There’s a popular meme that’s been doing the rounds on social media during lockdown – “All of our dogs think we quit our jobs to spend more time with them.” While this has undoubtedly raised a few smiles among pet owners, how our dogs will cope as life begins to return to ‘normal’ is something that canine experts are keen to address.
Dogs who have happily got used to having their human home all the time may become anxious when their person is suddenly not around as much and exhibit behaviours known as ‘separation anxiety’.
Rachel Casey, Director of Canine Behaviour and Research at Dogs Trust, says: “For many of us it has been great to spend so much time with our dogs during lockdown and mostly our dogs love us being around too. But all this extra attention could potentially create a ticking time bomb of separation anxiety for our dogs. If they expect us to be about all the time, it will be more difficult for them to cope once we go back to our normal lives and aren’t in the house 24/7.”
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR DOG HAS SEPARATION PROBLEMS?
Your dog might feel different emotions such as fear, frustration, and panic when left alone. Common signs that they are feeling anxious when left alone include: Destruction of bedding, furniture carpets or belongings, inappropriate toileting indoors, barking, whining or being vocal, pacing or being restless or even attempting to escape.
Source: PDSA vets
PDSA vets advises: “Separation-related problems are extremely common, and if dogs are very attached to their owners, this long period of time spent together can make the problem worse when they do have to be left alone again. It’s very difficult to know how dogs will behave when their owners return to their normal routine and every dog may react differently. Many things can affect separation anxiety in dogs – their genetics, personality and previous negative experiences which may have added to their fears and anxieties.”
TEACH YOUR DOG TO SETTLE BY THEMSELVES
Help your dog by making it clear when your attention is available and when it isn’t. Have set times during each day that you’ll spend together, playing, grooming, or hanging out and quiet times when your attention is not available to them. Dogs Trust has a helpful video to teach your dog how to settle down by themselves. Make sure they have something enjoyable to do when you’re busy. A big chew or food-releasing puzzle toy like is great for this.
Organise your dog’s day
Rachel Casey advises that dog owners take positive action: “Now is the time to act to avoid future problems – and it’s easy to do. Just make sure that you factor in time apart from your dog each day to help them be able to cope when alone – this could be separated from you by a door or child gate for an hour or two whilst you’re working or home schooling the kids. By organising your dog’s day, with time apart, play times, exercise, other activity sessions (like giving them a food filled toy) and quiet times, you can make sure that your dog maintains their ability to cope with the different aspects of ‘normal’ life when we get back to it.”
HELP YOUR DOG FEEL SECURE
Leave an item of clothing you’ve worn recently in your dog’s bed to increase your dog’s sense of security while you’re not in the room. Products such as Pet Remedy or Adaptil can help as they release comforting pheromones to aid canine relaxation.
For dogs that are anxious when left, use the following tips from Dogs Trust to help them cope alone:
- Make sure your dog has a comfy bed or den, where they can relax in peace.
- Give them something fun to occupy them, such as a long-lasting treat or puzzle toy.
- While your dog is enjoying their treat, take a couple of steps to the other side of the room. If your dog stays where they are, wait a moment, then go back and reward them with an extra treat.
- Increase the distance you move away and the time you wait before returning with the extra treat.
- You should soon be able to leave the room and close the door or gate.
- Progress to spending more time in a different room. Build this into the daily routine.
- It’s important that your dog remains relaxed. If they show signs of distress, leave them for a shorter period, or don’t move as far away, next time.
Read more tips on how to help your dog feel calm and safe when you have to leave them home alone >>
EXTRA HELP FOR PUPPIES
Puppies who have grown up used to their owners being around 24/7 may really struggle with separation issues when things go back to normal. But there are still ways to prepare them for being left alone in the future. Puppies need to be taught when they’re young that it’s OK to be on their own and have a little bit of independence from their owners. The length of time a dog can be left alone depends on the individual dog, but the RSPCA advises that they should be left for no longer than four hours. Blue Cross has advice on how to prevent separation anxiety in puppies >>
Need professional help?
If your dog is struggling with a separation problem, then it’s well worth seeking professional help. Your vet can refer you to The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors or contact the Animal Behaviour and Training Council who will help you find a reputable, positive reinforcement behaviourist or trainer in your area. There are a huge variety of services being offered at a distance. Online group classes, one-to- one training, and behaviour consultations, with some services available via telephone calls.
Please note, that due to coronavirus restrictions, veterinary practices are abiding by set protocols, in line with national guidelines from the British Veterinary Association and the Government. Urgent cases and emergencies will still be treated – but check with your local practice about the procedures they have in place to keep people, as well as animals, safe.
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Sources: pdsa.org.uk, rspca.org.uk, bluecross.org.uk, dogstrust.org.uk