Our pet dogs have been such good company for us during this past traumatic year.
In recent studies having a companion animal was associated with a decreased deterioration in mental health and decreased increases in loneliness since lockdown.
The Covid lockdown period has sadly however caused some increased behavioural problems in our faithful companions, and separation anxiety is coming to the fore as one of the most common.
Separation anxiety can be incredibly stressful for our pet dogs. A content and happy dog will generally sleep, or play with a toy or chew, when the family is not at home. Contented dogs should sleep for 12-14hrs a day. If your dog has not been sleeping and appears restless and anxious, then this may indicate a problem.
Other behaviours associated with separation anxiety are barking, howling, digging, scratching at window and doors, “marking” behaviours, for example, urinating or defaecating around the house. Other signs are being restless, anxious, and active the whole time they are left alone, running from room to room, going back and forth to look out of windows and doors. Also, being awake watching doors, whining, and panting, lip-smacking or excessively licking parts of their bodies, and becoming overly excited when you return home, or even from a different room!
There are some simple steps you can take to reduce these feelings of anxiety from developing or worsening.
Try not to overindulge your dog with constant company and attention. The more time and attention that you give them now, the more they will miss it when it is not there. Try to keep to a daily set, normal routine of feeding, walks, play, and some time for affection and attention.
Create some separation and distance. If you are working from home, wherever possible, work in a different room to your dog and do try to keep the door closed to them. They will still know you are in the house, but you are maintaining guidelines that this is your work time and not time to be spent with them.
Dogs need to remember and understand that when you leave the house for any reason, that you do in fact come back, and that this is quite normal and not something for them to feel anxious about. Do not make a great fuss of them on returning home, as you are in fact fuelling their anxiety further when you leave, and their desire for you to come home will heighten. Teaching them that behaving calmly is also rewarded with your attention, is a great way to teach a dog how to control their reactions.
Ensure that your dog gets plenty of physical and mental stimulation to keep him happy and content. Challenge your dog with some new tricks and further training. Exercise and mental stimulation are the key to dealing successfully with many behavioural problems.
Do not leave them at home in silence. Familiar noises suddenly disappear when the family do. So, leaving on the television or radio at a low noise level, are ways for that silence not to feel too sinister to your pet.
Dogs have been man’s best friend for centuries because they fit so easily into our lives. We can sometimes forget that they may be struggling with the changes through the Covid-19 pandemic just as much as we are, and still more so when things eventually do get back to normal.
If you think about how these changes could be affecting your dog, you can behave differently now and so be able to focus on reducing any separation anxiety symptoms.