Separation anxiety is a common behavior issue for many dog owners. The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine reports that 20 to 40 percent of dogs exhibit this behavior. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this likely isn’t much of a problem due to owners working from home, but we’re here to help you get ahead of behavior issues for when you head back to work. Recently adopted dogs and puppies are especially at risk of developing separation anxiety as having you home with them is all they’ve ever known.
Our friends over at Embark recently spent some time with Margaret MacEwen, dog trainer and founder of Super Fine K9, to talk about what steps owners can take with their dogs now to prevent separation anxiety from developing after the transition back to a normal routine.
Reduce separation anxiety with crate training
It may seem counterintuitive to put your dog in a crate when you’re around most of the day to watch over them, but MacEwen recommends crate training as a general rule and believes it’s especially useful right now., The idea is to give your pup opportunities to be alone and to get comfortable with being in their crate.
Make the crate a positive experience for your dog; you could give them a special toy only inside their crate, feed them their meals while the door is open, or even hide treats in the crate for your dog to find on their own. The more your dog associates their crate with a positive reward, the better.
Crate training while you’re home also lets you see how your dog reacts to their crate. If you go “cold turkey” and suddenly put your dog in a crate for a full workday without prior training, there’s no telling how they’ll respond. You want to build up to extended crate stays gradually and make sure your dog will be comfortable.
The importance of socializing
MacEwen stresses the idea of expanding your dog’s world beyond your home, yard, and typical walking trail. Think about it: If all your dog knows is being home with you, how would you expect them to react when you’re away at work? You want them to be able to cope when they’re alone. A great way to accomplish this is to socialize your pup by exposing them to new places and things.
You probably walk your dog along the same route every day and meet plenty of new people and dogs then, but MacEwen suggests to go a step further and take your pooch for a car ride to a different neighborhood and walk them there. Show your dog that there’s more to the world than your current daily routine.
There’s an opportunity to work socializing your dog into errands, too. If you’re going to the store, bring another member of the household along with your dog. One of you can go in to handle groceries while the other walks the dog around the parking lot. You can park further from the entrance so you’re not wandering around in heavily-trafficked areas. It’ll be good for your dog to see and hear people, cars, and grocery carts.
You can also bring your dog with you to the pet store or even businesses like home supplies stores (just call ahead to see if they allow dogs inside).
Being alone helps with separation anxiety
MacEwen suggests finding opportunities to let your dog be alone where appropriate. Don’t leave the house whenever you feel like it, but even something as small as checking the mail or taking a quick walk around the block will get your pup used to being in the house alone.
Having guests over will be another change of pace for your dog, so help your dog get used to new stimuli by knocking on the door or ringing the doorbell before you come back in. Getting your pooch comfortable with these signals for company is a good idea.
It’s great to be able to spend so much time around your dog, but it’s also important to keep up with training where you can. Raise your dog for the future, not just today. Taking steps to reduce separation anxiety now will help offset any unexpected behaviors when your dog has to be alone during the day.
If you want more advice on separation anxiety or general training tips, you can reach out to Margaret MacEwen at superfinek9.com.