While many of us have forged an even closer bond with our four-legged friends during this unprecedented lockdown, spending so much time together has created the potential for behavioural issues, such as separation anxiety, to develop in some. This is especially the case for the more anxiety-prone of our pets. Therefore, some dogs might find it hard to cope when they no longer have our company and attention 24/7.
Separation anxiety training during lockdown
Thankfully, lockdown has to end at some point. It is sensible to set our dogs up for success and start to ‘train’ them to deal with being left alone once again. A good way to do this is to designate a time each day where they are left to their own devices. This may mean you pop out for a walk without them, or you leave them in another room with the door closed. To make the experience positive for them, ensure they have something nice to do such as licking tasty treats from a lick mat or munching their kibble out of a Kong. Some may enjoy having the TV or radio on at low volume in the background. Remember not to make a big deal out of coming home, as this can increase anxiety in some. Ideally, we would only say hello once they are completely calm and not if they are jumping up or whining. Initially, they may take quite a few minutes to settle when you get back. However, over time they should learn to stay composed when they hear that key in the door.
Training your dog if you're back at work
For those of us who have started to go back to work (or whose children have been attending school), we may have already detected a change in our canines’ behaviour. Signs of separation anxiety can include: increased vocalisation, destructive tendencies (such as chewing on sideboards or digging in the garden) and passing pee or poo inside the home despite being toilet trained.
Dealing with separation anxiety that is already established is more challenging than preventing it. However, it is by no means impossible.
The first step is to aim to create a calm and confident dog who can cope in any situation. This means providing plenty of mental and physical stimulation and ensuring all of their basic needs are met. Encouraging them to participate in basic training and to solve puzzles and play games will all help to form a well-rounded, self-assured dog. Boredom is often a factor when it comes to the development of separation anxiety. Work hard on keeping your dog's day to day life interesting. You can try playing scenting games, varying up their toys and taking them on different routes when out on walks.
For those with mild anxiety, simply keeping them occupied when by themselves will be enough. This means chew, toys and food puzzles. Freezing the food inside the puzzles can make them last a lot longer.
For more anxious dogs
More anxious dogs will benefit from further interventions. This could include: crate training (providing them with a secure space in which they know they can relax) and desensitisation programmes (leaving them alone a little longer each time, building up their tolerance slowly without causing them any stress). Treating more serious cases of separation anxiety is not always easy. It is often beneficial to consult your vet or a local APBC registered behaviourist to ensure success.