Separation Anxiety

guest blog by Caroline Wilkinson

Caroline Wilkinson is a Certified Animal Behaviourist, qualified dog trainer and assessed member of the APDT, approved to use only the most positive, kind, fair and effective training methods. She has a passion for improving connections between humans and dogs. Caroline shares her home with two Basset Hounds, Ezri and Chester.

Lockdown has required us to all make some major adjustments to the way we live our lives. Unsurprisingly, what affects us also has as impact on our dogs. For many, it has allowed us to spend extra time with our dogs. When the team here at Forthglade recently asked how you felt the lockdown had affected you and your dog, an amazing 92% of you said the relationship between you had improved with longer walks, new training and quality time together.

The idea of stepping back into your usual work routine might be concerning you when it comes to your dog and the increased bond you have built recently. With 44% of you saying that your dog has had human company at home all day, when they previously didn’t, we know that many of you are wondering how your dogs will cope when lockdown restrictions begin to ease.

Dogs who struggle with Separation Anxiety can find the process of being left home alone pretty stressful. Their reliance on human companionship can be so extreme that they are unable to cope with any period of solo time. Emotionally, this can be tough on everyone - both dog and human. Separation Anxiety in our dogs is something we need to consider at this time - but there are some small steps you can take every day to help reduce the chances that your dog will become stressed.

Separation Anxiety can be a distressing behavioural problem but be reassured there a lot of ways to overcome it and experts to support you if needed. The key is to be prepared and aware.

Keeping a hold on the new connections you’ve made with your dog - the best parts of lockdown – will really help to steer you to a ‘new normal’. As we adjust, I’m sure there are some elements of your current routine you might like to keep going forward. Setting aside some additional time for special time with your dogs is definitely one we can all embrace.

Ease Into New Routines Slowly

As we start to move back towards a more normal routine, try to make changes gradually. If possible, stagger family members returning to work and school so your dog doesn’t go from all to nothing overnight, this will help to reduce any stress they may experience when left alone. When you start to leave your dog for short periods of time, set up a camera to be able to watch their behaviour while you’re out.

Particularly, if you’ve welcomed a new puppy into your life recently, now’s the time to get them prepared for a routine more similar to the one you lived at the start of the year. Starting a new routine now is a positive way to introduce changes slowly, rather than waiting until you have been given the ok to return to work, if you’re currently working from home.

Enjoy Some Human-Only Time

It’s so important that we think about gradually getting our dogs used to more time spent alone and taking some human-only exercise is a great way to do this. Whether it be a run, cycle, or walk, it allows you time to focus on your own mental and physical wellbeing and is also a nice way to give your dogs some calm, solo time at home.

Solo FUN Time for Your Dog

Getting your dog hooked on a fun, solo activity is a great way to build up their confidence in spending time alone. 43% of you have already been increasing enrichment activities during lockdown - so you’ve made a great head-start. These solo activities can be as simple as scattering your dog’s food on your lawn for your dog to search for. You could put their food into activity toys, or roll treats up into a blanket for them to unravel with their nose. Anything that’s going to be fun to do and adds value in spending time by themselves. You can then slowly build yourself further away from your dog as they enjoy their activity - starting in another room, then going upstairs, and eventually leaving the house.

Take Adventures!

In recent times, our daily dog walk has become the highlight of many of our days. We’ve had more time to enjoy relaxed walks. As the weeks go on, try not to let the daily dog walk go back on the “chore list”. Walking with our dogs brings so many benefits - reduced blood pressure, increased fitness, bonding time with your dog (a boost of the “love hormone”, oxytocin, for both of you), and potential for social interactions at a sensible distance. It’s also a great way to expel some of your dog’s energy and leave them ready for a solo-snooze when you get home.

A Mentally Tired Dog is a Happy Dog

It’s not just walking that tires out our dogs - using their brain is proven to tire them out even more. Try to keep up your new habits of working on tricks or their recall training each day. A visual reminder, such as a bag of treats by your kettle, will prompt you each day to spend just a few minutes on brain games. Brain games, followed by a long-lasting chew or some sniffing in the garden, are also a great way to calm your dog down after the excitement of a walk. Once they’ve had physical activity, brain activity, and something to make them feel relaxed (such as sniffing or chewing) you’ll find they will cope more easily when left alone.

Seek Professional Help

If you are concerned about your dog and you’re seeing signs that your dog has become hyper-attached or distressed when you leave the room, speak to a force-free canine Behaviourist to get support. When observing your dog alone using a camera, you might see them barking, panting, chewing themselves or items in the room, or scratching by exit points of the home. A step-by-step behavioural modification plan is the best way to build up your dog’s confidence and ease your concerns.