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Separation-related problems and isolation

There is one silver-lining amongst the current UK lockdown and that is how much time we are now spending with our dogs. I’m sure you’ve experienced similar but my Husky Sasha is fully embracing this change in circumstances, I’ve been followed around, a head on my lap during working, more training time (that means more treats for Sasha) and the entire family going for a dog walk (unheard of).

Although now is a brilliant time to increase your bond with your dog, to polish up some training tasks and to generally enjoy this extra time with your dogs, it is important to consider the consequences of life after lockdown. For many dogs this is a huge change in their normal daily routine, some dogs may be struggling to adjust, but what I am most concerned about it how dogs will cope when we are all back to work, especially if you’re at home with a puppy or adolescent dogs who now know no different from you always being present. This is of course an unavoidable and very necessary situation but there are things that can be done to set your dog up for success when we begin to leave again, I hope this blog will give you some tools to do so. Keep an eye out as my next blog will concern ways to keep your dogs busy during isolation.

What is meant by separation-related problems?

The term most of you will be familiar with is ‘separation anxiety’ but unless a behaviourist has specified that diagnosis, separation related problems can be caused by a variety of emotions and therefore labelling as anxiety can be a disservice to your dog. Separation-related problems can be defined by any of the below signs that occur when an owner leaves or the dog is left alone. This problem is thought to be one of the most common behavioural complaints amongst dog owners seeking help.

There are three main emotional systems that need to be considered when dealing with these kind of problems:

  • Panic when the owner leaves caused by over-attachment to the owner.

  • Fear of being left alone and isolated.

  • Frustration at not being able to get to/away from something. This can be a primary cause but is often a secondary emotion of the above- but it still essential to include in the treatment plan.

What are the signs of separation related problems?

The following are common signs reported:

  • Destructiveness such as scratching, chewing and digging,

  • Vocalisation such as howling, whining and barking,

  • House-soiling, either/both urine and defecation,

  • Over-arousal at the owners return,

  • Repetitive behaviours such as pacing, spinning and paw licking,

  • Less commonly owners report self-mutilation.

What you can do NOW

If your dog already presents the above signs when he/she is left alone please contact me to arrange a behavioural consultation, these can currently be done remotely at a discounted rate. If you want to know more, please get in touch.

At this time it is important to be proactive to endeavour to prevent this developing once lock down is over, here are some things you can be doing:

  • Encourage your dog to be independent and reward this. This can mean encouraging them to spend time in their own space amusing themselves, such as giving them a Kong/puzzle feeder in their crates, beds or rooms whilst you get on with a task. (The next blog will help with ideas for this!)

  • Try to ignore any ‘clingy’ behaviour such as following you around, trying to be in constant contact with you and demonstrating attention seeking behaviours (pawing/barking). Instead schedule attention for times when you are available and at times when the dog is being independent. As well as the previous tip.

  • Replicate being left by spending time away from your dog in a different room and leave them as they would if you had gone out. For example, even if you trust your dog fully when you’re in the house, do as you would if you were going out for work. Leave them in their assigned space/room/crate with their resources and puzzle feeders/Kongs and chews at least once a day. If you dog has never been left then start with a short amount of time such as 5 minutes and build this time up each day. If your dog is used to you being out for longer, try to replicate this where possible.

  • Similar to above, keeping a familiar and constant routine that replicates your normal, non-lockdown life will set your dog up for success when things do revert to reality.

  • For puppies and dogs that have a tendency to be dependent then the pheromone product Adaptil can be useful for helping to promote calm in this context. These should be plugged into the space where your dog would be left.

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