Lockdown is finally being eased but for the last six weeks or so, the nation’s pets have enjoyed their ‘parents’ being home. With the possibility of returning to work on the horizon, you need to prepare your dog that life is about to change. Separation anxiety can be a real problem for dogs – what are the signs and how can you deal with it?

 Lockdown is the UK was exactly that – aside from leaving the house for food or other essential supplies, we were limited to one, short period of exercise every day. Other than keyworkers, much of the population were either furloughed or working from home.

For our dogs, the last few weeks have been their idea of heaven – you were home. They enjoyed their daily walk as well as plenty of playtime at home. Dogs enjoy the company of their human family which is why your imminent return to work could prove a shock to their system.

What is separation anxiety in dogs?

Separation anxiety is a form of behaviour a dog displays when they know you are about to leave. It can be triggered by picking up your keys, grabbing your coat or simply heading for the front door.

Dogs display different kinds of separation anxiety behaviour;

  • Barking and howling – this can be persistent, lasting for the entire time you are out.
  • Destroying furniture and other items – from chewing the sofa to ripping through cushions, chewing and destroying items is a common sign of separation anxiety. It can also be a sign of boredom.
  • Pacing – some dogs pace, an incessant walking of the same route or circuit in the home. It is not uncommon for a stressed dog to turn in circles either.
  • ‘Accidents’ – even well-trained dogs can defecate or urinate (or both) when they are stressed and can happen even when they only left for a short time.

Some dogs are laid-back characters who are happy to curl up on the sofa as soon as you have left the house and will come to greet you at the door when you return. For other dogs, when you leave they are plunged into a state of emotion that they find difficult to handle. Even dogs who are laid back may find the first few days or weeks of post-lockdown normality tough to deal with.

Getting your dog ready for post-lockdown routine

For many us, the routine we had before the pandemic hit seems like a distant memory. Working from home and homeschooling have ushered in a new routine and a new set of rules in many cases too.

But with the lockdown being eased, we need to start introducing a new routine, sending a signal to your dog that there is a change in routine.

Whether you are returning to work full time or whether you will be able to work flexitime, you need to start preparing your dog now for the change that is coming. By doing so, you’ll have time and patience to do so, rather than panicking at the last minute because you’re dashing out the door for the tube.

Introduce a routine (and stick to it)

Dogs enjoy routine. They know what is expected of them and when, and so a routine is an important communication tool. You’ll soon notice how your dog’s behaviour changes when the normal routine falls out of synch.

Decide what works for you and your dog. For example, a morning walk before breakfast and work helps to settle your dog, as well as walk or play in the evening once you return home.

The amount and type of exercise your dog needs will depend on their breed. Greyhounds require short runs, for example, whilst other breeds like German Shepherds need to be both physically and mentally stimulated. If you return home to find things chews and a trail of destruction it may be that you need to invest in a dog walker or doggy daycare.

Doggy daycare is great for the emotional and physical well-being of your dog. Picked up from your home and dropped off after the session, your dog not only gets plenty of stimulation with trainers, they also get to indulge in pack behaviour. Playing with other dogs is an important part of their development and well-being and you’ll find that their energy levels become more manageable too.

Start to leave them again

Lockdown meant that unless we had to leave home, we stayed in. Most of us followed these rules but what it meant was that our dogs were not left alone at home, at all.

Getting up one morning and leaving them for several hours is a sudden change that even the most laid-back of pooches would find hard to process.

Now that lockdown is easing and we can leave the house more than once a day, start to leave your dog for a short time each day but how you leave them is important.

  • Don’t draw out the goodbye or you will create a state of anxiety before you have left home. Make sure they have fresh water and that they have their toys to hand. Encourage them to go to their bed, give them a fond pat and then, without further contact, leave the house.
  • When you return, make sure you walk into the house and spend a few minutes doing something else, such as greeting other family members, washing your hands, putting the shopping away and so on before you make a fuss of your dog. This gives them a chance to calm their exuberant ‘welcome home!’ behaviour before you give them attention.

All dogs at some point will display separation anxiety when you leave them. How you respond is crucial and can quickly stop it developing into a much bigger problem.

As well as doggy daycare, the team at Bark & Birch have the experience and skills to help you and your dog deal with separation anxiety. Most problems are mild and easily dealt with but even more severe separation anxiety behaviour can be dealt with so that your dog does not become stressed when you leave. Get in touch to find out more.