As we begin to make the move away from home working, we need to consider our canine companions are happy, safe and secure in what could be for some, a new routine. One of the most important things that we need to teach our dogs is to cope on their own, and doing this as soon as they arrive into our homes is essential.
Separation Anxiety Disorder is, in very simple terms for dogs, when our puppy or dog experiences excessive apprehension and worry when they are away from the humans that they have a strong emotional attachment to. They may also suffer when they are away from other dogs or animals in the household.
The current situation, with COVID-19, hasn’t helped as we have been home and this can cause separation anxiety making it a real issue going forward.
Whilst it has been a great time to get a puppy or dog and build that connection as people have been at home for long periods of time, in some ways this can also be a downfall – especially when leaving our dogs and returning to work, or if we need to go somewhere that they can’t come too. Having never been left for long periods of time, this can mean hard times ahead.
Dogs need to learn many things, but being left on their own for periods of time is very important. Training should start from the moment your dog comes into your home. Crate training your dog and giving them a “safe place” to be left, and a place that they feel comfortable with should be high in the list of priorities. Feeding your dog or puppy in a crate reiterates this as their happy safe place. As part of their daily routine, putting your dog in their crate during the day whilst you are at home also strengthens their special space. You don’t have to lock the door, but just allow them to sleep or eat in there. You should never force your dog in their crate, and they should always go in of their own free will when you have asked them to.
Once your dog is happy in a crate, leaving the house can begin!
Always start by leaving your puppy or dog for very short periods, maybe ten minutes either when you know they need sleep or with something like a stuffed toy, such as a kong. The time away is dictated by how your dog reacts. Never say goodbye or make a fuss. Always keep everything low key.
Building up the time a dog is left will take a little time and should be done over a few weeks, remember to make sure they have been to the toilet before you leave and that they have been fed and are ready to settle. Make sure you leave the house completely as they will know if you are still about if you don’t! You can build up the time you leave them in 10 minute blocks. Young puppies, once trained, can be left for up to 4 hours during the day. No more as they are likely to need to toilet. Always ensure that your dog is left with clean drinking water. This amount of time should be plenty to shop or go for coffee – whatever it is that you have planned.
No one wants to have a dog that they are unable to leave, and having a dog you cannot leave is no fun for you or the dog. Separation anxiety can be very distressing for both so start straight away, the younger they are the easier, but if you have an older dog, it is certainly not impossible.
If your dog is struggling with separation anxiety then you should consult a dog behaviourist. It is always a good idea to sign up for puppy classes when your puppy first comes home – or if you have adopted an older dog, seek out your local training school to socialise and train the newest member of your family.
About Wendy Lunn. Hot Dogs Training.
Wendy has been involved in showing and training dogs for over 20 years and has an extensive knowledge of canine behaviour, habits and problems. She has provided sound practical advice and guidance to hundreds of owners and is qualified through the Animal Care College in animal behaviour and psychology, Wendy is also an accredited member of the APDT. (Membership number APDT 464)