So it’s quarantine time. Dogs are happy to see you more often. Your partner might have thought it’s the right time to adopt a quarantine buddy. But looking ahead, is this a recipe for development of separation anxiety?

As we transition into the period where the movement restriction orders are lifted and owners are requested to resume full-time work at respective workplaces, a disruption in your dog’s and your routine occurs. Dogs are social animals. As the change in amount of time you are absent increases significantly, your dog can develop a distress response as a way to cope.

Is my dog at risk?

As with children, some dogs are more at risk of separation anxiety than others. It is important to identify them so these dogs can get the support they need beforehand. Risk factors identified by an Australian study by McGreevy and Masters (2008) include those adopted from rescue shelters or pet shops, male dogs and intact dogs.

What if there is no change in my schedule post-quarantine?

Separation anxiety can be caused by a variety of circumstances other than owner absence and changes in routines. Your dog may develop separation anxiety, due to an addition to the family like a new baby, death of a family member or moving to a new environment or house.

Hence, it is still worthy to keep in mind the potential of separation anxiety manifestation, recognise the signs and take the necessary measures to prevent it.

The aftermath…

Following the days after your frequent absence and change in routine, you might find that your dog may follow you around as you are preparing to leave the house. Or perhaps when you arrive back at home after a hard day’s work. You are greeted with destruction to the door, puddles of urine everywhere and feathers floating around because they ruined your favourite parka jacket. Or perhaps you found a note your neighbour has put a note in your mailbox complaining about the appalling howling noise your dog makes while you were away.

What can I do in this time?

During this time in quarantine, here are some ways to reduce the risk of your dog developing separation anxiety:

Controlled separation:

Do you sometimes enjoy your own company and would like some peace and quiet? You can teach your dog to enjoy their own company as well by introducing time apart. This can be done by spending time apart in different spaces or rooms.  

Providing lots of physical and mental stimulation:

Activities such as exercising, tug-of-war, dancing together and hide and seek are said to decrease their stress. They provide suitable channels for normal dog behaviours. Space-saving activities include food puzzle toys or dog training which also help in boosting your dog’s mental activity. In addition to building up the bond between you and your dog.

Crate training:

Teach your dog that the crate is their safe hideout when they want to be alone. Train your dog to associate the crate with it being a happy place. Feed your dog in the crate or give them a bone while they are in there.

Take note not to punish your dog when they display anxious behaviours when left alone. Just imagine the situation of breaking your thong in the middle of crossing the road only to receive a call reprimanding you for being late to a meeting. Scolding someone or your dog when they are upset and stressed only results in making them more upset and the initial problem worse!

Help! I think my dog is already following me everywhere!

A visit to the vet is recommended to check your dog’s health to rule out any medical conditions and diagnose true separation anxiety. From that, the severity of the separation anxiety is determined, and the appropriate treatments are suggested.

If you have a suspicion your pet suffers from separation anxiety. You can set up a camera to video record their movements and behaviour while you go out for a bit to the shops or a walk around the block.

Take home message

As we prepare for our time post-quarantine, we should not forget to prepare our companions for it as well.