Covid 19 & Separation Anxiety

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

We are all too aware of the lasting impacts Covid-19 will have on every aspect of our lives. But have you considered the impact it could have on your dog?

For many dogs this will be the time of their lives, their families are at home all day, they have all the human contact they could ever want and they really are ‘living their best lives’.

However, some dogs may be finding the constant human interaction quite tiring and the disrupted routine can be stressful for our dogs. Some dogs may be receiving far more exercise than they’re used to, which could be harmful physically or mentally. It’s important to try and maintain some sense of ‘normality’ for our dogs, this will help avoid increased stress levels and minimise the impact of ever-changing routines.

Many dogs will have spent years in a stable routine where they are left for several hours in the day while their humans go to work or run errands. They are comfortable with time on their own and it’s a normal part of their daily lives. Suddenly, their family is at home all day every day and they never have to spend any time alone. Some may still choose to take themselves away and settle on their own, but others will relish the human contact. What happens when you start to leave them again?

For other dogs, being separated from their humans is already a daily struggle and a cause of anxiety. It must feel great to not have the stress of separation, but you may face an even tougher challenge next time you have to leave. And for new additions during this pandemic, perhaps a new puppy or rescue dog, they will know no different to having humans around all the time. Being left alone is an unknown concept to them.

It’s easy to want to enjoy this time by showering our pets with attention and revolving our days around them. While we should absolutely make the most of this, we also need to remember that at some point, our lives will settle back into some sort of routine. Most of us will have to return to work and probably all of us will need to leave our pets on a regular basis again. It’s short-sighted to think that we should simply enjoy this time and not plan for when we have to leave them. In a few month’s time we face the possibility of a pandemic of dogs with separation anxiety. Now is the time to make a plan and it is also the perfect situation to work carefully on existing separation issues.

One of the biggest challenges in overcoming separation-related issues is that we can spend days slowly working on our dogs feeling calm and relaxed while we disappear for a few seconds, but then we suddenly have to leave them for several hours and we undo all our previous work because the dog is left stressed and anxious. During ‘lockdown’, we are likely to have the luxury of not having to leave our dogs frequently or for long durations. This is the ideal environment for successfully working on separation issues!

Whether your dog is a pro at being left alone, an anxious wreck or a total newbie, there are some really simple ways to start making alone-time stress-free for your dog. You can adjust the time lengths based on your dog’s tolerance and previous experience with separation.

Top 3 exercises to PREVENT Separation Anxiety in a puppy

Credit to Jo Rosie

  1. Micro absences. Make a list of small household chores that start with a small amount of time and gradually take longer. i,e. Going for a wee, having a quick shower, bringing shopping in from the car, hanging washing out, having a bath, cooking a meal, making a phone call. Start with the short absences and build up. In week 1, everytime you go to do a short absence, you should scatter some of their food on the floor. As times goes on, the puppy will find these micro absences easier . This is a gentle way for the puppy to learn to cope with being on his own and allowing him to recover, and will lay some strong foundations for more impressive absences later on

  2. Tie out toys. Tie a stuffed kong in the crate, pen, or by the bed. Go and sit on the sofa and watch a film/read a book. The puppy will take the risk to leave you and go and do something in the room away from you and it pays off. It reinforces confidence and curiosity, and rewards the dog for taking that risk.

  3. Eat away dinners. Set up a playpen next to where you eat dinner. Whilst you eat, the puppy can also eat something like a kong. Everytime you have a meal, move the puppy slightly further away. If they struggle, move them closer again and add distance again the following day.

When not playing these games, you need to be there for your puppy. Using Play, Train and Cuddles. You can’t over love a dog into separation anxiety. In fact, the more you ignore their need for attention, the more they will worry when you do leave.

Physical Barriers

  • Closing doors behind you while you walk from room to room will mean your dog can’t constantly follow. Return after a few seconds, gradually increasing the time. Keep your exit and entry neutral… no big excited greetings, this will only add to the anticipation of your return!