The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a huge spike in dog adoptions. It is a good time to get a dog for most people. Everyone is at home and they have time to train a dog. Dog walks have been a great way to get out of the house during lockdowns. There are tons of reasons why pandemic puppies have been such a craze. Dogs that used to cost $900 now cost anywhere from $2000 to $3000. Animal shelters are finding more dogs a forever home than ever before.
Being trapped at home has allowed people to spend all of their time with their pet, and pets have gotten used to the attention. But now the case counts are going down, and everyone is excited to get back to working and hanging out with friends. So, pets are going to have to adjust to spending days alone again. A lot of people who bought a pandemic puppy may not be aware of how difficult the adjustment can be for their new furry friend. Some dogs who are used to their owners’ full attention might experience something called separation anxiety as the world goes back to work. But, being alone doesn’t have to be stressful for your new dog.
Here are some tips on how to help your best friend get comfortable with being on their own. These are tips and tricks that I found helpful while training my pandemic puppy.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is exactly what it sounds like. Dogs can experience feelings of panic when left alone if they are used to their owner’s attention. There are many different behaviours that a dog could do if it is feeling stressed out by being alone. They could howl and bark, or chew up the sofa. Maybe your canine gets into the garbage bin and pees on the floor when you’re out. But behaviours like this aren’t always a case of separation anxiety.
How do you know if your dog has separation anxiety?
If you notice any of the aforementioned behaviours, the first thing to do is rule out any medical conditions. If your pet uses the floor as their toilet, they may have incontinence, a condition where they have trouble controlling their bladder. It’s a good idea to consult with your vet before you decide whether or not your dog needs medication or training. It’s also important to make sure that they don’t have other kinds of behavioural problems. If they are urinating in the house, it could be because they feel the need to mark their territory, or they need a bit more house-training. Other behaviours such as destroying furniture, throwing garbage everywhere and howling could be caused by boredom or a young dog’s tendency to destroy things. A good way to rule out boredom or destructive tendencies is to make sure your dog is in a safe place in the house and has lots of options for toys and other things they like to chew on. So, if you have ruled out medical conditions and behavioural problems as explanations for unwanted behaviour, your pup might have a case of separation anxiety.
Here is a link to find out more about it.https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety
Separation anxiety causes
There are lots of different kinds of changes that can trigger separation anxiety in a pet. When a dog comes into a new home, or changes families, they aren’t used to new people or the new environment so they are likely to feel some separation anxiety. Moving houses or going from a house to an apartment can be another trigger for separation anxiety. The situation that probably applies to most people during this stage of the pandemic is a change in routine. Lots of people are going back to work and leaving their dogs at home. You may have felt trapped this past year while for dogs it’s been non-stop walks, attention, and treats. It’s a huge adjustment for them just as it is for us, but there are things you can do to make this adjustment easier.
Signs of stress
Dogs communicate a lot with their body language, so learning what your pet is saying with their posture, ears and eyes can help you figure out how they’re feeling. There are so many books and articles about dog body language, but there are some indicators of stress that are easy to look for without doing hours of research. A common sign of stress is if your dog tucks their ears or its tail back. Other things like panting when they aren’t exercising or yawning when they aren’t tired can be signs of anxiety. Body language like licking their lips, raising their hackles and showing the whites of their eyes are easy stress indicators to look for. A lot of these body signals might make your dog look ‘guilty’, and sometimes tucked ears and panting could be caused by excitement. However, if you see your pet showing multiple of these signals while you are getting ready to leave the house it’s probably a sign of anxiety. Once you notice that your dog is telling you it’s anxious it is pretty easy to make them feel more comfortable.
Every dog trainer and training book will tell you how important keeping a routine is for your pet. This doesn’t necessarily mean doing the exact same thing in the same place at the same time every day. But it is important to maintain structure and ensure that there is time allotted every day for feeding, walks, play, and downtime. If your pet knows that there is an established routine where they get to spend time with you, it helps them with those feelings of panic when they are alone. It also helps if you leave and come home around the same time every day. If your schedule is becoming more hectic as the world opens up again and it’s hard to come home at the same time every day, consider having a friend or a dog walker come to give your fluffy pal a better sense of structure. If you already have a routine you can find special destinations to travel with your pet post COVID.
Another good idea to consider is giving them tasks to do alone.
‘Jobs’ to do alone
This tip is especially helpful if your dog is prone to destroying things while you are away. Giving your dog something to do, like toys with food or peanut butter hidden inside, directs their attention away from missing you and towards something they find fun. It’s recommended by most trainers and kennel associations that you give your dog a puzzle or toy right as you are getting ready to leave for the day. It creates an association between you leaving and something positive, so that what used to be scary is now exciting. Give them the puzzle or toy near their bed or in a room where they feel comfortable.
Downtime and place
A useful exercise to do with your dog if you feel they suffer from separation anxiety is to work on a ‘place’ command and designate a certain time of the day for your pet to relax on its own. To work on this, first you pick a place; a bed, a crate, or a mat. Then you reward them for moving towards it when you use whatever command word you pick. Once they get comfortable with moving towards it on their own, work up to having them sit or lay down on it. After they can go to their place, you reward them for staying on it, gradually increasing the time they are supposed to stay there. This exercise helps you build downtime into your daily routine, because once it’s comfortable being in its bed for a few minutes, you can work on having your dog relax in its bed alone. Once they’re comfortable in their place, slowly move away from them each time you work on it. Eventually, you can get them to go to their place while you are on the other side of the room, then when you are out of sight, or when you are in an entirely different room. It will take a bit of time depending on how attached your pet is to you. An important note for this downtime and place exercise is to look for your dog’s ‘threshold’. Their threshold is the point at which they begin to get anxious and display signs of stress. The goal is to gradually get your dog to be comfortable being alone while you are home, so that when you leave they can relax in their place without you.
You probably know what it’s like to get ready to leave without your pandemic puppy. You grab your keys and they might whine or pace around you, when you’re putting on your shoes they might jump all over you. When you say good-bye, your dog might give you wide eyes and beg you to stay. What you might not know is that when you react to their attempts to stop you from leaving, you are reinforcing your dog’s behaviour and their distress. Trainers and experts recommend that you try to make your departure drama-free. Try to ignore any jumping or whining and get yourself ready to go calmly and quickly. Avoid any extended good-byes or speeches about how you’re just going to work and will be home soon. If you know your dog gets anxious every time you grab your keys or purse, pretending to leave is a good way to curb that anxiety. Grab your keys, put on your shoes, and go to the door, but instead of actually heading out, turn around and sit on the couch. The more you do your leaving rituals without actually leaving, the more comfortable your dog will be when you are getting ready. You can reward them with treats or toys for staying calm as you pretend to get ready to leave.
Another tip for reducing separation anxiety is to practice leaving for short amounts of time. Start by going outside for less than a minute, then gradually increase how long you stay outside for. This will get your pet used to the fact that you are coming back and they won’t panic or worry that they’re being abandoned. Eventually, you’ll be able to run to the store or go to work without any destruction in your home.
A tired dog is a good dog
This is generally good advice for any kind of training for your pet, but a tired dog is a good dog. If you give your pet the appropriate amount of exercise before you leave for work, for most dogs and cats it’s about an hour, they won’t have extra energy to put into being destructive. Making sure your pet gets enough exercise will help with all kinds of training, especially the downtime and place training mentioned above. If your dog has a tendency to get over-excited or anxious, getting them tired will help them stay calm and just take a nap when you leave.
What not to do
You shouldn’t scold your dog when you come home to a mess. Timing is important when correcting your dog’s behaviour. If they have done something you don’t want them to do, you need to correct them within a few seconds. So if you come home and shout at your pet for something they did a few hours ago, they won’t understand and they’ll think you are just angry for no reason. Another important thing to avoid is pushing your dog too far while training. For exercises like practice separation and downtime, don’t force your dog past its threshold of comfortability. Slowly work up to the point where you want them to be, and be patient because they will figure it out sooner or later.
The pandemic has been a stressful time for everyone and pets provide so much emotional support. We might have gotten used to having a pet around constantly, and our pets have become used to this too. As our schedules change, pets in pandemics are going to have to learn how to be on their own. There are so many books and videos to watch that will help walk you through other exercises and help explain separation anxiety in more detail. If you’re feeling anxious about going back into the world and being away from your new best friend, you might be suffering from separation anxiety too, the tips above might help you too. If you want some history on man’s best friend check out this article: How Dogs Became Man’s Best Friend