The demand for new puppies and dogs exploded during the COVID pandemic with one report showing 10% of Canada’s population (3.7 million people) brought a new pet into their home! These pets received tonnes of attention from owners who were deprived of their normal day-to-day activities.
Now that people are participating in activities outside the home again, many pets are showing concerning behaviours consistent with separation disorders—something veterinarians, trainers and behaviourists have been worried about since the beginning of the pandemic. Separation anxiety is a mental health disorder and should not be ignored.
Does my dog have (or is developing) separation anxiety?
If your dog is showing any of the following signs, separation anxiety might be a concern:
- Following you around the house (hence the term “Velcro dog”)
- Signs of anxiety prior to you leaving or while you are away:
- Subtle signs include lip licking, yawning, blinking, panting
- Barking, whining for long periods of time in your absence
- Destructive behaviour
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Vomiting for no medical reason
- Attempts to escape
- Over-enthusiastic greeting upon your return
If you see these signs, you’re not alone and it’s not your fault! Separation anxiety following the pandemic has developed for several reasons.
- Some dogs are genetically predisposed to be more anxious (like people) and it has been very difficult to help these dogs truly be dogs during the unusual conditions of the pandemic.
- During the pandemic, puppies couldn’t be normally socialized with other dogs or people. They couldn’t have the varied range of experiences, nor experience “normal” household routines for the first one to two years of their lives.
- Even normal exercise routines were difficult in certain areas given pandemic restrictions —something that’s highly important to reduce anxiety development in puppies.
What can I do when my dog has separation anxiety?
- Remember that your pet’s behaviour comes from anxiety, not spite or aggression.
- Do not punish your dog for their behaviour.
- Be patient: anxiety is managed, not cured.
- Consider setting up home monitoring cameras. You may find your dog settles within a few minutes of your departure.
- Teach your dog to relax away from you at home.
- You can designate a special area in the room to train your dog to settle
- This helps teach “calm”.
- Have a predictable routine for attention including exercise and play.
- Use “Learn to Earn”.
- Ask your dog for something before any reward such as food, treats, toys, attention, getting onto the couch or your bed.
- Keep comings and goings low-key. Try to ignore your dog for 15-20 minutes when leaving and returning home.
- Ignore attention-seeking behaviour and reward calm behaviour.
- Distract your dog with a puzzle toy or chew before leaving.
- Pretend to leave. Grab your keys, put on your outdoors shoes and jacket…and then don’t leave! Dogs are incredibly smart and know we’re going to leave at the earliest sign of our departure routine and anxiety starts. Not leaving can teach them that those routines don’t always mean you’re leaving.
- Talk to us! We are here to help. Our excellent team can:
- rule out disease that can contribute to anxiety.
- give you tips on reducing your dog’s anxiety.
- discuss supplements and medication to help your pet learn they don’t always need to be anxious. Many pets with severe anxiety need medication or the above behaviour modification techniques will not be helpful.
I’m going back to work in the office soon and am concerned my dog may develop separation anxiety. What can I do to make this change easier for my dog?
It’s great to think ahead and be proactive! In addition to the above the recommendations, try leaving the house for gradually longer periods of time, so your dog has a chance to adjust to a new routine. Try to gradually make that routine as close as possible to your new daily work schedule. You might also consider using dogwalkers or day care services to provide extra anxiety-relieving stimulation while you are away. Many of these services offer a trial period, allowing your dog to try them for a few hours rather than a full day.
If your dog already shows subtle signs of separation anxiety, talk to us about specific ways we can help your dog.
https://www.macleans.ca/society/life/pandemic-puppies-have-a-major-anxiety-problem/ – phys.org says 3 million in US
PLoS One. 2015; 10(11): e0141907. Published online 2015 Nov 3. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141907 PMCID: PMC4631323. PMID: 26528555. Early Life Experiences and Exercise Associate with Canine Anxieties Katriina Tiira 1 , 2 and Hannes Lohi 1 , 2 ,*Vet Med (Auckl). 2014; 5:143–151.
Published online 2014 Oct 30. doi: 10.2147/VMRR.S60424. PMCID:PMC7521022. PMID: 33062616 Canine separation anxiety: strategies for treatment and management Rebecca J Sargisson