Separation anxiety and our lockdown companions

separation anxiety lockdown pets dog

If there is one message all pet owners can agree on from the past year, it’s that it has been wonderful to spend so much time with our pets during lockdown and that they have loved having us around too. Our dogs have undoubtedly given us essential support, companionship and exercise during uncertain times. For many people, changes in lifestyle and working hours have allowed them to have a puppy for the first time and we have certainly enjoyed meeting all of your new family members.

However, we might be setting our dogs up to fail by not preparing them for being left alone when restrictions ease and we need to return to work and school. A study by Dogs Trust showed that before the pandemic, 14% of dogs were not left at home for longer than 5 minutes but that this increased to 58% during the lockdown. That’s an awful lot of dogs who are now used to having their humans around all of the time. 

Although we should never aim to leave them alone for long periods, being able to be left for short spells is an essential life skill for dogs. For dogs that are not used to being alone, it can cause extreme distress and anxiety. 

Signs of separation anxiety in dogs

• Barking, howling or whining

• Destructive behaviour like chewing

• Pacing, panting or trembling

• Toileting in the house

Preparing your dog to be left alone

The time to start is now, while we can gradually make changes to our dogs’ routines and be there to support their training, but before we are summoned back to the office! 

Firstly, ensure their exercise needs are met – a tired dog is a good dog. Take your vet's advice on how much and what type of exercise is appropriate for puppies, especially large and giant breeds. 

Provide mental stimulation too; tiredness is not just physical. Brain games like hide and seek with treats, puzzle feeders and snuffle mats tap in to our dogs’ natural scenting and hunting abilities. 

Create a safe, cosy den space (stair gates and pens can be useful) and encourage your dog to settle there with treats and toys. 

Gradually build up the time and distance of separation – this might just be a different room initially, returning quickly to reward them for staying settled. Build short sessions of this into your daily routine. Progress to leaving the room for longer periods of time, and eventually to leaving the house. 

If your dog shows any signs of distress, you’ve progressed too fast; go back a step. 

Speak to your vet or veterinary nurse about calming products like pheromone diffusers, or to seek further behavioural help for established cases of anxiety.

 

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