All across the UK and in many other countries, animal shelters have been reporting exceptionally high numbers of adoptions since the COVID 19 pandemic has started. Some shelters, like the Riverside County Animal Shelter in California, USA even ended upcompletely empty.
It seems that many people have decided that the lockdown is the perfect time to welcome a new pet into their home. This is great to hear and definitely a win-win situation. Having a pet during a critical time like this provides emotional support to humans, while the dogs get a new home.
However, as our lives slowly get back to normal, it’s important not to forget about our canine friends. In this article, we’ll talk about separation anxiety in dogs. You’ll learn what separation anxiety is, how to recognise and prevent it as well as why this is especially important in the times of COVID-19.
Separation Anxiety & COVID-19
Up to 40% of dogs that visit veterinary behavioural specialists suffer from separation anxiety and often express their emotional distress in destructive and loud ways that can cause a number of issues. This highlights that it is a very common behaviour problem usually associated with puppies, but also one that can suddenly appear with adult dogs at any point.
“Separation anxiety is a traumatic problem for dogs that experience it and goes far beyond the occasional cry when you leave the house. Separation anxiety is the result of legitimate stress.” - Dr. Ros Dench – Veterinarian Advisor at Wileypup.com
What causes separation anxiety is never easy to determine, as obviously we can’t read our dog’s minds. However, the experience of many pet parents shows that changes in daily routines often trigger anxiety in dogs.
This kind of change can easily lead to separation anxiety. This is why it’s important to pay close attention to our pets during this time and to try and make the transition as gentle as possible for them. But how exactly can we do this? The next section deals with tactics you can use to teach your dog that spending some time alone is completely fine.
How To Prevent Separation Anxiety
1. Start Slow
If your dog is used to you being around all, or most of the time, you have to start by letting your pooch be alone for shorter periods of time at first. If you suddenly go out and don’t come back for 4 or 5 hours, it’s normal for your dog to find it stressful.
Instead, try leaving your dog alone for very short periods of time at first. Even five or ten minutes will suffice, and you can start increasing the intervals once you see the short periods of separation are going well.
Pro Tip: Train your dog to stay alone in a room while you are still home
A good way you can start preventing separation anxiety even during lockdown is by training your dog or puppy to be alone in a room. Tell your dog to stay and you go out of the room. If your dog starts whining or exhibiting other nervous behaviour, try ignoring it. When your dog is calm - reward the positive behaviour with petting or a favourite treat.
2. Avoid Making A Big Fuss When Leaving
If you make a big deal when you are leaving the house, you dog may associate that the act of leaving is a big deal. If you are like most pet parents, you’d like to give the last cuddle to your pooch right in front of the door when you leave. However, this is not a good idea. No saying goodbye, not cuddling. In fact, your dog probably shouldn’t even be following you to the front door as this can encourage other behaviour problems too. Just leave calmly and come back as if nothing happened. This will send your dog a signal that everything's alright when you leave.
Pro Tip: Mix up your departure routine
Dogs can learn our routines quite easily. When we start packing our things, our dogs often know we are leaving, which exacerbates their anxiety. Try placing your bag and your shoes in a different place from time to time or putting your coat on but then not leaving immediately. This might break the negative associations with your departure.
3. Provide Some Entertainment While You’re Away
What starts as boredom can lead to destructive behaviour and anxiety. Leaving interactive toys for your dog to enjoy while you are not there is a great way to keep them calm and occupied. While there are many stimulating dog toys to choose from today, we especially like interactive toys like the GameChanger® that will exercise a dog's mind as well as body.
Pro Tip: Always supervise your dog when you introduce new toys
If you want to try keeping your dog entertained with toys like the GameChanger®, puzzles or ball launchers, always start under supervision. Make sure your dog knows how to use the toy properly before you leave him alone with it in order to avoid any accidents.
Separation anxiety in dogs is definitely a serious problem. The good news is that it’s much easier to prevent it than to deal with it once you already have a problem. If you start with the training early and pay close attention to your dog, there is a high probability you’ll be able to keep everything under control. In any case, we wish you and your pooch good luck in the post-COVID-19 world!
More time under one roof can present a challenge for both dogs and humans, but a little communication, spoken in the language that dogs understand, can ensure happy dogs and their owners. No matter what the behaviour problems, your Bark Busters trainer is just a phone call away.