Many of us are spending more time at home than ever before. While our dogs are surely
enjoying having us around, could this extra time together be setting our dogs up to
experience Separation Anxiety when we return to a normal schedule?
Being comfortable while alone is a skill all dogs need. The following tips are not meant to treat Separation Anxiety. If your dog already experiences anxiety when you leave the house, please contact me for private coaching.
• Crate your dog and give him a special chew treat such as a pig’s ear. Leave the room for
about 20 to 30 min. Nowadays this might just mean sitting in a different room of the house or walking to the mailbox. It doesn’t matter where you go, what’s important is that you and your dog are separate for a while. Tip: When letting him out of his crate, be
nonchalant. Keep emotions calm when departing and returning.
• Crate your dog or leave him loose (whatever would be normal for you) Exit your home
through the door that you would normally use if going to work. Start your car and drive
around the block a few times. It’s important that your dog hear the car start and drive
away. Tip: Ignore your dog for a few minutes upon returning. Then greet him calmly.
• Crate your dog or place him in another room with a baby gate blocking the doorway. Act like you’re going to leave the house, but don’t. Put your keys in your pocket, pick up
your phone, put on your work shoes, pour a travel mug of coffee. Then go sit on the couch and watch your favorite show. Tip: What’s happening here is you are de-coupling behaviors that might normally predict your departure from an actual departure.
It is important that your dog learn how to entertain himself. He can learn this by giving him a puzzle toy, or interactive food toy, and letting him manipulate it to get the treats out. Leave the room while he works on his toy. He’s learning that he can feel happy while alone. The toy is reinforcing this by dispensing yummy food. Not only do these toys provide independence training, they provide mental stimulation which can help tire a dog out.
Tip: Great puzzle toys are the Kibble Nibble, Kong Wobbler, Buster Cube, Treat Maze, Magic Mushroom, just to name a few…
Your routine should consist of Feeding Time, Walks, Playtime / Training Time, Quiet Time and Alone Time. Try to keep the balance of these things as close to normal as you can. It might be tempting to give your dog many more walks than normal if you are spending more time at home. However, if you can keep your dog on a schedule that he is used to, this will make the transition easier for him when you return to a more normal schedule. Additionally, if your dog struggles with fear or reactivity, giving him more walks might not be a good thing – increased exposure to triggers could be stressful. Tip: If you need those extra walks for yourself, go on some of them without your dog. This will also provide him with the opportunity to practice being alone.
Keep an Eye Out for Behavior Changes that might indicate Separation Issues are Developing
The following behaviors might indicate your dog is starting to experience separation related anxiety.
· An increase in following you around the house
· An increase in leaning or pressing his body against family members
· Trying to stop a family member from leaving the room
· Unusual or repetitive behaviors (licking, tail chasing)
If you’d like more information on Separation Anxiety, check out I’ll Be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell, available on Amazon.