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 they’ve never known another environment with you.
We spent some time recently 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. You can catch her live Instagram sessions on our feed, or read on below.
Reduce separation anxiety with crate training
MacEwen recommends crate training as a general rule. But she believes it’s especially useful right now. It may seem counterintuitive to put your dog in a crate when you’re around most of the day to watch over them, but the idea is to give your dog opportunities to be alone and to get comfortable with being in their crate.
Make the crate a positive experience for your dog while training them. 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 dog by exposing them to new places and things.
You probably have a common route around your neighborhood when walking your dog and meet plenty of new people and dogs then. MacEwen says to go a step further and take your dog 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 dog used to being in the house alone.
While you’re out you can help your dog get used to new people by knocking on the door or ringing the doorbell. Having guests over will be another change of pace for your dog, so getting them used to 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 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 or email her directly at email@example.com.