Natural Instinct: Separation anxiety and dogs
Separation anxiety and dogs: What happens when lockdown is over?
I am writing this from my tiny courtyard outside my new flat. Nikita and I moved here after living out of a suitcase for the past four months where we were together 24/7. Determined though I was to keep her routine steady it flew out the window within a week to join the flying pigs of exercise; healthy eating; and not playing Candy Crush just because it sprang two free hours upon me. Sorry, not sorry. So, my lovelies, I am way ahead of your curve.
Media, both mainstream and social, is awash with advice on how to help your dog cope while you’re all at home (I wrote one myself for this very blog). But how is your dog going to react when everyone goes back to work, school, and just out and about generally? When this is all over and we go back to some semblance of a normal life your dog could well develop symptoms of separation anxiety.
For whatever my wisdom is worth these are my top tips for keeping it at bay.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety are what your dog feels when you leave or prepare to leave the house without them. They display symptoms and behaviours they wouldn’t normally, before you leave, and when you’re gone.
What are the symptoms?
If any of these behaviours only occur when you’re out of the house, then they’re probably as a result of separation anxiety.
- Barking and Howling: Persistent barking and/or howling that doesn’t happen any other time.
- Destroying your stuff: Chewing is the way a dog distresses. When they’re so stressed, especially when they have no toys to take it out on, they may take it out on furniture, doors, or anything they can get purchase on; windowsills, cushions and tables. They may dig too to try and escape. Not only is this an expensive habit your dog could injure itself; breaking teeth, damaging paws and nails for example.
- Pacing: Some dogs pace. The same route or in circles. Remember those heart breaking images of elephants, bears or apes at the zoo rocking back and forth? Same thing. You probably won’t see it unless you’ve got a webcam on the go when you’re out and about.
- Weeing and pooing: Some dogs will do it while you’re out, or in front of you if they think leaving shortly.
- Eating their own poo: Some dogs will poo then eat it. Nothing more I can add to that one!
Why does it happen?
Because we’ve gone through the massive upheaval in both routine and connection. It can also be; moving home; a baby arriving, any significant change from the norm.
What can I do to resolve it?
If you have a dog who couldn’t give a monkey’s if you’re there or not you are today’s winner. Keep an eye on them for signs of distress but otherwise leave them to their own devices.
If you have a dog who can’t quite believe her luck, you’re around all day the likelihood is you’re going to have to tackle some form of separation anxiety when you go back to work. So, for what they’re worth, here are my thoughts.
While you’re at home.
Lay the groundwork while we’re on lockdown, don’t leave it until you’re back having to shave your legs and wear clean clothes to get on top of it.
Keep it as much the same as when you were out of the house all day. If you had a dog walker before, take them out at the same time they did. If you’re working from home leave them to it for the morning and afternoon. Refuse the temptation to have them in the same room you’re working in. Who needs to explain it was the dog who just did that loud fart not you while you’re in the middle of a Zoom call anyway? It’s bad enough you had to turn the box room into an ‘office’ and make the background look even vaguely professional.
I work from home and we stick to the same routine every day. Walk around the block then breakfast. Work ‘til lunch then a very short toddle for a wee (the dog not me). Lunch, then back to work. After work the big walk. Home, chores, dinner then settle on the sofa (definitely me!). Try that.
Keep their diet the same as it ever was. If you feed them twice a day do that. You might want to reduce their intake if they start putting on a bit. Keep an eye out. Don’t overindulge them with treats. It’s bad enough you’re on the biscuits (currently Rich Tea, cheap, simple and dunk beautifully in cuppa.)
We all need downtime and so does the dog. Let them retreat to their own space when they want to. You’re the pet parent, they’re the toddler, if they need a bit of space make sure they get it no matter how much they whine or shout “I’m never talking to you again!” They will.
Exercise and mental stimulation
This is a double-edged sword. You need to gauge how much they need VS how much they’re used to. They were used to being on their own and perhaps could have done with a bit more, but you don’t need to start forging an obstacle course out of garden implements. That’s a whole world of crazy you’re opening up for yourself. Any sudden onset of high and sustained stimulation isn’t good for any dog. Dogs don’t need as much exercise as you think they do. Striding out for miles doesn’t suit all, many would be better off with mental stimulation. A mixture of both is great but even elite athletes, and Mensa graduates need a day off!
If they have a big day, rest them the next. A friend of mine has two cocker spaniels. They get three walks a week, do scent work about the house and rest for the most part, they’re calm and relaxed.
Leaving them again
You can still leave them at home while we’re on lockdown. You need exercise too I go out once a day on my bike to get my heart rate up. Nikita stays home. Get your own exercise routine going so you don’t go to pot (see above comment re biscuits), I’m doing Joe Wicks and have my Spiderman hands down pat! Keep them out of the room while you do it, as much for your own dignity as anything else. Go out and exercise, shop or collect prescriptions when you would normally be out anyway.
Now, step away from the Penguins.
I’m off on my bike. Ta-ra!