A recent change in government guidelines means a return to the office. Are you aware of how this will affect your dog? It is important that you understand their behaviour so that you can take the relevant steps to ensure they are the most content canines on the block, even when you aren’t around.

Employers are being asked to allow their employees to return to work gradually, which means you still have time to prepare your pooches before separation-related behaviour takes its toll.

A simple way of understanding these issues is that your dog is just a small portion of your life – but to your dog, you are their whole world. Some dogs suffer from separation-related behaviour (or separation anxiety) which means they aren’t used to being left along for long periods of time. This will especially be the case if you adopted a dog whilst working from home as they will never have experienced being without you.

Research suggests that 8 out of 10 dogs find it hard to cope when left alone, but the way they show their feelings differ. Some dogs will bark uncontrollably or destroy items, where as others will sit quietly, worried and distressed. It is thought that almost half of dogs suffering from separation anxiety won’t display any signs, which means their problems may forever go unnoticed.

  

     

You may be thinking, how will I know if my dog is showing these signs if I’m not in the house? You could ask a trusted friend, family member or neighbour to check the perimeters of your house eg. listening for any loud noises or peeking through windows. Alternatively, you could set up a camera to watch how your dog reacts whilst you are out.

These signs will usually begin within the first 30 minutes of you leaving the house, although some can begin almost immediately. It is likely that they will continue until you return. Even if your dog appears happy to see you upon your return, this doesn’t mean that they haven’t experienced distress while you were gone.

It is impossible to be with your dog every minute of every day which is why it is essential to teach them that it is okay to be left alone sometimes. When teaching them, you should experiment with leaving them alone only for a short period of time and gradually increase at a pace that suits your individual dog. It is important that you reward good behaviour but never punish your dog – instead simply withhold the reward.

   

     

Managing and Treating Separation Anxiety

- toys: ensure your dog has a mentally-stimulating toy or food-related activity to keep themselves entertained whilst you are away from home. This should hopefully distract them from their distress and prevent them from relieving their boredom elsewhere (like chewing furniture). However, make sure that you are not overfeeding your pet, or feeding them too many ‘treat’ items. It would be beneficial to maintain the speciality of this mentally stimulating activity by only giving it to your pet whilst you aren’t home, and taking it off them once you return.

- preparation: if you know that you will be away from home for some time, try to spend time with your pet before you go. Take them for a walk so that they have the opportunity to toilet outside, and allow them to tire themselves out with exercise. This way, your pet will be much more inclined to relax when they get home and you have to go out.

- minimise disturbances: howling or barking may be your dog’s reaction to outside disturbances. Therefore, in an attempt to stop these noises and calm your pooch, try to minimise disturbances as much as possible, for example by closing curtains or playing calming music (at a low volume).

- company: if your dog really struggles with being left alone and nothing seems to tackle their problems, it may be useful to consider getting a dog sitter. Whether this be a professional business or a trusted family member, having someone else home may relieve the anxiety they feel when you leave.

 

Seeking the help of a professional

If this advice doesn’t ease the transition for your dog, consider talking to your vet who will be familiar with you and your dog’s individual circumstances. They may then refer you to a clinical animal behaviourist who will help you to identify the underlying cause of the problem and develop a treatment plan that targets it.