How to deal with separation anxiety in pets

The Sharma family adopted a puppy last year and in the last few months the family has spent hours of quality time with their pet. Little did they realise that this constant attachment to the puppy might lead to behavioural issues later.
Nandini Sharma says, “Our pet pug, Cooper, seems distressed whenever we step out of the house for something. Now that he is over seven months old and very comfortable in the entire house we thought we could leave him home for a few minutes. But the last three four times we did that we have come back to notice behavioural issues. Our canine therapist said he was suffering from separation distress.”

Experts say that separation distress or separation anxiety in pets is real, especially in pandemic puppies. When left home for some time they exhibit extreme stress with symptoms that can vary. Usually the pet acts as if he’s terrified to be in the house on his own.
Animal behaviourist, Varuna Kaur, says, “For many dogs it has been absolutely fantastic that their owners are finally spending so much quality time with them, but at the same time, we need to realise that the lockdown and WFH is definitely going to come to an end at some point, and when it does, our dogs are going to suffer the most. It is very important to balance our time and take the advice of a dog behaviorist on how to deal with this unusual situation.”

Shirin Merchant, canine behaviourist and trainer who has worked with pets for many years, feels that there are quite a few tips that one could follow in order to deal with their pet’s separation anxiety.

Tips to keep in mind:
  • Don’t allow your dog to follow you from room to room. If your dog has constant access to you, he won’t know how to be by himself. So, its ok to go into a room and ask your dog to wait outside sometimes.
  • You should not be clingy to your dog. Don’t constantly keep talking to your dog or being with him. Even when your dog is around you, ignore him and quietly do your own thing. You do not need to keep interacting. Mentally separating will be very helpful. You cannot separate a dog’s behaviour from the pet parent’s behaviour. With a clingy dog, there is often a clingy owner. Detach mentally, keep yourself occupied with other activities which don’t include your dog like painting or cooking, dancing, anything.
  • Ensure there are a few hours every day, where he gets to be by himself and rests or occupies his mind creatively at this time. Alone time is good for your dog and for you. It can rest his mind, help him enjoy his own company. It can be overwhelming to constantly be around others. Alone time can help us settle our thoughts, ground us.
  • Spend your time with your dog in a positive creative way. It’s not the quantity that matters, but the quality. Play games, do training, engage in good ways. Do not play or engage all the time just because you have the time.
  • Teach your dog to go to a designated place and relax. Practice a go to bed command. And slowly increase the time the dog stays there. You can eventually progress to asking your dog to stay there and going out of sight for short periods. Make sure your dog is happy by himself all through.
  • Learn to read signs of stress. It’s very important that you know when your dog is getting anxious and when he is calm.
  • Reduce general levels of stress. We all know stress contributes and exacerbates underlying issues. A stressed dog when left alone is far more likely to become anxious. Learn the indicators of stress
  • Build confidence in your dog. Scenting games, fun training using positive methods, play tug. Confident dogs tend to be more secure about being alone.
  • Understand that your dog’s difficult behaviour is not deliberate, and that punishment is ineffective, inappropriate, and will only exacerbate the behavior.

End of the article

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