Ways to reduce separation anxiety in dogs once lockdown is over

The worry of separation anxiety in dogs is always a concern for dog owners, and the thought of our beloved pooches suffering from separation anxiety post-lockdown is even greater. With families home 24/7 at the moment, our dogs are seriously loving life, never without a playmate, someone to feed them a snack and more walks than they could dream of - not to mention acting as a canine colleague. And to be fair, it's not all one-sided, as our furry four-legged friends are always on hand to soak up our own anxieties and be our confidant as we weather the coronavirus storm together.

One thing we can do, though, is to start thinking about life post-lockdown - and how our dogs will cope when we're not there constantly for cuddles. "Not all dogs or cats are affected by this kind of change of routine, but for some, separation anxiety is a real ticking time bomb just waiting to explode," says TV vet and author of Lucy's Law: The Story Of A Little Dog Who Changed The World, Marc Abraham.

"The impending post-lockdown period has a huge potential to trigger alarming symptoms in dogs including panic attacks, barking, howling, whining, varying appetite, and soiling, as well as destructive behaviours like self-harming, over grooming, even chewing door frames and furniture." Marc, along with dog behaviourist Hannah Molloy, have shared these easy tips for dog owners to heed before lockdown ends.

5 ways to reduce separation anxiety in dogs:

1. Marc recommends that the best time to leave your dog is after they have had some exercise or training, with a full stomach. This will hopefully leave them tired enough to nap, or at least mentally stimulated enough that they need some time to chill and relax.

2. Start organising your pet's day now to eventually match your routine post-lockdown, with regular playtimes, exercise, and most importantly dedicated quiet time apart whilst you work. Ideally they should be settled in their own bed in a safe, quiet room or comfortable crate they'd normally sleep in.

3. The first 15 minutes apart are often the worst for dogs, so this crucial time should always be paired with a positive stimulus, like high value food-based toys. Keeping their minds occupied and distracted, will classically condition a positive association. Gradually increase the time spent apart from your dog in small increments daily, ideally out of eyesight.

4. Practice leaving the house alone for short periods of time to run essential errands or go for a walk. Teach your dog what you want them to do to get you to come back. Marc suggests: "Set them up with a few different toys and chews they can engage with. Spy on them with a webcam and wait for them to stop scratching or whimpering to get you to return. When they play with their toys or chill out, then come back. But if your dog is in obvious serious distress, don't wait for it to stop, come right back to them calmly, and seek the advice of a professional behaviourist to help you graduate the process, and help your dog triumph."

5. Be conscious of close, and often subtle contact your pet makes with you whilst you watch TV, sleep, do daily chores. Each touch can intensify their dependency on you while you’re self-isolating, potentially increasing the likelihood of separation anxiety developing. Reward your pet for calm, chilled, independent behaviour, especially if they're usually clingy. Remember, every dog is an individual, with chances of developing separation anxiety differing greatly with all age, breed, background, and personality.