COVID-19 Lifestyle, and preventing our dogs developing Separation Anxiety

Since I have been social distancing my dogs and I have been spending most of our time together. Even my consultations are via the computer so they are often where they like to be – right beside me. Let’s be honest that’s where I like them to be too.

I think this is great. They think it’s great. So, what is the problem with that? The problem is that hopefully in the not too distant future we are all planning to resume our normal lives.

My normal life involves travelling to people’s homes to conduct consultations, travelling to a number of different classes I teach and other various assorted errands that need to be done. When “normal” resumes we will not always be together. When “normal” resumes I will be away from home a lot more. I will miss them. In truth I will miss them a huge amount. But I will not tear up furniture or pull the plaster from the walls or escape or hurt myself or vocalize at high volume or inappropriately urinate on anything . At least not if I want to remain married. Some of our dogs will. Some of them will feel like it is the end of the world.

Separation Anxiety is best described as a dog taking their stress out on their environment. One of the most obvious symptoms of separation anxiety is destructive behaviour in the absence of the humans. It is not spite. It is literally a canine meltdown. A serious response to stress.

Many dogs chew to self soothe in times of stress. The degree will vary from dog to dog and some breeds have a greater propensity for chewing than others. The less confident and resilient your dog the more likely they are to develop separation anxiety when your almost constant companionship is replaced by long durations with you absent.

So, we need to plan ahead and ensure our dogs are ready for when we are going to be absent often again. The following are protocols we follow in our home.

Work day routines
Try to maintain routines that were in place when you were going into work. Having a time you get up, meal times and scheduled activities such as after work walks will ensure that your dog slips back into your work schedule with less disruption.

Alone Time
Each day my dogs spend some time away from the family. We try to make sure it is not the same amount of time each day. Nor is it at the same time of the day. We are trying to ensure that the dogs are having alone time randomly so as not to create an expectation that alone is an hour for example. If you make it an hour each day then your dog will expect that alone time is an hour. We all know that dogs have amazing body clocks. Let’s not set those clocks to set us up for failure. Antecedents!!!!! Vary those times.

Quality of alone time
My aim is always to ensure that my dogs have awesome things to do and experiences that do not involve the humans in the family. This means that our dogs can have parts of their lives that are joy filled and not associated with us. This may be having a Kong chew in their crates (not together), having puzzle toys in another room with the door shut, being outside on a nice day and finding toys buried through their sandpit, having parmesan cheese sprinkled though the grass in their yard, having a sniffari set up for them or an assortment of other enrichment activities.

*Please note multi dog households need to pre assess whether their dogs are able to have some of these items together as some dogs will fight over special resources. Additionally, always check how your dog uses toys to ensure they are safe for your dog.

Their toys
We always leave a selection of toys for our dogs. When you do this ensure they are appropriate for your dogs’ size and durable enough to sustain your dogs style of play. By leaving a selection you give your dog the opportunity to select a toy that appeals at that time.

Rotate the toys at least weekly so that your dog does not get bored with the same old selection all the time. I know I have a large music selection and yet I will look through it finding it difficult to find something I want to listen to. Our dogs have changing preferences too. They also enjoy choices as we do.

It can be very helpful to use absolute favourite toys for happy alone time. It makes them something to look forward to.

I choose different types of toys and I give them toys they can do something with like home alone tug hanging off a tree.

Food Toys
Part of ensuring your dog has an interesting and enriched day can include using food puzzle toys. Your dog’s meals can provide you with the opportunity to make alone time an exciting time. Your dog does not need to be fed from a bowl. In fact, research has discovered the vast majority of dogs that had a history of using food toys would actually select the food puzzle toys over a meal in a bowl when offered both. Come on, who doesn’t tell themselves they are amazing after solving a sudoku puzzle or knowing that last word in the crossword! Our dogs also enjoy victories.

This option is not going to be appropriate to every household as these options unsupervised will cause fights in some multi dog households. These may need to separate activities for your dogs. We are able to give our three dogs these types of toys in our family at this time however we continually track the changing relationships that occur with our dogs being in different life stages and reassess this often. We also do not risk sharing new and very exciting resources.

Offering Toys – the big mistakes
If you only offer certain toys when you are leaving, they can become a clear indicator for your dog that you are leaving. You do not want to create these indications. Sometimes give your dog these toys when you are home and present with them.

Favourite toys are a wonderful way to ensure your dog is content when you are absent but must sometimes be in use when you are present too so as not to predict your departure.

Sometimes set up your alone time area without them so they find the alone time activities rather than being handed them.

Sometimes hand them your alone time offerings.

Avoid creating predictors
While it’s important to continue a consistent routine, it’s beneficial to avoid creating routine predictors.

Put on your work clothes and hang out on the couch, walk around jingling your car keys and pick up your bag that you take to work. Let’s make these indicators meaningless. We don’t want these routine things to be a sign you are leaving.

Exercise and brain games
It is a great idea to take your dog for a walk prior to leaving them home alone. However, beware that if you only walk them prior to leaving them you create a predictor of your impending departure. You are more likely to succeed if you mix up the activities. Mix up activities like taking a walk, playing an interactive game, giving them a brain game or a food puzzle toy, having a fun training session. Utilize your options. Everyone seems to understand their dogs need an outlet for physical energy but often people miss the opportunity to keep dogs calm by meeting their mental enrichment needs. Think of it this way. It is exhausting doing my taxes. I didn’t expend much physical energy but I have
had a big mental workout and I am more exhausted than if I had done a physical workout!!!

All these activities should occur outside pre-departure routines as well.

Also be mindful that just like you – sometimes your dog may just want to lounge around in the sun. You don’t need to constantly have them doing something. The key to success is providing appropriate options if they do want to do something more than work on absorbing rays.

Keep it all random but make sure nearly every day your dog spends some quality time without you. It just makes your time together even more of a gift. More importantly it means your best friend doesn’t suffer when you are absent.

***Sniffari means to bring items of interest to investigate into your dogs space. Branches from off site, recycling items, safe unwanted items not suitable for recycling or reuse, an old tyre etc.

In summary
Keep it all random but make sure nearly every day your dog spends some quality time without you. It just makes your time together even more of a gift. More importantly it means your best friend doesn’t suffer when you are absent.

About the author
Karen Bailey is the owner operator of Dog Solutions in Melbourne Australia. Karen is a certified canine behaviour consultant (CDBC) certified through the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants, a certified behaviour adjustment training instructor (CBATI) and a certified nose work instructor (CNWI).
Karen shares her life with her husband Corey and their two Boxers, a German Shepherd and two domestic

What I wished you knew before you got your puppy

Written by Karen Bailey – Canine Behaviour Consultant

I have worked as a behaviour consultant for the past 18 years. Writing this article is something I should have done a long time ago. You see I meet many dogs well after they are past their critical periods of development. I meet a large number of dogs with varying levels of behavioural issues. There are many reasons for dogs to develop behavioural issues but lack of or poor socialisation is a big cause of issues in dogs.

The one reason I feel I need to highlight today is the lack of good quality socialisation a puppy receives when they are brought home. It saddens me that loving pet carers are unaware of what they needed to do when their pup came home. It saddens me to discuss early learning experiences with someone who missed the critical time frame but wanted the best for their dog.

All experiences a puppy has will play a role in where or not a pup develops into a confident and well adjusted individual. You won’t see who your dog really is until they are mature (approx 2 years of age). So many people think their undersocialised pup looks fine – even though they need more exposure to cope with future events and scenarios. A crucial part of early socialisation is to provide safe opportunities for pups to explore new places, experience new and novel things, and varied scenarios. Having scary experiences will do more harm than good so experiences must be controlled and monitored. Pups can find some very everyday things frightening on first exposure. Assume your dog may worry.

What doesn’t occur is equally as potentially damaging. Many puppies are completely isolated during the critical periods of development – this means that their ability to cope with something new and novel may be compromised. You can undersocialise your puppy or poorly socialise by not ensuring puppy feels safe or worse allowing the pup to be hurt or severely frightened.

So let me tell you my top 5 puppy pet peeves. The things that people think I use for sales when they enquire about puppy training.

1. Puppies too old to attend puppy preschool. We need your puppy between 8 and 16 weeks to start puppy preschool. It’s not made up numbers. It’s determined by critical periods of development. Missing early exposure is starting behind.

Old school vets still insist that your dog must be fully immunised to go to puppy school. My problem with that is that your puppy misses out on their “behavioural vaccination”. Do I think you should take your pup out on soil and grass in a public area without being fully immunised – No I do not.

Beyond 16 weeks your puppy missed crucial puppy training.

2. People don’t really know what socialisation is. It is not just playing with other dogs. Socialisation is experiencing lots of different things – surfaces, noises, things that move, textures, and of course other dogs – they need to learn to read dogs that didn’t learn from the same mum as them and they need to learn to read others with different physical characteristics and play styles. Puppy school should never be a free for all. That will cause bullies to become worse, and the less confident dogs to become fearful.

Having multiple dogs is not a well rounded learning experience – your pup needs to have solo learning opportunities.

3. Puppy schools that think the primary focus of lessons is to learn obedience are not ideal. Many puppy schools are operated by vets and pet store employees. If the teacher doesn’t understand that the priority is socialising the puppies and teaching owners how to recognise the difference between appropriate play and interactions and when to intervene. Good puppy schools teach you to read dogs.

4. If a puppy preschool teacher is not a trained and experienced in canine behaviour they should not be teaching puppy classes. Only the best and most experienced trainers should be working with puppies. At this time errors in judgement will play a much larger role in your dogs development.

I saw a great analogy on the internet that plumbers probably know quite a bit about cabinetry but you still get a cabinet maker to install your new cupboards.

Vets, vet nurses, and pet store employees are not trained in behaviour as a matter of course. Some of the awesome ones make it their business to study behaviour as part of their professional development, but you will need to check.

5. Choosing a puppy preschool based on proximity or price is not always the best idea. This week I spoke to someone who decided to select another school over ours to save $50. She will now be paying me $250 to do a home visit to rectify issues that all good puppy schools address.

Check the teachers credentials, check what topics will be covered. Base minimum I would expect understanding play and body language, toilet training, addressing puppy issues like nipping and jumping up.

Can you really afford to get it wrong?