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One of the few positive about the current Government guidance in the UK regarding staying at home is that we get to spend more time with our family, especially our pets. This is a good time to start helping dogs with separation related issues, and to ensure dogs who have historically been ‘ok’ being left, do not struggle once we all go back to our old routines.

If your dog does not usually have separation issues

It may be that you feel your dog does not usually struggle when left home alone. It is worth remembering that most dogs do not like time away from us, and although the dog might not present with the usual signs (barking, destruction etc) it does not mean they are fully relaxed when we are absent. It is always a good idea to install a Wi-Fi camera so you can easily check in on your dog, or do a trial absence and leave a recording device on (laptop, tablet etc) to see what Fido gets up to whilst you are gone.

Even if your dog has coped well in the past, an important consideration now is that they may have you home with them for many weeks, even months. They will get very used to this lovely new routine but may be faced with a ‘cliff edge’ when you return to work and your old routines. To limit the chances of your dog developing separation related issues when this happens consider the following:

  1. Give your dog some activities to do during the day that don’t involve you. When you feed them leave the room, if you give them a stuffed Kong or a bone leave them settled in an area that you can leave them to it.
  2. It is nice to have the dogs in the garden with us, but consider keeping them in sometimes whilst you do some gardening etc
  3. Keep your dog at home when you do your shopping for essential items instead of taking them with you in the car.
  4. Have set times of the day when you leave your dog in a room (with something to do) so they continue to be used to being without you.

If your dog already has separation issue

If your dog already has separation related issues you can use your time home with them to help start to build their confidence at being away from you. It is important to always seek professional support from a suitably qualified professional if your dog is really struggling and many leading behaviourists offer distance support for this topic so you can still access help during this period of lock down. Below are some points that may be of help.

  1. Think about creating lots of fun activities your dog can engage with that don’t involve you. When they are getting stuck in quietly leave the room (keep door open) for a few minutes (or even just a few seconds) and come back in. If they follow you that is ok – don’t force them back in the room. Think about ramping up the activity for them – yummier food, more enjoyable activities etc and try again later.
  2. Identify a room in the house you would like to get the dog used to being in, even whilst you are in the home with them. Make this the place the dog gets all the good stuff, and as in point 1 give them things to do in there that they can engage with. Stay in there with them but start to give ‘return cues’ and leaving them for very short periods of time – this might be saying ‘back soon’ and then leave the room gently closing the door or child gate – just for a few seconds if needs be – and then come back in. No big ‘hellos’ when you come back in! Keep it calm and matter of fact. If your dog shows clear signs of not coping (crying, barking, scratching at the door) return to the room quietly and stay with them whilst they settle. Try the exercise later. If your dog is coping with these micro absences, gradually build up the time the dog is left alone whilst you do other things around the home. The keyword here is gradually- build up absence in increments of seconds and then minutes. As you build the time consider adding more things in to help as predictors of you coming back such as turning a radio on, shutting blinds, couple of sprays of Pet Remedy if you have it, and then give your return cue ‘Back soon’. Over time the dog should identify this routine as a safe indicator that although you are leaving you will be back.
  3. You can use this time to desensitise the dog to some triggers that used to predict you leaving. Still get dressed for the office but do the vacuuming. Put your coat on but just to put the trash out and come straight back in. Put the expensive cologne on you use for work but wear it at home. Think about your usual leaving ritual and expose the dog to aspects of it but without the long absences.
  4. If you can get the dog used to being in their safe place whilst you are in the house, try popping into the garden or going out the car. See how the dog responds whilst you build those small absences.
  5. If you need to leave your dog for more than a couple of hours when you return to work, or any length of time you know the dog may struggle with, consider getting support with their dog-care. Reach out to neighbours and family members who might be prepared to help out. When the restrictions have been lifted think about professional services such day care centres, home visit services or dog walkers. Use this time off to plan better dog-care arrangements for when you return to work.

This is not an exhaustive list, or a treatment plan for dogs who suffer with Separation related issues, but some helpful points that might make a difference for some dogs with mild presentations.

Here are some further resources:

Treating Separation Anxiety in Dog by Malena DeMartini-Price Amazon: http://amzn.eu/1FjhIB5
I’ll Be Home Soon: How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety by Patricia Mcconnell Link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1891767054
https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/behavior/how-to-help-a-dog-with-separation-anxiety/

By Andrew Hale. Andrew is a Certified Animal Behaviourist and the in-house behaviour consultant for Pet Remedy. His business website is www.trainpositive.co.uk