Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, our best canine friends have loved having us at home for extra-long walkies and all-day cuddles. However, now that lockdown measures are slowly being lifted in some parts of the world and we’re returning to work, how will our dogs be taking the transition?
Many will cope just fine and adapt quickly but others will have a stressful time adjusting to our new routines resulting in signs of separation anxiety, especially those younger pups who have been enjoying our company from before they can remember.
How do you know if your dog has separation anxiety? Here are a few common symptoms to look out for:
Vocalisations – This can include constant barking, howling or whining, especially when you leave the house. A severely stressed dog can continue to vocalise long after you’re gone.
Destructive behaviour – Chewing and scratching doors, windows or other things you have recently touched is often a sign of separation distress. Be careful not to confuse this with boredom though; a teenage Labrador who doesn’t get enough exercise can trash a room better than anyone!
Anorexia – Ignoring food can be another sign that your dog has separation anxiety. A distressed dog is unlikely to eat a bowl of food or a food-stuffed toy when you’re gone but may start to eat when you come home.
Drooling and/or Vomiting – Excessive drooling, usually when you’re not at home, is a sign of canine-anxiety, along with vomiting.
Self-Injury – Dogs with more severe cases of separation anxiety may try so hard to escape to find you, that they risk injuring themselves in the process. A distressed dog may dig, bite, claw and scratch their way out of a crate or room.
There are a few more minor signs of anxiety in dogs that should not go ignored;
- Intense pacing and restlessness
- Excessive salivation and panting
- Dilated pupils
- Following you around the house once you come home
- Hiding or whining when you give cues that you’re leaving
- Over-excited or submissive behaviour when you come home
It may be that your dog displayed some of these behaviours before lockdown began but now that our canine friends are used to having us around more than usual, our absence is felt more than ever.
If your dog is exhibiting one or more of these signs, here are a few tips and tricks to help reduce separation anxiety in dogs and keep them safe and happy.
Visit your vet – Your first port of call should be with your veterinarian. Your dog needs a medical check-up to ensure there isn’t anything physically wrong with them that could be causing them distress. You can’t treat this problem behaviourally if they have a physical illness, and your vet will be able to help you rule out illness or injury.
If you’ve had the all-clear from the vet, your pet is most likely worried and anxious. The following techniques should help get your dog off the worry train and back onto a more peaceful track:
Practice your departure cues – To get your dog used to you leaving the house, throughout the day randomly pick up your keys, put on your shoes, grab your wallet and walk around the house for a minute. Then, put everything down and take off your shoes. By practicing these leaving cues throughout the day, your dog will get more comfortable with them and more used to your departure.
Make arrivals casual – Remain calm and neutral when you arrive home. Don’t give your dog attention until she calms down and becomes less frantic. This makes your arrival more normal and your departure less stressful.
Implement an exercise plan – Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise for his or her breed and age. Without enough exercise, your dog will have excess energy to pace, worry, get anxious and potentially become destructive.
Get your dog some interactive toys – Food stuffed toys and amusing activities keep your pooch entertained and distracted, and keeps their attention focused while you are away.
Don’t pay too much attention to any damage they do when you are away – your dog might equate this to the increased attention they receive and repeat this behaviour in future.
A few more little changes you can make to ease the stress when you return to work are;
- Leave your TV or radio on when you leave
- Slowly increase the time you spend out of the home (if possible)
- Sleep without your dog in your bed
- Leave comforting items (clothes, toys etc.) with them at all times
- Vary your leaving schedule by staggering the time you leave for work
- Be patient!
And lastly, try, try and try again! If none of these separation anxiety tips work for you and your dog the first time, it doesn’t mean they won’t work the second time around. Experiment and try out different techniques – remember, patience is key. If nothing seems to be working, your dog may have a more severe case of separation anxiety. In this case, it’s best to work with a professional trainer or behaviourist.
- Brad Wells – www.petcube.com – 2017
- Teoti Anderson – www.moderndogmagazine.com – 2018