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Separation Anxiety in Dogs


What Happens When Your New Dog Stays Home Alone?

One of the good news stories during the COVID-19 crisis has been the overwhelming number of people offering to foster or adopt pets. It seems many had wanted to include an animal in their family and decided that since they were home most of the time, it was an ideal time to make the commitment to add a pet. Doing so during the pandemic afforded them the necessary time to train and acclimate their new addition to the family. However, as families begin to return to life as they knew it, dogs in particular may have difficulty adjusting to their new-found solitude at home. And as we know, dogs can be destructive when they are experiencing stress.

“Chewing is a calming behaviour for dogs,” says canine behaviour specialist Kris Rooney of Dogspaw in Edmonton. “That’s why you’re going to find the remote control chewed [when you come home].”

Separation anxiety is a common issue for dogs, and a new canine family member who is used to having people around all day may not be OK suddenly being left at home for long periods of time.

“It’s just an anxiety the dog feels because he’s just not sure that you’re coming back,” adds Rooney. “And that makes him feel uneasy.”

Rooney says the time to start working on addressing this potential problem is now. Begin adjusting your routine to prepare the dog in order to prevent unwanted surprises when you return home from work or school in the weeks and months ahead.

Work Now to Avoid Problems Later

Rooney suggests start paying attention to your routine at home and the signals you are sending the dog that you are leaving the house and change them. If you stay in pajamas all day and only get dressed when it is time to take the dog for a walk, your dog is going to recognize that as a clue that he’s going outside as soon as you get dressed. Rooney advises you may need to start the routine of leaving the house and then do nothing at all.

“Their whole world is about is observing,” explains Rooney. “Make those [leaving the house] behaviours become quite meaningless and of no consequence to the dog.”

Try some practice runs of leaving the house for short periods of time to help prepare your dog for the time when he will be home alone. Also, if your dog is used to numerous walks a day, you will need to start reducing his expectations by reducing the number of walks now to the level he should expect when your busy life resumes.

The next tip is to begin introducing treat puzzles for your dog. That may include a Kong with peanut butter in it or kibble hidden throughout the living room.

“Give the dog something to do while you slip out,” says Rooney. Often destructive behaviour is a result of the dog being bored and this will help.

Once the time has come to leave your dog at home for periods of time during the day, ensure morning walks for your dog are done early enough that the dog has about a half an hour to wind down before you leave. Going for a walk and then leaving immediately will leave an energy-filled pet bored in the home.

When you return home, don’t make a big deal that you’ve returned. Greet your dog but in a calm way.

“Make coming and going low key,” says Rooney. This will ensure the dog is more relaxed and calm. “We want to redirect their enthusiasm so it’s not annoying or destructive.”

Don't Discipline

Despite your best efforts, you may find surprises of destruction in the house when you come home. Rooney urges that you do not discipline the dog for this behaviour.

“For a dog that has anxiety, that’s not going to make it any better,” adds Rooney. “You have to understand what your dog is going through.” Even if the dog is giving you that sad, guilty look, don’t assume the dog is feeling the way you think he is. “He’s just sort of uncomfortable because you are yelling, he’s not connecting it to the act.”

Ultimately, your dog may still suffer separation anxiety despite your best effort to address it and you may have to consult with a veterinarian on how to calm him. However, if you give your dog time to adjust to your family’s changing schedule, he should hopefully learn quickly that his favourite people do return home and the love and affection he’s used to is still there.

Dan Kobe

Dan Kobe

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