Got a Dog with Separation Anxiety?
As we now find our feet in this new COVID-normal life, many of us who enjoyed working at home over the last couple of years are now making our way back into the office - much to the distaste of 4-legged pals who will be stuck at home alone.
Separation anxiety is becoming a HUGE problem for our dogs who have become so accustomed to us being at home, that they are simply unable to cope now that we aren’t.
Some of the signs of separation anxiety include:
- Excessive barking
- Scratching doors and floors
- Urination and defecation indoors by dogs who are toilet trained
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Attempting to escape
These behaviours can also be a sign of a medical condition (not separation anxiety), so it’s always worth getting your pup checked by a vet before assuming it is separation anxiety.
It can be quite a process to teach your dog that they don’t need to panic when you leave and to understand that you will always return, but it’s worth it when you can leave them at home and know that they will be alright.
So, what can you do to help your dog with separation anxiety?
- If you're still working from home, try leaving your dog alone for short periods of time during the day so it’s not a shock to the system when you’re gone all day. A gradual adjustment is better than a sudden one.
- Change up your routine when you leave, so that your dog doesn’t associate the same routine with you leaving. (grab your keys and put them in your pocket 10 minutes before you leave, put your shoes on and then sit on the couch before calmly leaving). If your dog has worked out that you put your shoes on, grab your keys and go - those actions are going to result in a panic response.
- When you are home, don’t give them a lot of attention. Give them no more attention than they would be getting if you were at work all day.
- When you go anywhere, don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t say goodbye and promise to come back. Stay calm and leave quietly, so you don’t work them up into a panicked frenzy.
- When you get home, ignore your dog (as hard as this is!) for the first 5-10 minutes. Then greet them calmly. Again, it stops them from associating your coming and going with a need to work themselves up.
Some other things that you can try are providing them with enrichment toys and puzzles. There are so many fantastic options around.
Use the back of a spoon to spread soft food (raw meat, peanut butter, greek yoghurt, canned tuna in spring water, egg etc - get creative!) on to a Lickimat and the licking sensation as your dog gets their reward is actually soothing, so it will keep them busy and soothe their anxiety. You can even pop it in the freezer to make it more of a challenge.
Stuff dry food and treats into a Snuffle Ball/Mat to keep them busy, however it won’t last as long as some of the other options.
Puzzles are one of the longest lasting enrichment options - just make sure you choose a difficulty level that is suitable to your dog so it isn’t too easy that they complete it immediately or too hard that they get frustrated. Place treats or food in the compartments, and then lock the puzzle so that your pooch has to work out how to unlock it to get their food reward. There are plenty of puzzle options on the market, so get a couple and rotate them to keep it interesting!
Give them a long-lasting chew before you leave - just be sure that they won’t gulp it down and choke, so test them with the same treat while you’re around to supervise.
There are endless options to keep your dog too busy to miss you, but each dog is different so what works for one may not work for another. If you’re having major difficulties, it’s always best to reach out to your vet for some extra guidance.