Return to in-person work and dog separation anxiety
Since March 2020, the COVID pandemic has put us through the wringer.
While we were all confined at home and unable to carry on with our usual activities, many of us adopted a dog, probably to fill an emotional void.
Those who did adopt likely thought that working remotely would make it easier to train a dog since they wouldn’t have to leave their new buddy alone at home all day.
While this might be the case right now, our current remote work arrangements are bound to change.
I often hear dog owners say: “I just love having my dog lying under my desk while I work.”
As delightful as that sounds, you need to train your dog to be comfortable when you’re not around if you want to avoid having your dog develop separation anxiety.
WHAT IS SEPARATION ANXIETY?
Separation anxiety is an undesirable behavior that dogs develop when they’re not used to being alone (e.g. without the presence of its owner or another pet living at home). This type of behavior is harder to deal with because dog owners aren’t home to witness when the anxiety kicks in.
HOW DOES IT MANIFEST ITSELF?
Separation anxiety in dogs manifests itself in different ways. They may:
- Bark excessively
- Scratch themselves
- Damage things
- Poo where they are not supposed to
People often wrongly think that their dogs are getting even with them for being left alone. But revenge is a human concept and it is not an emotion known to dogs.
HOW TO AVOID THIS BEHAVIOR?
Train your dog to get used to being on its own as soon as possible. The easiest way to teach them to be alone is to have a playpen or a dog crate. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s when they’re still puppies that we need to teach them about attachment and detachment. Both are crucial in developing a healthy balance.
One way to teach dogs to be alone is to offer them quality time to spend their energy and then have them settle down in a safe space that’s their own. You can condition your dog by consistently settling it in his own space. Over time, your dog will associate it as a place of rest.
To condition your dog, you must teach it by association and repetition. Here’s an example:
You just brought your new puppy home for the first time. You also bought a bag of dog treats. You open the bag and call your dog. You give it a biscuit and repeat three or four times. The next time you touch the bag of treats, your dog will come running. Why? Because he will have associated the sound of the bag with getting a treat.
Everything you teach your dog contributes to his conditioning. There’s always the risk of conditioning your dog in a way you didn’t intend. But dogs don’t know the difference between good and bad conditioning, so it’s up to you to train your pet to adopt conditionings that work for you.
If your dog is clingy, put him in his crate or dog pen in your office for a few days, and then gradually move it towards the door and eventually outside the room until you’re out of your dog’s field of vision. Reward your dog with small treats when it enters its crate. The foodies will love that.
If you don’t have a cage or a pen, the training will take longer, and will require more patience, consistency, and repetition.
Here are some other ways to teach your dog to be alone:
- Try the “stay” or “sit on the mat” trick
Start by teaching your dog to wait on its mat, first by standing close to him, then by gradually moving away. Let your dog wait on his mat for longer and longer periods, moving further away each time until you’re out of sight. You can do this exercise whether or not you have a cage/pen.
- Leave him at home when you go out
You can start by going out without your dog for only a few minutes and extending your absence over time until you’re able to be gone for several hours at a time. Be careful not to overly excite your dog when you return. Don’t pay attention to it for a while when you get back and wait until it calms down before getting it from its pen or mat.
- Everyone in their place
It’s crucial to never let your dog sleep in your bed or on the couch for the entire evening. I know what you’re thinking: it makes you feel good to have your dog lying beside you.
I understand it may comfort you, but it’s an unhealthy habit for your dog’s mental health.
By adopting behaviors like these, you’re putting yourself on equal footing with your dog. Keep in mind that it’s an animal, not a human. If your dog already suffers from separation anxiety and sleeps beside you, or if it spends its evenings clinging on to you, you’ll have a harder time breaking this pattern in the long run.
It’s important for your dog to use up its energy, both physically and mentally, through exercises, activities, and interactive games. For many dogs, a walk around the neighborhood isn’t enough, and they’ll still need to work off their energy. When dogs have exhausted their energy and are feeling tired, they will feel less anxious and less frantic when you’re not by their side.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY DOG WILL HAVE SEPARATION ANXIETY?
One way to tell if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety is to watch for specific behaviors, like:
- Following you around all the time
- Getting anxious when it can’t follow you or loses sight of you
- Walking around in circles
- Staring at the door after you’ve left
- Ignoring orders from other family members
- Or showing signs of any other symptoms mentioned above.
If you’re currently working remotely and suspect that your employer will call you back to the office, start doing the detachment exercises as soon as possible to help protect your dog’s well-being. Don’t wait until the week before you go back to the office. The more you practice with your pooch, the faster he will learn and the happier he will be. Remember that dogs learn by association and with repetition. By associating its dog pen with something good, your dog will love spending time resting there.
Wishing you the best of luck!