrichment toy and hide healthy extras such as vegetables, Burns Penlan Farm wet food, cooked chicken or dog-safe peanut butter. Your pup will be really enthusiastic for the fun activity ahead.
Combine these activities with alone time. These enrichment activities act as a pacifier and build on the positive association – good things happen when I am left alone.
Pups fed an appropriate diet, getting exercise appropriate to their age and being given appropriate stimulation and training should spend plenty of time sleeping throughout the day. Try combining their settling time with times during the day where you would generally be going off to work. Dogs love routine. Getting a suitable routine in place for their body clock will help alleviate potential problems when you go back to work.
Have they had the opportunity to go to the toilet, been exercised and have something to do before you start leaving them?
You don’t want to be too animated in your greeting as this can build anticipation in your dog for a truly exciting greeting when you return. Give your pup some love when you return, but keep it lower key if possible.
By doing plenty of alone time in short bursts during the day, your pup will desensitise. To indicate you’re about to leave, pick up and put down your car keys throughout the day. Open and close the door without leaving. Put on your coat and walk around with it and then remove it. Pick up and move your shoes and bag. And so on.
These simple exercises help reduce the likelihood of separation anxiety occurring in your dog when normal work routines return. Take care to ensure you’re doing this at a pace your dog is comfortable with for best results. The goal is they feel happy and comfortable when left alone.
A note of caution…
If you think your dog is starting to show signs of separation anxiety, get in touch with a dog trainer or behaviourist. They will offer advice and every dog is different. It may be good to get a check-up with your vet as some signs like urinating indoors, can have several different causes.
For any dog nutrition advice please contact our nutrition team Helpline or find us on LiveChat – and good luck!