How to combat your dog’s Separation Anxiety.
With the dreaded ‘C’ word (that’s right, you guessed it – coronavirus) hitting the UK, it has forced a lot of us to stay at home and quarantine. The upside to this is that our beloved dogs have had so much more of our time and attention. However, what happens when we are able to go back to work and our dogs need to be left alone for short periods? Will they be as calm as a cucumber or will they not be used to being alone any longer? In case Separation Anxiety does rear its ugly head, here is some top level information to help stop this from happening.
What is separation anxiety?
Firstly let’s look into what Separation Anxiety is. Separation Anxiety (or Separation Related Behavior, SRB) is when a dog displays distress or upset caused by the separation from their owner/s that they have become attached to. This can cause the dog to pace, whine, bark/howl or cause destruction within the home, along with various other signals. It’s important to remember that it is not the same as boredom, or a casual sock being torn up because your pup has nothing better to do. It is legitimate stress and can be the equivalent of a panic attack within a human.
How can you help ease Separation Anxiety?
It’s never easy to come home to an upset dog or destroyed home, so here is some useful tactics to put into place to help ease your pup’s separation anxiety.
It’s important to develop independence in your dog and discourage clinginess. This should start when they are young by encouraging them to play with their toys and learning to self sooth. You can then build on this by teaching them the ‘stay’ command and to remain in that position for a couple of minutes. Once they have a successful and strong “stay” response, then you can start leaving the room and increasing the time gradually. This same rule applies when you come to leave the house. Start by only leaving them for a short amount of time and then slowly build this up. The term ‘throwing them in at the deep end’ doesn't work in this situation as it can be a traumatic experience for your pup and may in fact make their Separation Anxiety worse.
Play it cool
Don’t portray a lot of excitement or emotion when you leave or return. Keep as calm as possible. The more emphasis you put on these events, the more your dog will start to associate them with big occasions to worry over. It is important to remember that if you come home to some destruction, don't reprimand your dog. This will only add to their anxiety and result in worsening the problem.
Whilst exercise won’t cure Separation Anxiety, it will help to prevent it. A tired dog who has come back from an age- and size-appropriate walk will settle down and nap whilst you are away. Mental exercise also plays a strong part in this equation. Cognitive and engaging games can keep your dog entertained for a substantial amount of time and can be just as tiring as physical exercise.
My final tip is to think about your dog’s immediate environment. Most anxious dogs respond well to calm, soothing music played quietly, and there are some great playlists on Youtube for this exact purpose. Lavender also has a calming affect on dogs, much like humans. You can either spray a lavender room spray (just make sure it is safe for pets) or you can get lavender calming spray from most good pet stores. Lastly, think about their safe space. For most dogs this is their bed/crate. Make sure they are able to get to it easily and it is comfortable for them.
All these tricks will go a long way in helping your dog combat Separation Anxiety, and it is well worth starting to implement some of these steps to prepare your dog for when the current climate reaches a form of reality again.
Stay safe and stay alert everyone!
Photo Credit: Benoit Dupont. https://tinyurl.com/y8tz3hlw