Updated: May 12, 2021
As we all know, we are in the strangest of times, being ordered by our government to "stay home" is unprecedented.
The glorious part of it, is we get to be home all day & nights with our beloved pets.
Most of us are taking our dogs out for walks more than we ever have before, I sometimes think the dogs must look at us and think "not again!" as we get the lead out and say "walkies" in that strange high pitched voice we all seem to find when it comes to our fur babies. The reality is, the dogs love it. They love having a family pack, whether it is just one owner or multiple dogs and big families they thrive on living alongside us.
So as the lockdown starts to lift and we think about going back to work, what will happen to our dogs when they see us go out the door again?
Many will adapt easily and revert back to how it was before, but there will be a huge number of our dogs that can't cope with the sudden change of being in a pack 24/7 to be alone all day again. This may result in different levels of "separation anxiety".
Separation anxiety is when a dog can't process why they have been left alone and if they haven't been trained from a young age to cope with a few hours alone they will build up anxieties in their minds as to why this has happened and if anyone is coming back.
We all know if we pop out to the shop or even the garage, our dogs go mad as if we have been away for 6 months on a trek in Timbuktu! They jump up and wag their tails in excitement
just because they love us so much.
During this prolonged period of being home all day, every day our pups would have got used to the new conditioning of our home routines. They will be at their happiest because all their needs are being met; Comfortable home/bed, food, water, pack(family) & plenty of exercise.
But soon they will suddenly go from this doggie utopia to sitting, looking at the door close and nothing....nothing....nothing...
What are the signs of separation anxiety?
One of the obvious signs is barking. Your neighbours may say to you they have barked all day without settling down.
Pacing to and fro.
Salivates heavily ( a sure sign of stress, although some breeds do this a lot anyway )
They may do small nips and bites at you and can act in a very overly excited way, almost to the point of panic.
Whilst you have been out, they may have urinated in many places, been destructive by chewing doors, furniture & cushions & they may poop.
A dog can pick up the signs of us getting ready to go out, they may watch us putting our shoes on, getting dressed, picking up the car keys and checking the house is secure. They may start to act out any of the above when they realise you are going to leave or they will act out after we have left.
Some dogs are more prone to separation anxiety. Toy breeds that have been mollycoddled will not be able to cope well as they haven't had the chance to be independent. Dogs that have grown up with someone home the whole time will suddenly struggle, so we can be our own worst enemy with this issue. If you have a puppy or even an older dog start to teach them that it's okay and normal to be alone for a while a day and overnight.
I would advise starting with 5 minute periods of leaving them alone and slowly build up from there. Try to ignore any behaviour to grab your attention as you put your outdoor clothing on, they may try to scratch or paw you, bark or whine,give you puppy dog eyes & stand on you or act overly excited. IGNORE all of this with a NO touch, NO talk & NO eye contact scenario. You will be surprised at how quickly they learn when we don't buy into their mind games!
Using food to distract our dogs from remembering we have gone out without them is a positive way to help them. Kong toys are very good as they are tricky for your dog to get the food out quickly and can take a long time of concentration for them to enjoy this treat. They will associate the reward with you going out too so it's very positive. Freezing a kong toy with dog safe peanut butter or pate inside is a sure way to make our dogs work for their treat and distract their minds that we aren't even there.
Remember if you are using food as a treat to balance his meal times and food intake across the day to avoid obesity.
If you are going to crate your dog, make sure it's a big enough crate and they aren't left for too long. Make the crate a positive place to be, training your dog to enjoy their time in there,using toys or treats and a comfy bed can create a lovely "time out" zone for your dog when you are home and then they wont mind when you go out too. Always leave water for them too.
Obviously if you are going to be out for many hours of the day, recruit local family or friends to pop in for garden breaks and a fuss, if a friend has a balanced dog that can cope well alone ask to borrow him to help your own dog adjust (they must know each other well first). There are many professional dog walkers, sitters/boarders, daycare workers now, so maybe use these resources to help you and your dog. My log is "happy dog, happy home" because if they have been well cared for in the day and tired out from walking with other dogs etc... they will be happy and ready for cuddles when you get home from work.
Another distraction is to play a scent game. use tasty treats such as sausage, chicken or cheese and place them around the home without your dog noticing. As you go out offer a piece of the treat so he has the scent and then while you are out he will use his senses to find the hidden treats.
One thing you can do before going out, is to thoroughly exercise your dog. Get up earlier and take them for a good 45 minute brisk walk, not stopping too much but moving quickly to tire him out, if you can bring the energy levels of your dog down, they potentially will have less energy to be destructive.
Before you start thinking about going back to work, start some of the above techniques to condition your dog rather than the change suddenly happening.
Confuse him by getting ready to go out, then take your shoes off and sit down, the next time just go out the door and back in, another time spend 5 minutes out, then 1 minute, then 10 minutes... just to leave our dogs guessing what we are doing.
One more thing, if you come home and your dog has urinated, pooped or been destructive please don't shout or have a go at them. Dogs live in the moment and won't have a clue what we are shouting about, they may pull a "guilty" face, we have all seen to clips of that, but actually they are responding to the voice and attitude of the owner not the problem they caused hours earlier and won't learn from being told off. positive re-enforcement and training are the key to a happy balanced dog.
Good luck as lockdown lifts and we resume our old lifestyles, but remember the things we have loved and learn't in these recent times and try not to lose them, especially the bond we have with our best friends, our dogs.
until next time...