Lockdown measures are beginning to ease and with that, comes the end of our extended time at home with our four legged friend. While me may adjust to going back to work with ease however, fido may not. To help, we went to our favourite canine trainer, Farah from Training With Farah.
Say Goodbye To Separation Anxiety
Here are some of Farah’s top tips:
True canine separation anxiety refers to when a dog has an intense bond with one person or preferred companion and can’t tolerate their absence. Whether another human or canine friend is present or not. Isolation distress on the other hand, occurs when a dog becomes panicked when left alone and exhibits stress-induced behaviours such as pacing, excessive drooling, destructiveness, loss of bowel and bladder control and/or distress vocalisations; all of which can be abated by the presence of another person or dog. Understating which of these affects your dog is key to understanding how to help them.
So here’s some practical advice to help get you guys started on your journey to harmonious separation:
1) Have Indicators That You’re Leaving
Having these signs that your family are leaving actually helps reduce stress because the dog understands the outcome. For example, you get your work clothes on (one sign), put the dog in their designated room (second sign), put the radio or TV on (third sign), pick up your car keys and so on... you see the pattern? Now by trying to remove these signs it can become quite unsettling for your dog as they aren’t quite sure of the outcome. Where have you gone? Are you coming back? I follow this routine every day to give my dogs the same signs: I probably sigh and stretch before getting up, getting dressed and telling them to go to bed. There will be a few more subtle signals in between these that only dogs will notice, but these are the main things which make my guys feel comfortable. They are being left yes, but they know I’ll be home soon so they know not to worry.
2) Allow Dogs To Follow You
Another popular piece of misinformation: don’t allow your dogs to follow you. Lock them in a room until you return. Again, we’re trying to either stop anxiety or help combat it. So this isn’t something I personally would advise as all it achieves is the opposite. In fact when I have a puppy I allow them to follow me all over the house and be comfortable with the fact I wander about a bit and not to worry. They get carried upstairs whilst I have a shower, learning to either settle and sleep outside the bathroom (or inside if more comfortable) whilst they wait for me. It certainly makes life a lot easier when introducing a new furry family member. Once my pups are old enough to understand my routine, I rarely have issues with separation anxiety. Many people also advise locking your dog or pup in a cage and allowing them to cry it out. Again, not something I advise.
3) Practice Makes Perfect
The best time to practice leaving the room is when your pooch is already in a relaxed state, since that’s the behaviour we ultimately want to reward. The perfect time for this is an evening when my dog/puppy is utterly pooped from the day of training, walking, digging, swimming, playing and basically being fabulous. The household is quiet. I’ve eaten my evening meal and maybe about to sit down to binge another Netflix series. As your pup's fast asleep get up and just leave the room. Leaving the door open for him to follow if he wishes. Then simply come sit right back down. Step one done.... easy, right? Did your dog follow you? That’s OK. It’s better to allow them to do that than have them fret as to where you have gone. All that achieves is a build up of much unwanted anxiety (and the stress hormones to go with it). So during the evening, while the dog is resting, I just get up and do what I need to do, when I need to do it. Soon your dog will come to understand it's normal for you to get up and grab snacks from the kitchen. "It's boring and I don't need to follow". Progress to doing this during the day after your dog has had a good walk or training session. I find my dogs sleep more in the afternoon and evenings. So work around your dogs sleeping patterns. Do remember mental and physical exercise is key to having a calm happy dog. For times when your dog needs to amuse themselves for slightly longer, try an activity toy (likkit mat / chews). Go about the same sequence of leaving them whilst you do housework, cook, shower etc. Still allowing them the option to follow me but making staying where they are quite fun too. Next up it’s time to try shutting the door. As with all training it’s about repetition, repetition, repetition. Each time spend slightly more time out of the room.
If your dog frets, don’t worry and whatever you do, don’t punish them! Just stay calm. I might walk in and greet my worried pup with a "whatcha doing?" and gesture them back to bed. Remember, it's fine to go back to basics, shortening and lengthening the time you're out of the room appropriately. Your dog hasn't forgotten everything. You're not back to square one. It may just take time to build up a bombproof confidence. Once your dog is mastering these early stages, build up to deliberately adding a few of the "leaving triggers" we mentioned earlier. Starting small and building up slowly to popping out the front door and coming back in. It’s OK if your dog gets up or cries.
4) Remember - No Punishment
I can't stress this enough, no punishing them. Punishment isn’t the way even if they’ve destroyed the home. Think of Separation Anxiety (SA) akin to a panic attack. We have to work slowly and carefully to make the dog comfortable. This may mean having a friend or family member look after them post-lockdown, easing them even slower into their new normal. Maybe even utilise a dog walker or day care service. Some owners find they may need additional help from herbal remedies. Don't think you have to defeat SA alone.
5) Greet Your Dog When You Get Home
Greeting your dog when you get home is a must. If a family member walked in and totally ignored you, wouldn't try your hardest to find out why? Possibly even become stressed and agitated and pester them even more. So even a quick acknowledgement will usually suffice and help calm the nerves. There are several ways I greet my dogs when I return home. For the overly excitable dog, I stash a tub of chewy treats outside or in the car. Grab one, open the door and show them the treat. Get a focus or a sit and give them the treat. This can help to stop the initial craziness and jumping, but be careful not reward the very behaviour you're trying to avoid. The dog must be nice and calm before you reward. I start with a big chew to begin with as the dog gets better I decrease the treat size until he gets just a little biscuit.
I hope this gives you a few pointers to get ahead of any issues as the government ease restrictions and our lives change yet again. Working on your dogs' waits and stays, as well as their general obedience is not only incredibly fun and bond building, it helps the dog become comfortable with you leaving them. Not to mention tiring them out. The best solution is incorporating as much of this advice as possible. We run online courses and consultations for anyone who needs them or just drop me a private message to discuss what's best for you. Sign up to our Good Dog Level One and get started.
More Dog Training From Farah
Luckily for you, Farah created the ultimate boredom buster guide for us all when we were in Lockdown and it’s still available right here as a free, downloadable PDF! Just click the link below and enjoy. Don't forget to visit her Instagram page too for more tips and training!