Covid-19 has been at the forefront of most of our minds over the last few months as we have been social distancing. Many people have added a new pup to their family, and it makes sense if you have the extra time to get the newest family member used to the new space and people, to work on house and crate training, etc. However, with people beginning to return to everyday life and spending less time at home, your pup may have become accustomed to your presence 24/7. It is important to watch out for and prevent separation anxiety.
Read on to learn about separation anxiety in dogs and eight ways it can be prevented or treated.
What is separation anxiety?
Dogs commonly experience separation anxiety when their people leave the house. They might display their distress by getting anxious when the owner prepares to leave, by trying to prevent their departure, as well as by drooling, chewing, barking, and displaying other signs of distress when left alone. It is important to try to prevent separation anxiety, if possible, and to manage it if your dog already shows signs of distress.
Separation anxiety signs to look for:
It might be difficult to spot the difference between separation anxiety and typical puppy behavior. If your dog is a puppy, crying and whining are normal. Separation anxiety is displayed when there is disruptive or destructive behaviour – tearing up a room, constant barking or whining, pacing or attempts at escaping, as well as defecation and urination inside even though the pup is house trained.
Why do some dogs suffer from separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety usually stems from a disruption in a dog’s lifestyle; if your dog experiences a significant change, this can cause them to fear similar changes. The most common scenario that triggers separation anxiety is experiencing a family change. Many rescue dogs suffer from separation anxiety, as the loss of an owner is very confusing and distressing for them. Other examples, such as moving to a new home, having a baby or a change in schedules, can cause your dog to suffer from separation anxiety as well. When relating separation anxiety to the COVID-19 pandemic, your dog will be used to your constant presence, and if, for example, you start returning to work five days a week, it may be a big change for your pup at first.
Ways to avoid separation anxiety:
Minimal changes: The best way to prevent separation anxiety in your dog is to avoid significant changes in your dog’s life and environment.
Preventative training: If you know that a significant change is coming, you can work towards making it as easy as possible for your pup. For example, if you have been at home with your dog for a few months but will be returning to work soon, you should start practicing for when the time comes. Start leaving your dog alone every day, starting with short amounts of time and then gradually increasing the time so that your dog gets used to your absence as well as to your returns.
Crate training: If your dog experiences separation anxiety, you can consider crate training your dog (if they aren’t already). Crate training can help your puppy remain calm and feel secure even when you aren’t home. Although a puppy might not like being crate trained at first, if the training is done correctly, as the puppy matures, they will see their crate as a source of comfort and security.
Act casual: When you are about to leave, you should not make a big deal out of leaving the house. If your dog doesn’t get much attention before you go, then your absence will be less of a shock to your pup. The same should be done when you return, if you don’t act excited to see your dog when you return home, your dog will start viewing this as a normal, rather than exciting, situation.
Sneak out: For some dogs, separation anxiety is triggered by the fear of their owner leaving rather than actually being alone. If this is the case for your dog, you should make an effort to hide your departure cues. If your dog is prevented from following you to the door and can’t see you putting on your coat and shoes, and doing any other tasks associated with leaving, then your dog won’t be able to get worked up before your go.
Happy to be alone: Another way to prevent separation anxiety is by making your pup’s time alone fun. You can do this by providing special treats or toys that your dog only gets when they are going to be left alone. This helps your dog associate your departure with something positive instead of negative. Filling a toy with peanut butter, leaving your dog a fun puzzle to occupy their time, or giving them a toy they love are all ways that create a positive association.
Professional trainers: A good dog trainer will have an understanding of dog psychology and will be able to teach you tools for managing your pup’s anxiety. They can also give you tips and tricks specific to your dog that you can practice at home.
Medication: If training still doesn’t help your dog overcome their fear of being left alone, you might want to consider a visit to the vet. A veterinarian can assess your dog and prescribe medication that would help your dog stay calm and avoid distress when you leave home.
Preventing and treating separation anxiety in dogs is an essential part of being a pet owner, but it is especially relevant in the time of COVID-19. New puppies and older dogs alike might have a hard time adjusting to a life where you aren’t always around. You will have a much happier dog if you work towards preventing separation anxiety from happening to begin with, as well as understanding and treating separation anxiety that might have already started.