Pets with Problems

Preparing Your Dog for Your Return to Work

Although we are still in the midst of the COVID pandemic things are starting to look more hopeful. The end may be in sight and hopefully many people will be returning to work, possibly as early as this summer. Its time to think about how your dog will cope with this. Your dog has had your full-time company for many months, some for even a year, so what is going to happen when once again she has to be left alone? It is never too early to start preparing her for alone time. If you don’t prepare her, or try and leave it till the last minute she may develop separation anxiety. Read on to learn more about how to prep your pup!

Will My Dog Develop Separation Anxiety?

It is a question I am getting asked a lot at the moment and unfortunately the answer may be yes! This does not only apply to ‘lockdown’ puppies who have never been trained to be alone but also to dogs who have happily been alone before COVID but will now struggle. Don’t get me wrong, some dogs will adapt again very well but others will find it very difficult and separation anxiety trainers are bracing ourselves for the influx of enquiries about struggling dogs when things return to ‘normal’. The only way to try and prevent this from happening is to start implementing some training now.

Don’t Do It!

Before we get into how you can help your dog possibly avoid separation anxiety, let’s take a moment to talk about what you should not be doing. 

  • Don’t start to ignore your dog – this is a common misconception and does not work.  In fact, it actually makes things worse as your dog becomes confused and is now anxious even when you are at home.
  • Don’t worry about your dog following you – just because your dog follows you around does not mean that she will develop separation anxiety – there are plenty of dogs who follow their owners and are perfectly fine when alone – I have one of those!!
  • Don’t lock your dog in a crate – crates are great if a dog is properly trained to use one – they are a dog’s safe space and should always remain so.  Locking them in the crate and then leaving does not create a safe space – it creates a terrifying space as the dog is not only alone but also trapped.
  • Don’t stop your dog sleeping on your bed (if that’s what your dog does normally).  There is absolutely no link between your dog sleeping on your bed and developing separation anxiety

Keep cuddling your dog, keep playing and walking with her – a strong bond with your dog is healthy both for you and her – keep behaving normally!

Do’s!

Watch for Changes in Behaviour

The first thing to do is to watch out for any behaviour changes.  Behaviour changes do not mean that your dog will develop separation anxiety but it could mean that they are not well.  Talk to your vet and have your dog checked over – a vast amount of behaviour issues develop on the back of an underlying medical problem.

Think about what the behaviour changes are.  If your dog has suddenly become destructive or is barking at everyone who walks past the house, have a think as to whether your dog is bored.  I would say that the majority of dogs in the UK suffer from boredom and barking and destruction do not always indicate separation anxiety.  Dogs are intelligent animals and need to use their brains.  If they can’t find mental stimulation in an acceptable way (training, day care, toys) they will find other outlets for their frustration and that might just be your couch!  I have a great blog on my website that gives you some ideas on how to keep your dog’s mind active both when you are at home and when she is alone – https://petswithproblems.co.uk/dog-tips/ and this Face Book site called Beyond the Bowl is a must – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1747279312231501.

Do a Trial Run or Two

The best (and only way) to know whether your dog has separation anxiety is to watch her when she is alone in the home.  To do this you need to be able to see and hear her when you are out of the house so you will need some observation tools.  These are easy to come by, and you probably have them in your home already!  You can use a laptop, tablet or smart phone with wi-fi.  You can link these devices up to programmes like Zoom or Facetime and watch what is happening on your phone whilst you are out of the house.   If you have security cameras you can use those – whatever works for you – but make sure that you can both see and hear your dog.

Look, Listen and Learn

Start by setting up your devices and leaving the home.  Don’t go far but make sure your dog cannot see you from a window or door.  How does she behave?  Does she sniff around the door, wander over to her bed and go to sleep?  Great, she may not have separation anxiety.  However, stay outside for at least half an hour and make sure she remains settled.  Some dogs can tolerate a certain amount of alone time but eventually things get too much for them.  If you can, give it an hour – if all is well then you are probably fine but for the first few times you are out of the house I strongly advise you to keep an eye on her – just to make sure that all is well. 

However, if your dog starts showing signs of distress then it is likely that she has separation anxiety.  Keep a close eye on her body language as well as her behaviour – remember, vocalising and destruction are only two of the signs of distress – many are completely silent (pacing, drooling, hypervigilance, frozen stature etc) – and don’t be fooled about her eating any treats you left.  It is a fallacy that an anxious dog will not eat – I have seen dogs eat and panic at the same time!  If you see any signs of distress come straight back in – don’t wait for the panic to escalate – yes that is what she is doing – panicking and we all know that panicking gets worse as time goes on. 

What’s Next?

If your dog appears to be OK when alone it is still wise to practice some absences – work in another room, close the door before you go into the garden.  Set up some sessions daily where you can concentrate on watching your dog through your devices –about 20 minutes will do – go for a walk, go to the shops, sit in the car and read a book.  Just because she was OK once does not mean that she is 100% OK – it’s the old adage – “one swallow does not a summer make”.  You need to be sure and she needs to get more used to you not being around and this means practice.

On the other hand, if, by watching your dog you have found that she is predisposed to separation anxiety then you have to work with her very, very gradually by leaving her alone for just a few seconds and then building time slowly.  Do NOT get impatient – you must work at her pace otherwise you can make things worse.  Always make sure on each rehearsal that she does not reach her panic threshold – if she does you have gone to long and too fast – step back to when she was relaxed and build up again from there.  This can take some time so start NOW! 

Back to Work

When you do return to work have a plan ready so that you can check in on your dog at different times of day. If you are going to be away for a long time employ the services of a dog walker or consider doggy day care – The Dogs Trust recommend that a dog should never be left for longer than 4 hours without a break.

While you are still at home check that your technology is in good working order and learn how to use it. Most people are very familiar with the basic operation of their computer or tablet, including the programme Zoom. Zoom is a great tool to watch your dog but there are others – it’s up to you to use what you are comfortable with.

If your dog has developed separation anxiety it is highly likely that you will need professional help – it is not an easy disorder to resolve alone without the proper knowledge and yes, help is out there. As a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, I can help you try and resolve the issue. In most cases separation anxiety can be treated, and I can help you and your dog live a normal life again.

Contact Me For Help

If you are struggling, I cannot urge you enough to contact me for help. The expertise I can offer is priceless when helping your dog overcome his anxiety and knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel – your dog CAN be happy at home alone.

Please, contact me with any questions you have.  

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