As the world seems to head back to normal many kids are off to school and many parents are headed back to work. The only one stuck at home seems to be your favorite four-legged best friend. And, after 6 months of non-stop together time, he is struggling with the transition from being home with his favorite people all day to being home alone all day. Whether or not you are concerned about how your dog will handle this transition I highly recommend following the steps outlined below to ensure that you are preventing your dog from developing life-long debilitating separation anxiety.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a panic disorder where a dog is in distress when left alone. Being isolated, being confined, or just being away from their “person” can trigger separation anxiety. It can manifest in several different ways including:
- Destruction, chewing
- Elimination in otherwise potty trained dogs
- Scratching walls and doors- especially at exit points
- Barking and howling
- Anorexia (stops eating)
What causes separation anxiety?
- Changes in Routine (smaller or major)
- Not being alone at all
- Being left alone for too long
- Some dogs do also have a genetic predisposition
How can you prevent your dog from developing separation anxiety?
When working with separation anxiety it is always always always better to prevent than to treat. The good thing about everyone being home so frequently right now is that there is lots of time to work on preventing it from becoming serious.
1. Schedule and routines
- Include alone and together time into your day, plan it in like it is an important meeting
- Put a calendar reminder or set an alarm to help you block off times each day for your dog’s schedule
- Build around an event that happens daily, for example, meal times, when you shower or brush your teeth, relaxing and watching tv, etc
- Keep your routine the same as it was pre-covid and/or slowly transition it to what it will be once everyone is out of the house again
- Feed and walk at the same time
- Continue using the crate during the day if you already were
- Do not add too many extra walks
- Do not discontinue use of the crate
2. You Dog Should have Structured Together and Alone Time Every Day
Being away from you should be good. Give your dog a puzzle toy or something to do while they are separated.
What is Alone Time?
- Your dog does not have physical access to you. They cannot see you.
- Just lying around on the couch or in the other room does not count as being alone
- Ideally unable to hear you
- Manage your dog’s space using crates, baby gates, tethers, closed doors, and/or an ex-pen
DisengagementIt is also important to spend time home with your dog where you are not interacting with him.
- Do not start giving your dog attention all day every day
- You should disengage from your dog during the day even if you are in the same room
- Put an ex-pen around your desk while you work
- Ignore your dog
Together time Every Day
Structure together time into your dog’s day, don’t just give your dog attention all day every day and/or on-demand when he says
- Training time
- Puzzle Toys
- Exercise- Inside and/or outside
- Do not start giving your dog attention after they display undesired behaviors
- Do not begin rewarding demanding behaviors like barking, scratching, and constantly throwing toys at you
- Help your dog practice relaxing
- Dogs who practice relaxing with you will begin to relax on their own
- How To:
- Sit on the ground, have your dog lie on a comfy bed
- Lure them into a down
- Slowly feed them treats, one at a time
- Looking for: lying on sides of hips, chin down, deeper breathing, standing up slowly, stretching after they get up, disengagement from you
Do not do this! Things that make separation anxiety worse
Remember, if your dog is struggling they are looking to you for help and guidance. Separation anxiety is a true panic disorder, your dog is not being naughty or bad on purpose. If you find your family struggling with this it is a good idea to call in a professional who can help guide you on your best course of action.
In the meantime, refrain from any of the below, they will make the problem worse.
- Letting your dog “cry it out,” or “get used to it”
- Ignoring the behavior and hoping it goes back to normal once you return to work
- Obedience training alone will not fix it
- Do not randomly jump up and leave throughout the day
- Leave them for extended periods of time
And remember, like all other training, consistency is key!
© Leash and Learn 2020