There’s no doubt that dog lifestyles changed when Covid-19 arrived. But as the UK begins to mobilise again, our four-legged housemates suddenly look set to lose the luxury of that 24/7 human company so many of them have become accustomed to during lockdown.
Dog separation anxiety is a very real worry for lots of us. When a dog becomes hyper-attached to its owners, it can become very distressed when they’re not there. RSPCA research suggests that 8 out of 10 of dogs will find it hard to cope when left alone, but half of these won't show any obvious signs, so it can be very easy for owners to miss too. Tell-tale indicators of separation anxiety to look out for include destructive behaviour, unwanted toileting, or reports of howling/barking
A massive 48% of the dog owners we asked are worried that their dog will develop signs of separation anxiety now that lockdown has been lifted in most parts of the UK… so we turned to our great friend, dog trainer and behaviourist Adem Fehmi for some top tips that we as owners can do to help build a dogs confidence, independence, and ability to settle and relax when physically away from you.
- Exercise your dog before leaving them. This is beneficial for all dogs, but particularly if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. Effectively exercising your dog will help to drain some of your dog’s energy, energy that they might otherwise put into worrying about being left. A well-exercised dog is also more likely to settle and rest in your absence than one who is raring to go! In the same way exercise benefits humans, it has a positive effect on the mental wellbeing of our dogs too and can help to keep them calm.
2) Give your dog something to do. Just like humans, dogs will get bored when left alone with nothing to do. Boredom can exacerbate any anxiety they might be prone to feeling when physically away from you. By offering your dog something to do in your absence you can provide mental stimulation and an outlet for your dog, helping to keep boredom and anxiety at bay. A food dispensing toy is perfect for this activity and Barking Heads have a wide range of yummy treats and nutritional food items that you can fill them with. Start by making the food easy to remove and, as your dog’s interest builds and they become more expert at reaching the food, you can up the challenge! You can even freeze some of the Barking Heads wet food in some types of rubber food dispensing toys to ensure they last a little longer!
3) Create a calm environment for your dog to relax in. Playing classical or soft music can help your dog to relax. Classic FM is always a winner in my house! Music can also help to drown out any external noises that might otherwise cause your dog to worry. A nice comfortable and inviting bed can also help your dog to relax in your absence.
4) Set and practice ‘the scene’ when you are in. Practice asking your dog to be physically away from you when you are at home together. We want our dogs to feel confident and build their independence, so that when they are away from us, they can feel comfortable, relaxed and content in our absence. One easy way to set and practice the scene is to use a light barrier such as a baby gate, so your dog can still see you but is physically distanced from you. Once they relax in this context you can introduce greater distance and more time spent away from you. Practice little and often to teach your dog there is nothing to worry about if you are not by their side 100% of the time. Don’t be afraid to go back a step if needs be and don’t forget to complete steps 1, 2 & 3 before each practice session!
5) Be calm on your return to your dog. We want our dogs to learn that us coming and going throughout the day is normal and not a big thing or something to be feared. By not making a big deal out of leaving them or returning to them we can help them to understand this.