I think we can all agree that if there’s a silver lining to be found in our Covid-19 social distancing measures it is that we get to spend time working on our relationships with our families and pets. In the last month I’ve helped to put together 2 trampolines and a jungle gym. As a family we take walks nearly every evening. We walk to the grocery store. We sit down and eat 3 meals a day together. In the evenings after our walks we watch a movie together (or adults binge Fargo together). And we do it all with our dogs. Even now I’m typing at the kitchen table and there are 3 dogs sleeping at my feet. And all of that is wonderful. Its also paving the way for separation anxiety to set in when the ‘real world’ starts up again.
Separation anxiety can take many forms, and may be hard to recognize. Refusing to go out for (or come in from) a last potty break before you need to leave the house, excessive barking/whining/crying, inappropriate indoor bathroom habits, destructive behavior, refusing to be contained when you’re trying to leave (or in general), excessively excited when you get home (often causing urination or snippiness with other dogs also seeking your attention), not letting you out of their sight even in the home, etc.
Separation anxiety is hard to work on later because, often, the owner isn’t there while the undesirable behavior is taking place or the behaviors take place before the owner leaves or after they get home and aren’t immediately connected to the act of leaving the dog alone. The easier ( and far less stressful) road is to work now to help your dog to not become unhealthily dependent on your constant presence.
Here are a few steps you can take to lesson the likelihood that your pet will experience separation anxiety when its time to go back to work or school or simply to reconnect with friends. (If your dog already is exhibiting signs of separation anxiety these can help with that too, but the process may be a little more stressful for both of you.)
- Go on short walks without your dog.
- Go for a drive without your dog.
- Crate of otherwise contain your dog in another room during meals or while you watch a movie.
- DON’T invite your dog to follow you everywhere you go in your house.
- Do utilize this time to practice a ‘place’ or ‘spot’ command and working on having your dog stay in his spot while you cook dinner, watch a movie, work on a project, etc.
- DON’T make a big deal when you leave the house OR when you get home.
- Continue with your morning routine as normal (but maybe a little later).
- Randomly crate or contain you crate for 20 minutes with a kong, slow feeder, puzzle toy, etc.
- Spend this time rewarding and reinforcing self regulating behaviors. Such as calmly praising your dog for choosing to pick up a toy and go chew it on his bed or doing a big stretch or shake after something particularly exciting or stressful.
Stay safe, stay happy, stay healthy!