With many people now returning to work following the lifestyle changes influenced by coronavirus, pets are being affected, especially those who were bought or adopted while we were all at home more often. Dogs rely on their families for routine, and their routine is vital. Any slight changes to their owners’ routine will hugely change their routine. The regimented aspects of their life include feeding time, exercise time and sleeping time. If any of these aspects are changed, you may experience behavioural issues to reflect this.
Prevention is better than cure!
If you have not started leaving your dog home alone yet, you could start incorporating some tactics into your routine to prepare yourself and your dog for spending less time together and ensuring that any changes to your pet’s routine are very gradual.
Keep your dog enclosed in a different room of the house compared to you for gradually increasing periods of time. Ensure that they have access to food and water whilst in there. Pets commonly pace and scratch when they become stressed. So, ideally, the room you are putting them into should be safe from hazards or items your pet may be able to break. To encourage your dog to go into the room, you could give them a treat or a toy to play with. This way, they may begin to start thinking of going into the room as a positive experience.
Set a timer, starting at around 2 minutes at first. Then each time you practise gradually increase the amount of time you leave them alone for. As your pet becomes more comfortable with being left, you can progress to leaving your dog alone for longer periods of time.
Recent studies have suggested that dogs become more relaxed when listening to classical music; so playing some quiet, relaxing music may help. In addition, herbal sprays or diffusers plugged into the room can act as a good calming tactic. Remember, all dogs will require different amounts of time for training, and training will be a bumpy ride with lows as well as highs! To begin with, you could just go outside whilst leaving your dog in the house. Take baby steps!
Try to keep all other aspects of your pet’s routine as similar as possible.
But that if they’re already struggling?
If you have already experienced signs that your dog is suffering with separation anxiety, please follow the guidance below.
Talk to your vet about the behaviour
It’s always important to rule out medical problems first, rather than assuming that it must be behavioural.
Except in very mild cases, seek advice from a clinical animal behaviourist.
A careful assessment and personalised plan will mean that complications and problems are much less likely! Your vet will be able to recommend a suitably qualified behaviourist, or you can look for one at the Fellowship of Animal Behaviour Clinicians.
What will a behaviourist recommend?
While it will vary from patient to patient, in many cases a programme will look something like this.
Perform very gradual, small changes to your routine when possible
If you need to go out to work, ensure feeding time and exercise times are kept as similar as possible so your dog does not learn that when you go to the office, their entire routine is disrupted. We need to ensure your dog does not associate negative connotations with you going to work. Create daily routine walks which you will be able to maintain every day. This normally works best by scheduling exercise into your day as the first or last thing you do.
As you work together, your dog will begin to trust that you will always return
However, if you have had to suddenly increase the length of time you have left the house for, you may need a back-up plan. Asking a neighbour, family member, dog walker or dog sitter to pop over to visit your pet is a brilliant way to vary the amount of time they are left alone for. Getting your pet used to socialising with different people is important too!
Praise good behaviour
This is so important with training as your pet needs to learn what is expected of them. Positive reinforcement is when we reward a positive action with a positive response, for example, giving a dog a treat once they have sat down or giving them their most favourite toy once they have had their feet cleaned following a walk.
Positive reinforcement could be given in attention too. You need to react appropriately and use whichever technique your dog appreciates the most. For many pets, this will be food, we must therefore be very careful not to overfeed our pets as they can quickly become overweight. To reduce this risk, we recommend measuring your dog’s daily requirement of dry food into a container at the start of the day and using this food as treats with whatever is left at the end of the day being used for a meal.
Separation anxiety can be very challenging to deal with
Whatever you do, you must alter your pet’s environment and routine slowly and appropriately in order to optimise your dog’s health. As owners, you have to be very patient and slow – and above all, try to work with suitable professionals for the best outcomes.