Dealing with Post Lockdown Separation Anxiety
Separation Anxiety / Separation related Behaviours (SRBs)
As we all start to move towards going back out to work and things getting back to a ‘new’ normal, myself and my behaviour colleagues are anticipating a surge in dogs struggling to cope with being left on their own.
Separation related behaviours can range from whining, howling, barking to chewing doorframes, walls, skirting boards right up to injuring themselves in the process. It is heart-breaking to see your beloved dog struggling. It could start as you get ready to leave the house – whining and jumping at you – and when you return it can be an excessive greeting. Or it could be a simple as them following you everywhere you go in the home.
These behaviours are driven by fear – fear of being left on their own. It is not a rational emotion but an irrational fear and needs to be managed carefully, slowly and at your dog’s pace. This needs professional help so please do seek advice.
However, there are some small things you can change in your home environment to very gently start to help rebuild independence. I say rebuild because as a puppy at around 5 weeks old, they start to separate themselves from the rest of the litter and the Mum as nature’s way of preparing them to be on their own. To do this they need space and barriers which breeders can make sure they have, but if they haven’t it is a real shock to be taken out of the litter and driven to your home.
You can still help them gain their independence. Time away from you, in a crate, or in a separate room with something to do like a stuffed kong, a licky mat or a snuffle mat, will help calm them (chewing and licking releases endorphins in the brain that are calming) which lead to sleep. Choosing the right time to do this will also help – after a walk, training or playing in the garden so they are ready for a rest. Putting up visual barriers so they can’t follow you everywhere also helps. Having some puppy gates in doorways so they can’t always come through; if you work at home, putting a gate on your office with a bed on the other side so they lie there but separate from you all help with the small steps to building independence gently but steadily.
The key is to not allow your dog to get distressed during this process otherwise it won’t work. So, if they can lie on their bed outside your office for 4 minutes before they start whining, allow them in after 3 minutes and then gradually increase the time (and I mean set an alarm to help you manage this). The same with being in a crate on in the other room. To start with, I would open the door BEFORE they finish whatever you have left them with so that they don’t get distressed. If this is too much, then a crate with the door shut in the same room as you might be your first step. As I said, the aim is to increase their emotional resilience slowly but surely. So it takes planning and management. But done this way, you can make a huge difference to your dog’s overall emotional wellbeing.
Written by Ainsley Procter, DipCABT (RQF- Level 6)
Certified COAPE Animal Behaviourist
Dog Trainer member of APDT UK, 01382
Member of ICAN, CAB
Member of CAPBT