As lockdown continues to relax and we start venturing out for work and tentative socialising, our dogs are being increasingly left home alone. Understandably they are confused after being surrounded by family for months and, as they don’t understand why things have changed, they can feel abandoned. Some dogs will adjust easily back to the old routine, but others including puppies who only joined the family during lockdown will find it stressful to suddenly be home alone.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation Anxiety is a term attributed to the unwanted behaviour displayed by a dog when its owners leave. The most common symptoms in dogs include destructive behaviour, chewing and clawing at doors or furniture, soiling, and excessive vocalisation. It’s your dog’s way of telling you that he’s not happy with being left alone while you go out and have fun. But don’t worry, there are plenty of things you can do to help your dog readjust to being alone for periods of time.
Start by practising going out and coming straight back in again. This will break the association of the front door closing being a bad thing and get your dog used to your comings and goings without any need to get stressed. Try and change the order in which you put on your shoes, pick up your keys and grab your coat etc so your dog doesn’t learn your “leaving routine”. When you do come back in, avoid making a fuss of your dog immediately so it just becomes a normal action. After a while you can start going out for short periods, gradually increasing the time you are gone.
Before you leave the house, make sure you have exercised and toileted your dog so that she has no physical needs while you’re out. Set the house up to encourage a relaxing atmosphere: draw the curtains to prevent outside influences affecting your dog’s behaviour, leave a radio on to drown out unwanted background noise, and ensure your dog has access to fresh water and a comfy den area. You could try using a Pet Remedy diffuser or atomiser to fill the air with Valerian which is a natural calming product.
You shouldn’t leave your dog alone for more than four hours, but if you are going to be out for a while you could get a dog sitter, neighbour or friend to go round and sit with your pet while you are out.
Like humans, dogs need their brains to be busy. Most behavioural problems are rooted in boredom as the dog starts displaying destructive behaviour in a bid to make her own entertainment. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise to produce a contented hound, and using their brains can be as tiring as a walk for many breeds. So, to occupy your dog and distract her from your absence, leave a mentally stimulating toy for her. This could be a full treat dispenser, a loaded Lickimat, a stuffed Kong, or a long-lasting treat. In time, she will associate your going out with a treat for her, not an abandonment to be stressed by.
If you practice some of these stress-busting separation anxiety savers, you will have a much more peaceful hound as you go about your daily activities.