At the minute this is one of my biggest requests on how to deal with separation anxiety. This year has been interesting to say the least, it’s been a huge change for both you, your family and your dog. Your dog may suddenly have to of dealt with a full house, have access and attention from the children or yourself a lot of the time and loved every minute of it!
Now when people are going back to work, he doesn’t have the same experiences, the same attention, this is where separation anxiety may develop. I’m going to talk about strategies to prevent separation anxiety and then some tips to help you if your dog is displaying behaviours around separation anxiety such as excessive whining, barking or howling when you leave the house, destructive chewing or digging, intense pacing or circling.
What can you do now to prevent future stress and strain on both you and your pup?
I employ the calmness triad daily, part of this triad is ‘rest’ where a dog has a chance to be in a safe place and have some down time. I suggest using this part of the triad to put your dog in another room to you throughout the day. I often suggest crating your dog throughout the day, for short periods of time, even when you are in as it has many benefits not just preventing separation anxiety. It promotes independence and calmness. It is a good concept to develop- that even when you are in the house your dog doesn’t have access to you all the time. Furthermore, if your dog sleeps in a crate or different room at night, I still suggest doing this. Night-time is very different to the day.
Think about where you usually leave your dog when you go out, if your dog has free access to downstairs then leave him here with a chew or a kong and take your work upstairs or watch a film upstairs.
If you would like to change up where you leave your dog when you go out, this is a great opportunity to do that.
Now that lockdown has eased, we can go out more, this is a great chance to leave your dog for short increments of time (I want to stress here- try not to make a grand exit!). I would suggest putting your dog in the place they usually go when you leave (a crate, puppy pen, safe room), employ them in an activity such as a high value kong maybe 5-10 minutes before you leave, ensure they are ok and happy then leave calmly for a short period of time. You can build up the duration of periods left depending on the severity of separation anxiety. I wouldn’t suggest using any visual or oral cues as these words can become a trigger for behaviours associated with separation anxiety. “Bye” can easily become associated with “oh, she’s leaving, time to cry”.
Tips if your dog isn’t used to being left or has a degree of separation anxiety
Firstly, it can take a while and a lot of effort to help a dog with separation anxiety.
· Build your sessions up gradually, short periods to start with even if this is putting them in a room or a crate with an activity and not closing the door. Closing the door can be massive to some dogs- this needs to be built very slowly and carefully.
· Don’t make a big fuss of them when leaving them or returning them- you want this to be a non-event.
· If they start to struggle, then go back to them quicker next time before they have started to become distressed and extend the time gradually ensuring to set them up for success.
· Give them something to do when you leave them for example, a kong or a stuffed bone- these can also be frozen to various degrees to make them last longer.
· Make these sessions part of your day and more than once a day!
· Ensure their needs are met before you practice- they have eaten, had some form of exercise mentally and/or physical and they have toileted.
· If you have children in the house, try practicing this when you are having a quieter time such as watching TV. If your children are out playing in the garden, your dog will want to join them so it will be harder for them to settle in their calm space.
I would suggest discussing your strategies with all the family and ensuring they know that you are working on their calm, happy place so that they avoid running into the room that you are training in and disrupt the session.
This is a lovely time to spend with the whole family, including your dog(s) and they are a great companion in such uncertain times but to help them transition back to ‘normality’, employing the ‘rest’ part of the triad and the above tips is important.
If you would like tailored advice either by an online consultation or an in person 121 session, email me firstname.lastname@example.org