The Covid-19 pandemic left a lot of us struggling with loneliness, anxiety and isolation, so it’s no wonder that pet ownership has surged during this difficult time. Now, with some normality returning, you might be jumping at the chance to get back to your old routine and catch up with friends, family and colleagues.
However, you should spare a thought for your dog. From their perspective, the one person they love more than anything in the world has been around a whole lot more than usual. What’s more, if you bought a new puppy during lockdown, they’ve only ever known your lockdown routine. Adjusting to the idea of an empty home can be a huge challenge for a young pup.
Still, whether you’re a new dog owner or have had your best friend around for years, you should be prepared to help your dog with anxiety as you start spending more time away from home.
What Is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is fairly common in dogs, especially when there's a sudden change in routine. Dogs develop attachments to their owners. So, if you're suddenly spending more time away from home, your best friend can become more anxious. Aside from being an unpleasant experience for your dog, it can also lead to other problems at home.
How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?
Dogs develop strong attachments with their owners, and you might not have even left your home before the signs of separation anxiety begin to show. If your dog is displaying any of the behaviours below, then you could have a problem:
- Obsessive grooming and licking
- A reduction in appetite compared to what is normal for them
- Regression in house training, leading to soiling on the floors or furniture
- Becoming more easily startled by sounds that don’t usually bother them
- Following you around the home much more than usual
- Attempting to follow you out of the door when you leave home
- Waiting by the door after you have left the home
- Pacing around the home and being unable to relax while you’re away
- Engaging in destructive habits that are out of character, including chewing furniture
Of course, some of these signs won’t be as noticeable as others, especially when behavioural changes happen while you're away. It’s a good idea to set up a smart camera in your home so that you can keep an eye on your dog’s behaviour. This way, you can see exactly how your pet is behaving while you’re absent and whether there's any cause for concern.
If you do see changes in your dog's behaviour, then you should check out the steps below.
We've outlined some of the simple changes you can make to help your dog with separation anxiety.
How to Help Your Dog with Anxiety: A Practical Guide
The good news is that we can help our dogs to deal with the inevitable anxiety that can arise from a change in schedule. Below, you’ll find points on how to help your dog with anxiety when you’re expecting to spend more time away from home.
Speak to your vet
Your trusted vet should always be the first port of call if there are sudden changes in your dog's behaviour and habits. Some of the signs of separation anxiety are shared with underlying illnesses, so make sure your furry friend is healthy above all else. This will rule out health concerns and could help to confirm whether your dog is struggling to adjust to a change in your routine.
Create a routine and keep it consistent
Routine is key to keeping your pup happy. Dogs are creatures of habit. As such, if you’ve gone from spending all day together to suddenly being away for eight hours or more each day, there’s a good chance that your dog is going to act out. Start defining your new routine early, before you return to being away each day. If you’ve been letting your dog lounge by your side while you work from home, get into the habit of spending time apart. Keeping this routine consistent and predictable could help reduce their stress levels, as they’ll know what to expect.
Slowly increase your time apart
While you should define your routine early, rather than going cold turkey, it's a good idea for your dog to start spending more and more time away from you in smaller increments. This is something you can do before your change in routine kicks in, and it’ll help your pet to adjust to the idea of being away from you. So, create a safe and comfortable space somewhere in your home and fill it with your dog's favourite possessions. You could place a comfortable bed or dog teepee in a quiet, unused room or corner, space allowing. Make sure there’s plenty of water and some toys to keep them entertained, and give your dog some time alone. Increase this time bit by bit until they’re more used to being away from you and understand that you always come back.
Don’t create a fuss about being away
When it comes time to leave your home, don’t make a fuss about the event and shower your dog with too much attention. Similarly, don’t get your dog too excited on your return home. You want this event to be as mundane and quiet for them as possible so that they see there’s no reason to be anxious or overly excited.
Make your home more comfortable while you’re away
Aside from leaving food, water, a comfortable bed and entertaining toys, there are other things you can do to make the home environment more comfortable for your dog. Some people have found that leaving a television or radio on in the background can help to soothe their pet’s nerves. With technology advancing, there are also more options than ever before for checking up on your dog while you’re away. Smart cameras can help to keep an eye on an anxious dog’s behaviour, and some will even let you talk to your dog remotely. Just be wary not to get into the habit of breaking those routines you’ve already established with your pet.