Written by Megan Huebsch from Max and Willow
We’ve followed the rules… 1.5m apart, no jogging, no socialising and no walking your dog. Alright, we’ve survived for the most part. Life for humans has pretty much been turned upside down, and while it’s been challenging, one benefit is that we’ve had our dogs at our side 24/7.
Let’s get real, our dogs are in literal heaven and have lapped up the inexplicable rise in attention and presence of their owners. What does that mean for life after lockdown? Separation anxiety post-lockdown is a real concern for most dog owners.
By the end of it, we’d have spent the good part of 5 weeks (not counting the informal social distancing weeks) consistently sharing the same space with our dogs. We’ve spent these weeks doing our best to entertain them mentally and physically without leaving the sanctuary of our homes.
How are they going to handle our lives returning to normal? Morning cuddles will be rushed, lunchtimes will be lonelier and activities will be fewer as humans reintegrate into post-lockdown life. Some degree of separation anxiety is bound to form, even in unsuspecting dogs.
So, what is separation anxiety exactly?
FULL DISCLOSURE, I’m not an expert on this subject so I’ve asked dog trainer, Michaela Lendowsky, from Dogwarts School of Training and Trickery (and mom to Titan the Rottie) for her professional advice. With her help and expertise, I have compiled some vital information to help you prepare your dog for post-lockdown life.
Michaela explains, “separation anxiety is equivalent to a panic attack in humans and it often occurs in high functioning dogs who battle to be apart from their owners, siblings or certain comforts. New studies have shown that separation anxiety is actually a frustration-based problem and if we can help dogs with their frustration, then their anxiety should calm down. It sounds a lot like how humans deal with their anxiety.”
What are the symptoms?
What are the causes?
How can you prevent it?
“We have a choice, we can either prevent it by using the tools below, or we let our dogs suffer when we’re away and have no other choice but to manage their separation anxiety when it’s crippling them.”
PHASE 1: PREPARING FOR POST-LOCKDOWN
1. Independence Training
Now this is the one that will be hardest for humans, and that is training your dog to be alone.
1. a. Leave them alone
1. b. Work in a separate room
1. c. Crate train your dog
1. d. Design a Doggie Disneyland®
1. e. Rotate toys
1. f. Sleep and pee alone
2. Stay/wait training
This ties in with practicing your leaving routine as well as making your dog comfortable being alone on their bed. *Difference between stay and wait:
Stay: You don’t release your dog, your dog doesn’t move until you get back.
Wait: Your dog is waiting for you to call him or tell him to fetch something.
Teach your dog how to stay and add both distance and duration. Put them in a stay in their bed or on a mat, and walk to another room. Each time you leave to another room, you say “stay, I’ll be back” and walk away. When you get back to them, you say “I’m back” in a nice calm tone and reward them for staying. Another thing you can do is also put your dog on their bed or mat, ask them to wait. Sprinkle some treats on the floor and as you are about to leave and close the door, say “yes go fetch”, and walk away. This will keep them busy while you’re out the room.
3. Put your shoes on
The simple act of putting shoes on in our household entices excitement, even more so now during lockdown. The aim is to normalise and desensitise simple acts attached to leaving the house. Repeated exposure can help reduce anxiety when the real deal first day back at work happens. Put your shoes on calmly and go back to your desk. Pick up the car keys and sit on the couch. Do this a few times a day without acknowledging excited behaviour in your dog. Eventually they will start to feel less anxious about these actions.
PHASE 2: PREVENTING SEPARATION ANXIETY
1. Increase the mental stimulation
2. Make arrivals and departures boring
Michaela and I are both guilty of this! By hyping up your dogs when you get home, you can over-arouse them which makes homecoming an event in itself. Dogs battle to distinguish excitement from anxiety so we need to avoid this at all costs. It’s important to make entering and leaving the house a non-event.
3. Exercise, exercise, exercise!
A tired dog is a calm dog. This is a surefire way to ensure your dog has a lot less energy to spend worrying about when you’re coming home. Ensuring you exercise your dog before you head to work is so important. Throwing the ball in the garden, a brisk walk or jog all count as exercise. Work this 20 – 30 mins into your morning routine and stick to it every day.
4. Calming music
Research shows that simple on instrument music, especially piano, is very soothing to dogs.
5. Oils, Diffusers and Other Remedies
Here is a list of natural remedies to calm your pet. If your dog is on any chronic medication or supplements, please consult your veterinarian before introducing any additional remedies to their schedule. It is also important to note that while these remedies do help anxiety, it is always preferable to treat the cause and not the symptom. *Please note that while essential oils provide many benefits, some are toxic to pets and can lead to illness or death. Here is a list of safe essential oils for your pets.
6. Get a nanny cam
If you’re struggling to get used to leaving your dog alone, or have neighbours who tend to complain about barking dogs, invest in a nanny cam. This is the one I (Megan) use and I love it because it has two-way audio and the night vision is super clear. However there are many cheaper and just as effective models out there. The two-way audio lets me interrupt any howling or barking.
Chronic or prescribed medication should only to be used as a last resort. Antidepressants and SSRI’s for pets do exist but a process of elimination should occur before putting your dog on heavy meds. Ask your vet for a full body check-up as underlying health conditions can also cause pain and anxiety. In addition, seek professional advice from a behaviourist first so they can see if there are any under lying behavioural issues going on.
8. Manage your own anxiety
This method isn’t spoken about a lot because people underestimate a dog’s emotional intelligence. In many cases, dogs who suffer from anxiety tend to have anxious owners. Dogs are emotionally intelligent beings, and when it comes to humans they care a lot about, they tend to transfer and take on their emotional baggage at their own expense. By ensuring that you’re calm when you enter or leave the house means that your dog knows it’s ok to be calm.
9. Be patient
Separation anxiety and training in general takes time. Use this as an opportunity to learn about your dog and build confidence within your household. Don’t give up if you have a setback. Keep going and focus on what you have achieved, not what has gone wrong.
Thank you to Michaela from Dogwarts for your help in writing this article!
Article written by Megan Huebsch from Max and Willow