What are the signs of separation anxiety?
For many of us, one of the benefits of the coronavirus lockdown period has been the opportunity to spend more time with our dogs, and most of our furry friends have loved having us around more. However, with restrictions starting to relax, it is important that we start planning for when we return to our normal daily routines, and our dogs are left on their own in the house a bit more. This is going to be particularly important for puppies that have never been left before, and dogs who were already showing signs of separation anxiety before the lockdown started. Signs of separation anxiety can range from more subtle signs such as panting, pacing, trembling and excessive salivation, to more severe signs such as howling and barking, destructive behaviour like scratching at doors and chewing furniture, and toileting in the house.
How can we help them adjust?
To help dogs adjust to normal life again, it is important that we start allocating some time each day that they are left alone. For dogs that were happy being left on their own before the lockdown, try to bring back some elements of their normal routine again. Leave them on their own (in a different room with the door shut) while you are working or home schooling the kids. Activity toys such as stuffed Kongs® and snuffle mats are great ways to help entertain your dog whilst they are left on their own. If possible, leave them on their own in the house while you go to the shops or go out to do some exercise, even if it is just for short periods. Also try to re-introduce some other parts of their normal daily routine for when you are back at work, for example, waking up times and feeding times. Try to walk them at the same time that you or your dog walker would normally walk them and allow them some quiet time when they are likely to be alone in the house.
For puppies and dogs that are more anxious
It is important to take more time introducing periods of being left alone. Make sure that they have a safe space in the house, with a comfortable bed. Start by rewarding them for settling in their bed and staying calm and quiet. Once they are happy to settle in their bed, give them a distraction such as a stuffed Kong®, puzzle feeder or safe chew toy and move a little distance apart. If they remain settled in their bed, go back and reward them. Gradually increase the distance between you and your dog, and the time spent away before returning and rewarding them with a treat. The next step is to shut the door of the room or a baby gate and continue to practice this step with increasing time left alone. When your dog is happy being in the room on their own with the door shut, start leaving them and spending increasing amounts of time in another part of the house. If you are able, once they are happy being left alone with you in the house, start to leave them in the house while you go out, starting with very short periods to begin with, and building up the amount of time that they are left very slowly. Every dog is an individual, and their ability to cope with being left alone will vary hugely. It is important to monitor them closely for any signs of anxiety, and if they are worried, then take a step back in the process and build up to longer periods alone more slowly.
If you would like to discuss any specific separation anxiety issues with your own dog then please call the Small Animal Practice, and one of our nurses will be pleased to help. 01934 852 422