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If you’ve spent the last year confined to your home, your pup has probably felt incredibly grateful to have more quality time with you. Getting more cuddles and attention from their owner is any dog’s dream. However, when lockdown ends and your routine changes, being away from you might come as a shock to your pooch if you don’t prepare them.
Before the restrictions are due to lift, gradually ease your dog into being alone to avoid separation anxiety. Otherwise, your pup may show signs of distress when you leave, including crying, whining, barking, destructive chewing, trembling, and accidental urination. It’s difficult to eradicate this behaviour once it begins. To help your dog become more independent, follow these five techniques.
1) Safe space
Give your dog a secure place, such as a crate, that they can use to seek comfort if they feel distressed. Follow a training process, though, to give them time to adjust to using it.
You want them to associate this space with positivity, so place toys, food, water, blankets, and a bed inside. Never put your dog inside the crate as a form of punishment or disturb them when they’ve gone to this space. Encourage them to go to the toilet before and after being in the crate, especially if they’re inside for long periods.
Outdoor kennels are also a great way to combat separation anxiety for dogs who love spending time outside. The kennel retailer, Benchmark Kennels, offer a range of insulated, sheltered, and spacious outdoor kennels that are made-to-measure to suit your home and dog’s size and shape.
2) Gradual separation
Instead of suddenly leaving your dog alone for a long time, let them get accustomed to being separated from you through a slow process.
First, get them to ‘stay’ using the command for several minutes while you’re present. Then leave them in a different room of the house for a short interval, that you gradually extend, while you’re still at home. Once they’re happy to be alone in a room, leave them at home on their own while you’re out, slowly increasing the length of time.
If you have to leave them on their own all day while you work, break the time up by going home at lunch if possible, hiring a dog walker, or asking a neighbour to pop in.
Keeping the TV or radio on and leaving an item of clothing out with your scent can help relieve any stress your dog may experience. According to Terrier Hub, you could also use a pet security camera to examine how they’re reacting to being without you, to determine whether you’re going too fast.
Don’t leave your dog alone for longer than four hours at a time. However, this time may differ depending on your dog’s breed, personality, age, and history. All canines are susceptible to separation anxiety but if your pup has experienced it in the past, approach this process very slowly.
3) Time with other people
Socialisation is essential in avoiding separation anxiety, but this may not have been possible if you got your puppy during lockdown. As restrictions ease, start introducing your dog to other people to prevent them from becoming stressed by dog sitters.
If there are other members of your household, ensure your dog is spending an equal amount of time with everyone. If your dog has more time with you, they may be distressed when you’re gone, even if left with someone else in the house.
4) Mental and physical stimulation
To help ease your dog’s anxiety, ensure they’re getting enough exercise and that you’re dedicating enough time to play with them. Also, provide your pooch with chew toys and puzzle feeders to keep their mind invigorated.
While mental and physical activity won’t diminish separation anxiety, it’ll help prevent them from getting bored and agitated when they’re alone.
5) Reacting to anxious behaviour
If you return home to find your dog has expressed destructive forms of anxious behaviour, such as going to the toilet on your furniture or causing damage from chewing, don’t punish them. They won’t understand why you’re upset, and it’ll likely worsen their anxiety. Be patient with them and reward calm behaviour.
Give them treats when you come home and just before you go to associate the separation with positivity instead of panic. Also, don’t make a fuss when you leave or come home as a way to help your dog settle and teach them it’s normal. If your dog reacts over excitedly, such as by jumping or barking, ignore them until they quieten and reward calm behaviour.
It’s important to prepare your dog for being separated from you before lockdown ends. However, when life returns to some form of normality, ensure you’re still dedicating enough time to your four-legged friend. If you think your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety, seek advice from a vet or behaviourist on how to address the problem.