Going back to work; Dogs

A year of lockdown has been tough for many, but there has been one particular group that has relished all this family time. Yep, the dogs! The out and out winners of the past year, our four-legged friends have had the constant love and attention of their owners, and many have gotten happily used to having their people at home with them all day long. So what happens now, as the world opens back up and we start to head back into normal life. How do we help our fluffy friends with this transition from ear scratches on tap, to time alone in the house.

Thankfully, there are things that we can do to make this shift easier for them and help them to re-adjust to the new rhythms of our daily lives.

 

Why does my dog get upset when I leave?

The most common reason for the whining, scraping and chewing you may observe when you leave your dog, is down to a syndrome known as ‘separation anxiety. This umbrella term for a collection of behaviours is also known as separation-related behaviour and describe behaviours a dog only demonstrates when separated from their owners.

What is separation anxiety?

Dogs that show anxious or destructive behaviours when they are left alone are most likely suffering from separation anxiety.  Dogs can feel stressed and worried when left alone, and this mental stress can manifest in physical behaviour such as chewing, scraping or even toileting in the house. If you have a dog who starts to get worried as you get ready to leave the house, or you come home to chewed-up furniture and a dog who follows you constantly around the house, you may well be dealing with a pup suffering from separation anxiety.

 

What are the signs of separation anxiety in dogs?

Just as it differs from dog to dog if they get stressed when you leave, the actions that worried dogs do display can vary between individuals.  The most common signs of separation anxiety are:

  • Vocalising: from whining and whimpering to full-on howling, making noise is one of the most common behaviours shown in dogs who are missing their humans.
  • Chewing; Stress and frustration can lead to your dog becoming destructive, and it is not uncommon to find items and furniture chewed and destroyed. The act of chewing can be soothing for dogs, so as annoying as it may be to find your new trainers in pieces, your dog may well have been trying to calm himself.
  • Toileting inside the house; despite being house trained, weeing and pooing is often seen in these stressed-out pups. Soiling the house isn’t done out of spite, so punishment should be avoided.

Less common, and sometimes overlooked or missed signs of separation anxiety include:

  • Pacing
  • Scratching at doors and windows
  • Trembling
  • Excessive salivation
  • Self-mutilation
  • Acting depressed, lying on owners’ feet
  • Vomiting

Many of these more subtle behaviours are shown before you leave the house. Picking up on these signs and implementing helpful tactics can help to reduce stress for your dog and reduce the more destructive behaviour when you leave.

Why are some dogs more affected by separation anxiety?

Although it is not fully understood why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety more than others, it is believed that young animals and puppies, or dogs with a history of trauma, such as being in a rescue facility are more prone to getting worried when on their own.

A sudden big change in routine, such as an owner’s maternity leave coming to an end, a house move or indeed entire families returning to school and work after lockdown can trigger anxiety in dogs.

 

Can I help my dog with separation anxiety?

The good news is, that for the majority of dogs, we can help their anxiety by implementing a few routines and techniques.  The more time you have to start implementing these new actions before your dog is left alone, the better. But even if you are currently going through a bad patch of separation anxiety, these methods can be implemented immediately, and you should see some positive improvements.

First of all, you want to get your dog used to not being your shadow and to instil some independence back into them. Depending on how clingy your dog is, this may look different for each dog.  Baby steps would be to move into a different room to your dog for a few minutes and then return.  What you are trying to do here is to help your dog cope with the prospect of you leaving, by knowing you always come back.

You can encourage your dog to spend time in the garden, without you, or take more time in their crate or bed while you are in the house. As your dog starts to settle and relax, return and offer praise.

Once they have begun to get more comfortable with not being glued to your side in the home, you can start leaving the house, for short periods of time and then returning. Over time build up the duration of your excursions from the house and them.

A dog’s sense!

Dogs are clever creatures and can pick up on a lot more than we often give them credit for.  Getting dressed in ‘office clothes’ can signal to them that you are leaving.  Acting out your morning routine in advance of you actually having to leave for the day, including leaving the house for a few minutes and then returning, can help them to minimise their anxiety for when you do finally have to be out for a prolonged period of time.  It can also be helpful to leave a particular toy or object out for them while you are away and remove it when you get home, as this helps to reduce their feeling of abandonment.

Remember that your dog can pick up on how you feel – it’s one of the reasons we love them so much. So if you are feeling anxious and worried, this can pass onto them too.  The more relaxed you stay, the more your dog will follow your lead.

 

Tips for leaving in the morning

It can be helpful to start to re-adjust your dog’s daily routine back to one that will suit a busier working life. Nice mid-morning walks may have become a wonderful habit while we were working from home, but if walkies are going to be switched to 6am and 6pm once you’re back into the swing of things, start to reinforce these schedules ahead of the change. The same applies for mealtimes.  Not having to cope with a routine out of sync is one less thing for your dog to feel worried about.

When it does come to having to leave for longer durations of time, before heading out of the door make sure that your dog’s needs have all been met:

  • Ensure they have had a good walk, to burn off any excess energy. Dogs get lots of enrichment from having a good sniff. Letting them do this on their morning walk allows them to engage their brain and keep excitement levels down.
  • Make sure they have been fed. A hungry tummy is not going to make for a happy peaceful dog.
  • Without making a big deal of leaving, do make sure that you have interacted positively with your dog before you leave, either by having a good cuddle or a quick obedience training session – even if it's only for a few minutes. You can utilise some of the IQ toys on the market such as the iQuties range to provide both mental and physical stimulation for your pup before you leave.

What should I leave with my dog while I’m out?

As well as the preparation we have discussed above, if it is safe to do so, you can leave specific toys or comfort items for your dog.

Before leaving any item, do ensure it is in good condition and doesn’t pose a risk of choking or other injuries.

Good quality toys such as the kong provide positive reinforcement to your dog. Your pup gets to use their super sense of smell, and as they figure the toy out, they get rewarded with a treat. Make sure the toy is in good condition if you are planning to leave it with your dog.

As well as mind games, the motion of licking and chewing can be very calming for an anxious dog. Using good quality dog chews, and lick mats can provide a way for dogs to self soothe themselves without destroying any of your household items, win-win!  As always do check that any items you leave for your dog to access are safe, and in good condition.

Doggy-Cams are a great tool for checking in with your dog throughout the day. This allows you to check-in and see what behaviours your dog is getting up to, as well as making sure they are safe.

 

Does my dog get bored when I’m out?

All dogs are different, and while some love to sleep all day, others can get restless if they’re by themselves for too long. A lot of the tips discussed in this article will help relieve a bored doggo, but for more information on how to bust the boredom have a read of busting boredom in dogs.

Using dog sitters and dog walkers throughout the day is an option that is becoming more popular. This helps to provide company for your dog and helps entertain them while you are away.

 

Using Adaptil for my anxious dog

For some dogs, even after implementing all of the above, their separation anxiety is hard to control. At this stage it may be time to talk to your vet or look into consulting a behaviour specialist.

They will be very thorough and talk through many options with you surrounding desensitisation and behavioural control.  One thing they may suggest is the use of Adaptil to help calm your dog through this process.

 

What is Adaptil?

Formally called DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) Adaptil is a synthetic version of the natural pheromone that mother dogs give to their puppies.  Pheromones are a type of language that dogs use between themselves- sending messages to one another via smell. The pheromone used in Adaptil is a calming one, intended to have a comforting effect on puppies and dogs.

Dogs that are stressed and anxious can become much calmer and more confident when they detect the scent of this calming pheromone, making it a very useful tool for dogs who suffer from separation-related behaviours.

Adaptil can be used long term for dogs, or as and when needed. For example, if a normally happy and secure dog becomes very stressed by fireworks, using Adaptil around firework night can help reduce their fear.

Depending on how it needs to be used, Adaptil comes in a variety of forms; a spray, a collar or a diffuser. It is undetected by human noses and is safe to both us and other animals alike.

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