By Sarah Dixon, CDBC, KPA-CTP
Many of us have been working from home, and while your dogs may love having you around more and receiving more attention, the change in schedule may make it difficult for them to adjust back to being left alone.
Separation anxiety can manifest due to changes in schedule, especially where we are spending more time with our dogs. For example, I’ve had past clients where their 8 year old dog developed separation anxiety after sustaining an injury to her back. For 8 weeks she was doted on, and never left alone. Once she was able to resume a regular schedule as her back had healed well enough, she would panic when left alone.
Separation anxiety can range in severity from mild to severe. Severe cases often require intervention from a veterinary behaviour specialist. However mild to moderate cases can be worked on with time, patience and behaviour modification. Separation anxiety symptoms can manifest from excessive vocalization such as barking and howling, destructive behaviour, or other behaviours such as attempts to escape, urination, defecation, or excessive drooling.
We don’t know exactly why dogs can develop separation related problems, but it can be related to fear (panic at being left alone), poor frustration tolerance (upset that they cannot access their person and poor ability to calm down from stress), or being over-bonded to their owners. The latter is why we may see a spontaneous development of separation issues in cases where owners have been working from home and then return to a regular schedule. Your dog gets used to you being home, receiving more attention, and a different schedule. When you go back to working away from home, the massive change in schedule coupled with your sudden lack of presence can cause problem behaviours the arise that weren’t there before.
We can talk a lot on how to work through separation anxiety problems, but for this blog I wanted to write about how those of us who have been spending more time at home lately can prevent those problems from cropping up. Perhaps you’ve even seen anxiety from your dog that is novel.
If you would like help working through a separation distress problem, I do virtual lessons for this issue and can work with anyone, anywhere. Digital lessons work perfectly for separation anxiety coaching! I also have a webinar on June 3rd which talks about how to work through separation related problems. The webinar is geared for professional trainers, but is also suitable for pet owners seeking more information.
Preventing Development of Separation Anxiety
So what can we do if we’re now at home more and want to make it easy for our dogs when we transition back to regular life? One thing you can do is try to keep as schedule that is similar to your regular work day for you. Try to wake up around the same time, walk around the same time, and if you normally crate or pen your dog while you’re at work, keep up some or all of the crate/pen time daily during the weekdays.
If you are working from home, you can set up your schedule where you have blocks of ‘working time’ and your dog can be crated or penned during that time. This can mimic your regular work schedule nicely and provide your dog which much needed sense of routine. Then it will not be a shock to them if you return to working at the office and your dog has to be confined again. You can still take breaks whenever you want during your day to walk or play with your dog, and your dog can have safe chews and toys to occupy them during down time.
Another thing I’d recommend is regularly leave your dog home alone, even if it’s for short periods and even if you don’t go anywhere. Pop out for a walk around the block, or whatever you can do safely that isn’t putting yourself at risk. This will keep it a regular occurrence for your dog that you will leave them home alone. This way it remains a normal part of life and they won’t panic when you do go back to work.
Lastly, try to make alone time have positive associations. When you do settle your dog in their space away from you for your work time, or you do leave the house, set your dog up with yummy treats (such as bully sticks and chews from Open Range) and puzzle toys (check out brands like Outward Hound and Kong). This will not only keep your dog busy (and tire them out some!) but it will make you leaving a predictor of great things happening!
If, like many people, you’ve taken advantage of the extra time at home to adopt or purchase a puppy, please make sure you spend the time now teaching your puppy using the above tips how to be comfortable in a crate or pen and to tolerate being left alone! If you don’t work on this now while your puppy is young, you may have a real problem on your hands if things change and you’re out of the house more.
That’s it for now! I hope these tips and tricks help you to keep your dog happy and relaxed when left home alone!
Until next time, happy training!