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Switched On Dog Training and Behaviour

Separation Anxiety: How is your dog adjusting to life post lockdown?

As far as 2020 goes so far, there really hasn’t been much in the way of good news. One of the few ‘feel good’ stories to come out of the COVID19 social lockdown was hearing that animal shelters and rescue groups were experiencing record numbers of adoptions. It seems that many people decided the prospect of months of isolation at home was the ideal time to add a furry family member to their fold. It makes sense – the opportunity for many to work from home for an extended period provided the time to settle their newly rescued pooch in to the household, put extra dedication in to training and avoid the prospect of separation anxiety that many dogs struggle with when their beloved humans need to leave them home alone.

Some of these lucky rescue dogs and puppies that found a place to call home have enjoyed the luxury of constant company during the past few months due to owners working from home, temporarily out of work due to business closures and less social engagements to commit to. Now, with people beginning the return to a more ‘normal’ routine of work again, there will be dogs out there who struggle to adjust to being left alone.

Separation anxiety is a common reason that dogs are referred to animal behaviour specialists and can be expressed through undesirable behaviours when you leave the house such as:
 - Destructive behaviour such as excessive chewing of furniture and other household items (sometimes door or window frames)
 - Escaping or repeatedly attempting to escape the backyard
 - Toileting inside due to stress
 - Excessive barking or fretting while you are out.

It’s important to note that these behaviours can sometimes indicate other issues that can be addressed (such as boredom) so if you are experiencing any of the above, it’s worth chatting with a professional dog trainer.

If you have got yourself in to a situation where your newly adopted furbaby knows nothing other than being by your side 24/7, it might be worth anticipating the routine changes that are afoot and taking some proactive steps to make the transition a little easier.

Illawarra based dog trainer, Emily Rouen, from Switched On Dog Training and Behaviour says, “While Separation Anxiety can be stressful and unpleasant for both the dog and the humans in the household there are strategies that can be developed with the help of a qualified trainer to help ease the situation. The aim is to build the dog’s confidence being alone and help them feel secure in the knowledge that you will return at the end of the day.”

Some suggestions to help your dog gradually adjust to your return to work are:

1. Start by leaving your dog for short periods – maybe just an hour or two. Maybe you can take a laptop and drive down the street to work in the car for a bit, visit a friend, do the shopping etc and try to have everyone out of the house at the same time.

2. Consider setting up a webcam to capture your dog’s movements after you leave the house. If they are happy to take a nap – its’ a good indication that they are relaxed about your return. If they are pacing and barking, it could be a sign that they are freaking out that you’ll never come home.

3. Offer your dog stimulation through the day. Try giving them their meals in a treat dispensing toy such as a Kong or a puzzle ball to keep them entertained.

4. Leave the house for a short period (even to take the bins out) when your dog has their meals, so they associate you leaving the house with something positive.

5. If its’ possible for you to stagger your return to the workplace (a couple of days a week rather than straight back to full time in the workplace), this might be an easier adjustment for your furry friends.

Of course, every dog and every situation is different. Many dogs cope perfectly well when left home alone, but for some of these newly adopted rescue dogs (some who have experienced traumatic abandonment in the past), the return to ‘normal’ life as lockdowns are lifted will take a little extra patience.

If you are experiencing or anticipating that your dog may struggle with a change in routine, connect with a local, qualified and experienced dog trainer for advice.

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