How Can I Tackle Dog Separation Anxiety After Lockdown?

Anxious brown labrador dog waits for owner. Some pets have post lcokdown anxiety our article offers some guidance.

There is no doubt that we are living in unprecedented times, and when the UK introduced strict lockdown measures due to the Coronavirus crisis on March 23rd 2020 life suddenly became very different.

Until quite recently, many of us were suddenly home all day, every day apart from brief periods outside for exercise. For pets used to seeing their owners leave to go to work for 8 or more hours a day, this was a huge change – and it’s important to acknowledge that this shift in our behaviour could have had a profound effect on them too.

Did lockdown impact my dog’s separation anxiety?

Because we have been spending a lot more time at home, our animals, previously used to being left to their own devices all day, have suddenly had the company and attention that they crave almost 24/7.

Dogs particularly will have enjoyed this extra time, being pack animals who are wired to enjoy companionship. Even if your dog has been used to spending time alone, this change could have affected his expectations, and now, as lockdown restrictions ease, he may well object to having to go back to spending time solo once more.

As our routines change once again, and many of us return to our workplaces, we will undoubtedly begin to leave our pets alone for increased periods of time.

Unfortunately, because of this, there is a real and justifiable concern amongst pet owners that shifting back to a regular 9-5 pattern of work will leave their pets, now used to having company throughout the day, feeling stressed and anxious as a result.

Seeing your beloved pet upset and exhibiting signs of stress is understandably upsetting, and there is a real danger, that not tackling these behaviours could lead to more serious problems further down the line.

What is pet separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a behavioural term for when animals, (typically dogs), become anxious and stressed when left at home alone after seeing their owners leave. Though domesticated dogs can be conditioned to spending time alone, their mentality is that of a pack animal, and so if given the opportunity to spend lots of time with others, this is their preferred way to live. You may notice, as you start to leave the house more, that your pet’s behaviour begins to change, and staying alert to any of the following signs and symptoms will help you diagnose separation anxiety in your pet.

What are the symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs?

A dog suffering from separation anxiety is likely to get upset as you start to prepare to leave the house. Many dogs pick up on the fact that you are about to go out, and notice signs such as putting shoes on or picking up your bag as an indication that you are about to leave. This can trigger several symptoms such as:

  • Vocalising their objections by howling or barking as you leave or after you have left
  • Destructive behaviours such as scratching the door, your furniture and chewing furniture or furnishings, or anything they can get their paws on!
  • Going to the toilet indoors
  • Panting and salivating at a rapid rate
  • Increased heart and respiration rate

If your dog was previously happy for you to leave the house before lockdown, but the restrictions easing has triggered some of the above you should try to tackle their separation anxiety as soon as possible.

Restrictions are coming to an end and this means owners will be leaving their pets for longer and longer periods. Teaching your pet that it’s OK for you to go out and assuring them that you will come back again is imperative if you want to nip this in the bud.

How can I help my pet cope with separation anxiety?

Luckily, there are ways to train your pet that it’s OK for you to go out and leave them on their own. For dogs, you should start by leaving your dog alone in a room (where they can’t see you) for a short period of time. You should make sure they are comfortable, have access to water, and can leave some treats and toys with them to keep them busy. As they get more comfortable you can start to increase the length of time that you leave them for.

When you do go back into the room make sure to keep calm and ignore your dog at first. Take your coat and shoes off, put your bag down, and then go to greet your pet. The goal is to make the action of going out and returning as commonplace and normal as possible.

If you have a cat you might have discovered that they actually find having family members in the house for extended periods more stressful as they don’t get their usual alone time! Cats are far more solitary and tend to interact with others on their own terms. If you think your cat is becoming stressed, make sure they have a quiet room that they can escape to if it all becomes too much for them.

Naturally, the majority of us are relieved that lockdown measures and restrictions are coming to an end, and will be keen to get back to our regular working patterns and into our workplaces once more. However, it’s important to be aware that lockdown may have had an effect on our pets and to stay super vigilant to any unusual behaviour they might exhibit. Doing so will ensure that whatever changes are ahead of us, we can help make the transition as smooth and easy as possible for our pets too.

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