Dogs were one of the few winners of pandemic lockdowns, spending lots of time with their beloved human owners and getting plenty of walks.
But now that our lives are getting back to normal we’re spending more time away from home – from going to the office for work to enjoying reopened bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres.
And for dogs used to having human company all the time, being left home alone can lead to separation anxiety.
Pet insurance provider Animal Friends Insurance has teamed up with vet Kate Costaras at online pet health resource Joii to share her expertise on the problem and how to deal with it.
Kate said: “Simply, separation anxiety is when a puppy or dog becomes frantic and anxious due to being left alone. It can be really distressing for dogs as we all know dogs love companionship, but thankfully there are ways to keep it under control.”
But how can we tell if it is separation anxiety that your puppy is dealing with, or just some mischievous behaviour that should reduce in time?
The top six tell tale signs are barking, howling, pacing, panting, toileting indoors, and destroying items around the house.
If you think your pup may be experiencing this common problem there are plenty of ways to help encourage your dog to learn to love their own company.
Here are five tactics to try.
Get training down to a tee
You can train your dog to be confident alone by gradually increasing the amount of time they are left alone, but be aware this is not a quick process. This requires a lot of practice and plenty of patience.
Start by moving away from your dog, rewarding them if they stay calm and quiet. Slowly progress to leaving the room and rewarding if they stay settled for short periods of time. Keep repeating this, ensuring rewarding is kept up, until you can gradually increase the amount of time spent apart.
Once you’re comfortable with managing being apart indoors, leave the house for a short period to try and build up their confidence. On your return you should still reward your dog, but it’s important to not make too big a fuss as this can actually have the opposite effect and increase their anxiety levels.
“You should wait for your dog to become settled once again before giving them a treat so they can understand they are rewarded for calm behaviour. Repeating this process frequently will teach your puppy that coming and going is a part of their everyday routine and not something to be fearful about.”
Another great way to support your dog on the journey to comfortable alone time is reducing time together when you are at home.
Puppies in particular can be really clingy and want to be around your feet at all times which, whilst very sweet, can lead to greater separation anxiety. If they tend to follow you to the bathroom, a good trick is to drop some treats outside the door before shutting it. This teaches the dog that good things can happen even when they aren’t with you.
Another tip is to tie a stuffable toy in a room which you spend little time in, but your dog has access to. Add treats to the toy and let your dog explore the area and get a positive experience when they find them. Again, this promotes independence and confidence.
Time for toys
Dogs adore playing, so encouraging your dog to enjoy playing by themselves as well as with company, can help them through alone time – especially in the early days.
Toys are a great way to give your dog something to do whilst you’re unable to keep them entertained. Introduce them to interactive toys such as treat dispensing toys or puzzles that will keep them busy for a longer period of time. Alternatively, have a go at making your own boredom busters, such as snuffle mats stuffed with treats.
You should always check the toy’s condition before leaving your dog unoccupied to ensure it’s safe and can’t be swallowed. You should also be mindful of how many treats your dog is consuming each day as their meal quantities may need to be adjusted accordingly.
Destress with a diffuser
Investing in other items such as a pet specific plug-in diffuser can be worthwhile if your puppy is getting particularly stressed during this time.
Using a plug-in pet diffuser can release calming pheromones throughout your home which helps reduce anxiety levels in your dog. Ensure you check that the diffuser is designed specifically with pets in mind to keep your puppy free from any harm. You should note that methods like this can take some time for you to really notice any positive changes.
Get your pup sound smart
Ever notice your dog reacting to something you can’t identify? Dogs have very sensitive hearing and can hear many things that us humans cannot. This can lead to anxiety and restlessness due to the variety of sounds available to your dog’s ears.
Loud noises, whether inside or outside the home, can unsettle a pup and undo all the great training you’ve done. Preparing your dog to ignore these noises is key to ensuring they remain undisturbed whilst you’re away.
To begin the training, you should give your dog something tasty to chew for around ten minutes. Whilst they enjoy their treat, play a recording of a loud noise at a low level. If they react, turn down the volume or swap out the treat for something of higher value.
Keep this up until they no longer react then begin to increase the volume level over the next few days. As with any dog training, it’s important to be consistent and increase difficulty slowly to help progress so keep as patient as you can for your pup.
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