The pandemic saw many people wanting a furry companion, as 3.2 million puppies found new homes, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.
However, as we return to normality and working less from home, owners can worry about their dogs struggling to adapt.
That’s why pet insurance provider Animal Friends has teamed up with vet Kate Costaras, at Joii, to help identify separation anxiety in dogs and share tips on how to build confidence in your pandemic pup.
What is separation anxiety?
Dr Costaras explained that separation anxiety is when a dog or puppy becomes frantic and anxious due to being left alone.
As dogs are companions by nature, this can be really distressing for them, and it can be tricky to differentiate it from just some mischievous behaviour.
Barking, howling, pacing and panting are some of the biggest signs that your pup is suffering from separation anxiety.
Toileting indoors and destroying items around the house are also common signs.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help your dog to love their own company. Dr Costaras said it’s all about finding what works for both you and your pup.
However, if their behavior is not improving, this could mean your dog is just going through a naughty phase and testing their boundaries.
Get your pup trained down to a tee when it comes to being alone. Dr Costaras said that it is the necessary groundwork for raising a confident dog and this is key to keeping them happy when separated.
Dr Costaras advised: “You can train your puppy to be confident alone by gradually increasing the amount of time they are left alone, but be aware this is not a quick process. This requires a lot of practice and plenty of patience.
“Start by moving away from your puppy, rewarding them if they stay calm and quiet. Slowly progress to leaving the room and rewarding if they stay settled for short periods of time. Keep repeating this, ensuring rewarding is kept up, until you can gradually increase the amount of time spent apart.
“Once you’re comfortable with managing being apart indoors, leave the house for a short period to try and build up their confidence. On your return you should still reward your puppy, but it’s important to not make too big a fuss as this can actually have the opposite effect and increase their anxiety levels.
“You should wait for your puppy to become settled once again before giving them a treat so they can understand they are rewarded for calm behaviour. Repeating this process frequently will teach your puppy that coming and going is a part of her everyday routine and not something to be fearful about.
Reducing time together when you are at home is another useful way to encourage your dog’s independence and being comfortable on their own.
Dr Costaras explained puppies can be quite clingy and want to be around us at all times, which although being sweet, can lead to separation anxiety.
If your dog tends to follow you to the bathroom, a good trick is to drop some treats outside the door before shutting it off.
“This teaches the dog that good things can happen even when they aren’t with you,” Dr Costaras added.
You can also tie a stuffed toy in a room which you spend little time in, but your pooch has access to.
Dr Costaras said: “Add treats to the toy and let your puppy explore the area and get a positive experience when they find them. Again, this promotes independence and confidence.”
Encouraging your dog to play by themselves can also help them while separated, especially in the early days.
Dr Costaras said: “Toys are a great way to give your puppy something to do whilst you’re unable to keep them entertained. Introduce them to interactive toys such as treat dispensing toys or puzzles that will keep them busy for a longer period of time. Alternatively, have a go at making your own boredom busters, such as snuffle mats stuffed with treats.
“You should always check the toy’s condition before leaving your puppy unoccupied to ensure it’s safe and can’t be swallowed. You should also be mindful of how many treats your dog is consuming each day as their meal quantities may need to be adjusted accordingly.”
Pet-specific diffusers can also be a good idea to keep your puppy calm while home alone.
Dr Costaras explained they can release calming pheromones throughout your home and therefore helps reduce your dog’s anxiety.
However, she stressed that owners need to make sure the diffuser is designed specifically for pets, and would not cause them any harm.
These methods can take some time to show results, but it is a good starting point.
Dogs have very sensitive hearing and many times can hear things that us humans cannot.
The variety of sounds your pup is able to hear can lead to anxiety and restlessness.
Dr Costaras advised to reduce the impact of sounds on your dog’s mood and said: “Loud noises, whether inside or outside the home, can unsettle a pup and undo all the great training you’ve done. Preparing your puppy to ignore these noises is key to ensuring they remain undisturbed whilst you’re away.
“To begin the training, you should give your puppy something tasty to chew for around 10 minutes. While they enjoy their treat, play a recording of a loud noise at a low level. If they react, turn down the volume or swap out the treat for something of higher value.
“Keep this up until they no longer react then begin to increase the volume level over the next few days. As with any dog training, it’s important to be consistent and increase difficulty slowly to help progress so keep as patient as you can for your pup.”
Treacle, a miniature poodle, is an example of a confident puppy when left alone.
The pooch’s owner, John Caro, said: “We knew from doing lots of research that puppies can be prone to separation anxiety so we made a big effort from the start to make sure he felt comfortable in his own space.
“One of the best things we did was introduce separation within the house from the day we brought him home. He stayed in our bedroom for the first few nights whilst settling into his new home from him and we gradually moved his bed further away until he was happy to sleep alone downstairs overnight. To begin with we only left him for really short periods – as little as five minutes. We slowly increased this until he was comfortable in his own company for one or two hours at a time.
“Treacle really progressed when we were consistent with rewarding his development. Lots of small treats and praise goes a long way.”