How to fix separation anxiety in lockdown puppies

Introducing our brand-new tails.com behaviourist – Carolyn Menteith, whose years of experience mean she knows her stuff when it comes to all-things dog. She’s sharing her top tips for dealing with separation anxiety, especially in lockdown puppies.

“Up and down the country, and thanks to the pandemic, the face of dog ownership has changed. People whose working life has never before allowed them to have a dog have embraced the joys of puppy ownership – but now as the country starts to open up again, many people are wondering how to fit their dog into their working life.”

Home Workers

“For those people who will continue to work from home, even after lockdown is a thing of the past, the goal now has to be how to integrate your dog into your working life.

  • Walk your dog before you start work, make sure they have somewhere comfortable that they can settle close to your desk, and ensure they always have fresh water.
  • Set alarms for regular ‘dog breaks’. These will obviously need to be toilet breaks and any lunch break – but don’t forget a ‘middle of the day walk break’ and ‘play/training breaks’. Your dog doesn’t know that you are working – just that you are at home and ignoring them! By timetabling in regular dog time, your dog gets to have your undivided attention at reliable times during the day and so will be more likely to settle the rest of the time. As well as being great for your dog this also gives you a much-needed break, which home-workers are notorious for not taking. A total win-win!
  • When you finish work, and before you pour yourself a much-needed glass of wine, take your dog out for another walk. This will help you wind down after your working day as well as give your dog the exercise they need.”

Back To Work?

“Some people however will need to return to the office or to their place of work, and for their dogs, life is about to change totally. If this is you, how can you help your dog prepare for life as a ‘home alone’ dog?

The first thing is to understand that being alone is totally unnatural for a dog. Dogs are a social species who feel safe and secure when they are around their social group. In contrast, being left alone can be a source of stress, fear or even panic. Separation related behaviour problems aren’t your dog being bad, naughty or trying to make you feel guilt for leaving them but instead vary in severity from mild anxiety to something closer to a full-blown human panic attack.

Symptoms can include: barking, howling, panting, loss of toilet training, destructive behaviour, scratching at doors, windows or carpets, self-mutilation, anxiety, and even aggressive behaviour.”

10 top tips to help you prepare

“Hopefully you will have already been preparing your dog for your return to work by teaching them that being on their own is safe and nothing to worry about but if you haven’t, or if your dog already struggles with being alone, what can you do?

  1. First of all, check with your employer whether you might be able to bring your dog to work with you. Some employers are happy with this – and some larger companies even run dogs at work schemes.
  2. If that isn’t possible, you need to start to teach your dog to be able to be on their own.
  3. If you have a dog who follows you everywhere – even to the toilet – the first thing to do is to teach them that good things can happen when you leave. The next time you go to the loo (or to the kitchen), sprinkle some treats on the floor and go on your own! A stair gate set up in the doorway can help prevent them following you.
  4. When you feed them their dinner, leave them in another room while they eat
  5. You are teaching them that good things still happen even when you are not there
  6. Once your dog is happy with these very short absences, you can do exactly the same thing but leave the house for a few minutes.
  7. Slowly you can build up the length of these absences
  8. When you do leave the house, set up a webcam so you can see if your dog is distressed
  9. This isn’t a quick process – and if you haven’t started already, it could take several weeks and a very gradual build up before your dog can cope with a full working day
  10. If you think your dog has separation related behaviour issues, talk to an accredited behaviourist who has experience of working with home alone dogs. They can see you and your dog (even virtually) and give you the very best advice and help.”

What else can you do to help your dog with separation anxiety?

“In the meantime, there are things you can do to help your dog get through their ‘home alone’ day. 

  • Walk your dog before work and then give them some time to settle before you leave. 
  • Leave them in a quiet room where they are able to settle and sleep
  • Make sure they have been to the toilet and that they have access to water. 
  • Leave a radio on so that there isn’t such a difference between the noises of you being at home and the silence of your absence

For active dogs or dogs who just need a break or some company during the day, you can employ a dog walker who will come to your house and take your dog out for walk either alone or in a group of other dogs.

With dogs who can’t be left, they may do better spending your working day at doggie day care – either permanently or while you work with a behaviourist to teach them to tolerate being on their own while you are at work.”

Choosing a dog walker or doggy daycare

“When choosing either a dog walker or a doggie day care, make sure whoever you trust your dog to is insured, appropriately qualified and has excellent dog handling and care skills. Many are run by accredited behaviourists or trainers, or vet nurses. Take up references from current clients and also from other professionals that you trust (such as your vet). You need to know your dog will be safe with them – no matter what might happen. 

Sometimes the answer can be closer to home however and leaving your dog with a family member when you are at work can be an ideal solution – or if you work part time, you might even be able to do turnabout dog-sitting duties with another colleague or neighbour.

There are ways to combine your dog and your working life but it does take some preparation, training and logistics. Start now, take professional advice if you need it, and find a good support network and you can go back to work without having to worry about your dog.”

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