Lockdowns are ending, but there’s an unfortunate downside for your pup when it actually ends. When we abruptly go back to work one day and our dogs are left home alone, the sudden change will be stressful for them. This stress may cause the development of separation anxiety, especially in pets that were adopted during COVID-19 and do not understand what our normal routines are at all.
What does separation anxiety look like?
Separation anxiety develops in dogs that are not used to being alone. It can be any negative response your pet has to you leaving or being out of sight. Some dog will display unwanted behaviors that can be destructive and dangerous for both your home and your dog, such as whining, barking, destructive behaviors, inappropriate elimination, escapism, and even self-inflicted injuries. Separation anxiety is a panic response – and operating in panic mode is harmful to your dog’s overall wellbeing. We want to help.
What can you do to help your dog avoid separation anxiety?
The basis of preventing or reducing separation anxiety is desensitization and counter-conditioning (DS/CC). This means that we are aiming to desensitize the pet to something that is uncomfortable to them (i.e. you leaving), and counter-condition them to have a positive feeling about it instead (i.e. “This is great – my alone time is fun!”). It is critical to avoid punishment techniques as these will only make your dog more anxious and will hinder your ability to create the positive response that is necessary for counter-conditioning. Schedule a private assessment with a LECA trainer to learn more about dealing with anxiety and how our enrichment program can help.
To avoid separation anxiety as we return back to more normal lifestyles, we want to provide you with some helpful tips to support a gradual re-adjustment for your dog.
Reconditioning Your Dog to Your Departure
Your dog is extremely attuned to what you do. In fact, starting 5-10 minutes before we walk out the door our dogs often pick up cues that we are planning on leaving. Varying the order and steps of your routine may help avoid this worried wind-up your dog experiences. You should also practice leaving in short intervals, but be wary you don’t leave for longer than your dog can handle without becoming anxious (just an hour, a few minutes, or a few seconds in extreme cases). You may need professional advice on desensitization and counterconditioning techniques for this.
Creating a Canine Retreat Your Dog Will Love
Creating the canine retreat is the best way to prevent separation anxiety. It is helpful to have a specific place in the home where your dog is particularly comfortable and at ease. For example, a specific room, cozy corner, or a large, open crate can serve as a restful den. This retreat should never be a place of punishment or forced confinement. Instead, it’s a place your dog can go to relax. You can build this positive association by leaving a special treat or beloved toy in the space so your dog is rewarded when he or she chooses to use it for some alone time.