Dogs are social animals and when they go from being with you much of the day, to spending a lot of time on their own, it’s not surprising that many will display signs of anxiety or boredom.
A common scenario is returning to work after a prolonged time off, such as with maternity or paternity leave. It’s hard enough getting yourself and your babe ready for the change ahead, but not prioritising and preparing your dog as well will only cause more problems for you both.
The aim is that your dog realises that they don’t have to be with you every minute, and that if you do leave, you will return. This allows them to be calm and relaxed on their own.
So here are my tips for preparing your dog for increased time alone:
- Start slowly increasing the time that your dog is actually on their own and reward them when they are calm. From being across the same room, to the next room, and eventually out of the house. This process can take days to weeks depending on the individual so start slow. Reward them with a tasty treat (small bits of Australian sourced dried liver for example) for calm behaviour (not allowing them time to get upset). Only increase the time or distance from your dog when they have shown they are calm. You want them to know that calm behaviour makes you return (with pats or treats), and that fussing or attention seeking behaviour is ignored.
- When you return to your dog, after a day at work, as excited as to may be to see your fur kid, it’s essential to be calm and relaxed yourself, so that they associate being calm and relaxed with you coming and going. Avoid all drama.
- Exercise your mate every day. Preferably in the morning before they are left alone so that they have burnt some energy. Choose the type and amount of activity appropriate to your dog’s health.
- Provide a routine similar to what will be happening when you’re at work. Dogs thrive on routine and knowing what to expect and when to expect it. Things can’t be the same every day but following a basic routine of exercise and feeding times will be highly beneficial.
- Feed in slow release devices. By giving them something to do whilst getting the reward (their meal!) you have alleviated their boredom and helped them burn some energy so they are happier to rest later. You’re also supporting their natural desire to forage and hunt for their food rather than just provide it in a bowl.
- Provide distraction with safe chew toys/treats or Kongs. Food can be hidden in the middle of the Kong to treat and entertain your dog. They are key to reducing boredom and it’s associated destructive behaviours such as digging holes and chewing at your furniture. Try some pieces of dry food and some water in the kong, pop it in the freezer and it’s ready to go the next morning or later in the day. You can also try a small amount of vegemite or peanut butter in the centre. Hours of entertainment!
- Never punish your mate for damage or accidents that occur when you’re not there. They won’t know what they’re being punished for and it will only increase the anxiety of you being away or as bad, with you returning.
- If you want more company for your dog in the day, consider asking a helpful dog loving neighbour or hiring a dog walker. There are also many doggy day care centres in Australia now so check out what’s available in your area.
If your dog is not adjusting to the change well and is showing an increase in destructive behaviours it’s best to seek help from a veterinarian or veterinary behaviouralist. Some cases of separation anxiety also require medication in addition to techniques to modify their behaviour.