The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has seen a lot more people working from home. Our pets have loved the increase in attention and companionship that comes with having their favourite humans at home. As the lockdown restrictions ease and people return to work, I’ve noticed a surge in clients reporting signs of separation anxiety in their dogs – including dogs that have never had an issue with anxiety before. It seems our pets have become so used to having their humans around, that they’re now having trouble adapting to when people are returning to work.
As a vet who helps treat a lot of dogs with separation anxiety as part of my veterinary home visit service and also in our vet hospital, I thought it would be beneficial to explain a bit more about what the condition is and describe some strategies for helping your hound adapt to these changing times.
Separation anxiety is a behavioural condition in dogs, where they display signs of distress and anxiety when their owner is absent. The signs of separation anxiety can vary between pets, and can include; excessive barking and whimpering, pacing and not settling, inappropriate indoor toileting, drooling, self-harming such as excessive scratching or chewing or their skin, and destructive behaviours such as digging, chewing furniture or even destroying doors and walls.
The key to dealing with separation anxiety in dogs is we need to teach the dog how to be calm and relaxed when you are away from home. Essentially, the dog’s motivation is that they want your attention, so you can use the very reward that your dog is seeking to teach independent behaviour and relaxation. We want to teach the dog to understand that whenever you leave, it’s reasonable to expect you to return, by what I often refer to as implementing short departure training.
Short departure training basically involves starting with the shortest absence your dog will tolerate without becoming distressed and repeating this tiny trip until your dog is becoming unconcerned. It’s important to repeat your departures, and to gradually increase the time your dog is left alone. When planning to leave home, ignore your dog for a short period of time before you depart and try to vary your routine to minimise departure ‘triggers’ that can cause the dog anxiety. You can also provide distractions like treat-filled Kong toys.
Leave the dog alone when you go to a different part of the house or yard, or if going out for short errands. Don’t make a big fuss about your departure, and on your return wait until you pet is calm before you reward your pet for being self-sufficient.
The treatment methods I suggest for separation anxiety will vary depending on the extent of the signs your pet is displaying, together with being based on a veterinary assessment of the dog. Sometimes medications may be beneficial, which is something I will discuss with you further after examining your pet.
If you notice your dog displaying any signs of separation anxiety or appearing distressed when you leave for work, a veterinary house visit will be very worthwhile so that I can examine your pet and discuss the necessary management strategies to help ease the separation anxiety. I’m happy if your pet is happy too!