For months, most of us have been at home during the lockdown imposed by the Government.
It was a surprise for our pets too as they suddenly found we were around all day – and were also taking them for more walks (or longer walks) just so we could get our permitted daily exercise.
But as lockdown is gradually lifted and the economy gets going again, many people are going back to work again, meaning they are out of the house all day.
That will cause confusion for dogs and could lead to separation anxiety, so what is the best way to deal with it?
White Cross Vets, which has Midlands vets practices in Bloxwich, Tividale, Kings Heath and Wolverhampton, says it has been inundated with questions from dog owners seeking advice about separation anxiety.
Kathryn Wale, from White Cross Vets in Bloxwich, said: “Dogs are naturally very sociable members of the home, and most enjoy having company and struggle to cope when they are alone for long periods of time.
“Most dogs are fine being left for short periods, and especially if they get used to this from an early age, but lockdown means many dogs have now become accustomed to always having company at home.
“Their homes could suddenly feel very quiet as their families return to normal, so owners need to keep a close eye on them over the coming weeks.”
What the signs of separation anxiety?
Kathryn says signs of separation anxiety include dogs becoming nervous, distressed or agitated when dogs see their owners getting ready to leave home.
They might chew or damage things when they are alone and then become overly excited when their owners return.
More severe symptoms can include loss of appetite, panic attacks, urinating inside, excessive barking and howling, and even self-harming.
However, there are things owners can do to help their dogs readjust to the new routine.
How to stop your dog getting separation anxiety
White Cross Vets has compiled a list of steps that dog owners can implement to help prevent separation anxiety:
1. Start reintroducing the routine that the dog will eventually follow when lockdown is over, with regular and consistent times for meals and exercise.
2. Desensitise your dog to the triggers that indicate you’re going out, such as picking up car keys or putting coats on, by randomly doing these things throughout the day.
3. To help dogs get used to being alone again, start going out for just 10 or 20 minute intervals initially, that you increase daily, to show them you will return and they have nothing to fear.
4. The best time to leave a dog alone is after exercise, so they will be keen to rest and relax.
5. Ensure they are left in an area of the home where they feel comfortable, safe and happy, that’s also well-equipped with toys and bedding.
6. As you leave, give them food or toys that they value highly, which will create a positive association with being left alone, as well as acting as a distraction.
7. When you arrive home, ensure the dog is calm and relaxed before going inside, so your return rewards this behaviour.
8. Lastly, don’t be overly animated when you greet the dog, which can build anticipation whilst you’re out for a big and exciting greeting when you return home.
Finally, Kathryn added: “If you return home and the dog has chewed or caused damage, although it’s natural to be disappointed and upset, punishing the dog won’t help.
“Dogs live in the moment and can’t make a connection between something they did hours ago and a punishment, even when they are presented with the evidence.
“Instead the punishment could make things worse, because as well as being anxious when they’re left alone, they’ll also worry about what’s going to happen when their owner returns.
“It’s also important to remember that every dog is different and some may opt for the use of nutraceuticals or pheromone diffusers, which can be purchased at your local veterinary practice, whereas others could require referral to a professional pet behaviourist to identify and deal with specific separation issues.”