Now that most of us are going back to work after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions being partially lifted our dogs are finally being left alone after many months of their owners being in the house. Some dogs may finally enjoy having some peace and quiet for themselves, but some may struggle adjusting to being alone and could develop separation anxiety. We are not just talking about the occasional whimper when we leave the house, it is a serious condition. In this article we will discuss what separation anxiety is and some ways you could help ease your dog’s problems.
Why might your dog develop separation anxiety?
Some indicators to watch out for to see if your dog may have separation anxiety is destructive behaviour, going to the toilet anywhere, or howling and barking. Research from the RSPCA suggests that 8 out of 10 dogs find it hard to cope when they are left alone. If your dog is not displaying any of these symptoms but you think they may have separation anxiety you could try videoing them when they are home alone to revel anything unusual they may be doing when you are not there.
Patricia McConnell PhD, a zoologist, certified applied animal behaviourist and a known separation anxiety expert explains why dogs may develop separation anxiety:“We can’t know for sure what’s in a dog’s mind. We can think of separation anxiety as the equivalent of a panic attack.”
The most common reason dogs may develop separation anxiety is that they never learn that its okay to be on their own. Dogs are naturally social animals; they feel more comfortable in a social group. Getting a dog walker to come and walk your dog with a group of other dogs will let them be sociable and hopefully forget about being alone.
How to help your dog
There are many ways you can help your dog with their separation anxiety. First, make sure you are leaving your dog in a safe place in the house, so that if they do try to destroy anything they can’t be injured. Furthermore, having a comfortable bed in that area and making sure the temperature is just right; it isn’t too hot or cold, so they have somewhere to relax. If you are gone for a long time they may need the toilet so consider installing a dog flap if you have a secure garden. If not, try asking a family member or friend to go round and let them outside for a little bit.
To try and take your dog’s mind off being alone you could try leaving them with activities to do. You could get destruction boxes, so they can destroy them rather than your favourite pair of shoes. Enrichment feeders such as the Kong brand are a great way for them to get a treat and it will occupy them for a while. Chew toys can also be an excellent distraction but only leave them alone with your dog if you know they will be safe. Releasing natural calming pheromones in the room they could also be a good way of helping keep them calm. You can release these pheromones by getting a plug-in diffuser or a special collar.
Punishment won’t help
Your favourite cushion may have been ripped to shreds but punishing your dog won’t solve their anxiety. Dogs will associate punishment with whatever behaviour they are showing in that moment, they won’t associate the punishment with an action they did three hours ago. This will harm your dog’s mental state more because they will have separation anxiety and then they will be anxious for you coming home and telling them off.
The best way to try and combat separation anxiety is by seeking help from a trainer or professional behaviour specialist. Medication may be needed in certain circumstances, but this decision needs to be made by a vet usually also in discussion with a behavioural or veterinary specialist.
So, we hope these tips will help you and your dog. It’s natural right now that your dogs will be feel a bit worried about you leaving the house. It’s hard for humans to understand what is going on in the world right now never mind dogs. Most dogs will be able to be trained out of this problem, but we hope your sofa remains intact in the meantime!