This year has certainly seen huge changes to the way we are living and I think it’s safe to say that most pets are enjoying having their owners at home a lot more – many have never had this much attention and dogs are getting more walks than ever!
Pet adoption rates are also through the roof and many people are purchasing puppies as “Isolation Buddies “ after finding themselves suddenly grounded and craving companionship – I am personally very thankful for the company of my own pets right now, so I really do understand the pleasure our furry friends bring at this uncertain time.
I am, however, more than a little concerned that we’ll see many dogs with separation issues when things return to normal in a few months. Many pets currently have someone home with them 24 hours a day but it will not be like this forever.
Dogs are social creatures and need to learn coping skills to be comfortable being left unattended. Otherwise, they may become anxious when left alone and this can result in destructive behaviour.
Some tips to help avoid separation issues down the track -
Teach your puppy to be comfortable alone
As tempting as it is to let your cute puppy follow you from room to room or to carry them around all day, this can lead to them becoming overly dependent on you and potentially anxious when left alone. It’s essential to teach them from the start to spend time on their own- a playpen or crate can help keep them secure when you’re not in the same room to supervise them.
Allocate some time each day when you make sure your puppy is alone – after playtime is good- make sure they have had an opportunity to toilet and give them something safe to chew on to help them settle.
If you are planning on your puppy or dog spending time outside during the day when you return to work then it is essential that you set this up from the beginning.
Adult dogs should also spend some time alone
When you are home, put your dog outside for short periods while offering a chew toy or encourage them to settle on their bed or in a crate while you move around different parts of the house.
Many of our dogs are getting more exercise than ever before. Maintaining an exercise routine will be important once you start leaving the house more or your dog may become bored and possibly destructive. This is especially important for adolescent dog and active breeds.
Be mindful of the amount of exercise you are giving your dog now and ask yourself how much exercise you will be able to maintain when circumstances change?
Provide a dedicated ‘doggy den’ as a place to feel safe – this could be a kennel, pen, crate or bed area where they can go where they will not be disturbed by family members. Children should be taught to respect this ‘safe place’ and should not be allowed to interact with their pet when they are there. Some pets may benefit from a walled bed such as the Snooza cuddler bed because of the walls and deep sleeping area that allows them to snuggle in and feel secure or the Snooza Snuggler that has walls but a firmer orthopaedic base for those who need it.
Consider your routine
Dogs do like routine, it helps them feel secure. Try to create a routine that will also work when you are back at work – be mindful of feeding and exercise times.
Make the rules of the house clear and be consistent – for example, don’t let them spend time on the couch or bed now just because you are bored if that will be off bounds later.
Set up good chew habits
Teach your puppy or dog what is acceptable for them to chew on and only give them chew toys that are clearly distinguishable from household items such as Kong stuffed with food. When you want your pet to have some quiet time, give them a safe chew toy so they learn to associate this time with something positive. When you start to leave the house more, you can give them a chew toy to help them relax and keep them occupied.
Training – there has never been a better time to do some training with your puppy or dog to set up good obedience habits at home. This should include teaching the basics of sit, stay and drop but also teaching them to go to their bed and stay in position when requested. Trick training is also a wonderful way to use this extra time to develop the bond you share. Training helps you have a happy, well-adjusted dog that is a delight to live with.
Just like humans, anxiety looks different depending on the individual dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety are usually OK when you’re around but may get distressed when they see you getting ready to leave and your neighbours may inform you that your dog is barking or crying when you're out. It can result in behaviours such as excessive barking, pacing, chewing and toileting in the house.
If your dog is showing signs of severe anxiety or stress, such as self- mutilation and constant vocalization for long periods, please seek professional advice from a veterinary behaviourist.