Over the past few months, with Covid-19 restrictions seeing families spending more time with their pets, or adopting new ones, many dogs and cats have been enjoying the company, stimulation and exercise. They have started to rely on the extra attention (including all those new puppies that expect us to be around all the time), but with more people returning to the office dogs are going to feel the absence more than ever, creating an anxiety pandemic among our dogs that we may not be prepared for.
My dog Lily is prime example. She is a 6 year old Morkie ( Maltese/Yorkie) She has never had separation anxiety prior to COVID quarantine. She was absolutely fine staying at home, by herself, when my husband and I were working. Being alone during the day while we worked, was her norm.
Now enter COVID and quarantine. My husband is working from home and she has him all day every day since March 2020. I started to notice over the past few months that when we would leave the house and come back, her paws would be soaking wet and she would pant excessively upon our return. I also noticed she started to chew and destroy things like a new puppy. I knew immediately this was separation anxiety! Thank you COVID! My vet had to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication for her! W e now have to give this to her when we leave the house. With more people returning to the office after months of working from home, owners should start preparing for a wave of stressed out pups.
Separation related behaviors, including anxiety, are a major cause of concern for many dog owners. Separation anxiety in dogs is similar to what a human experiences when having a panic attack, causing destruction and self-harm.
A dog’s cognitive ability is around that of two-and-a-half year old toddler. They aren’t able to put subjective spin on things like we adults do, they are acting purely out of an emotional state, led by their feelings ,that they have no conscious influence over.
Separation anxiety can be extremely hard to overcome if it is not addressed in the very early stages, so needs to be recognized and must be treated with understanding.
So how do you ease your dog’s separation anxiety now, so that it doesn’t become a bigger problem later?
Teaching your dog that it is OK to spend time on their own is really important at all stages of a dog’s life to build their confidence and comfort in being left alone. Even if you are at home all day, create frequent separations from your dog. For most dogs, three to five times alone per day can be enough to help.
Ensure your dog has their own special place where they feel safe and secure, where only good things happen. Crate training your dog is great for this, or giving them their own place in the house with their bed and favorite toys.
Use positive reinforcement behavior training to put it on cue, such as “go to your crate” or “go to your place” and send them there with a treat, toy or long lasting chew to keep them mentally and physically stimulated while spending time alone there.
The most powerful solution to treating dogs with separation anxiety is human company. Owners often think their dog misses them exclusively, but generally as long as someone is around, they are much more content. Talk to neighbors, family, friends, or hire a dog walker or doggy day care to help. There are some great apps now that can connect you with people desperate for some canine companionship at no cost to you.
Desensitize your dog to your departure: Dogs are watching our every move from the moment we wake up, so can work themselves up into quite an anxious state before you have even left the house if you always have the same routine when you head off to work.
There’s a couple of ways to manage this, including changing the order of your departure routine constantly, as well as normalizing some of your departure sounds and movements by rattling your keys and grabbing your bag, but not actually leaving the house. That way, they are not associated with you leaving every time.
Ensure their exercise needs are met: Dogs need daily exercise, yet sadly many dogs aren’t walked daily – the cause of many dog behavior issues. A tired dog is a good dog, so make sure your dog is getting the level of exercise they need for their breed, age and size. This includes plenty of family “play” time and games as well.
Calming sprays and accessories: Calming pheromone sprays, collars and diffusers may assist in helping to reduce anxiety in dogs. Anti-anxiety weighted coats like a Thunder shirt works to calm their nerves if they are feeling anxious, so together they may provide a physical comfort.
Seek professional help: If your dog’s separation anxiety is getting worse, or is already severe, then do seek out professional help from a trainer and/or a vet behaviorist, as it won’t go away over time, it usually gets worse if left untreated. And, of course, never punish your dog for being anxious, or any behavior that indicates this, as it will make it worse.
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