How to help your dog cope with separation anxiety

Have you been asked to go back to the office? You might need to get your dog ready for the big transition

Have you been asked to go back to the office? You might need to get your dog ready for the big transition - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Over the last two years, in order to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, millions of people across the UK have been working from home.  

And during that time, scores of homeworkers took the leap and got themselves four-legged companions to keep them company.  

According to 2021 figures from the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association, a total of 3.2 million households in the UK acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic – bringing the number of pet-owning homes up to 17 million.  

But on January 20, the Prime Minister lifted the working from home guidance.

As people make their way back to their desks, what does it mean for all of those lockdown pooches – many of whom may not have been left alone for long periods of time before?  

Dogs can display a number of symptoms when it comes to separation anxiety

Dogs can display a number of symptoms when it comes to separation anxiety - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Here to help you get your dog ready for the big transition are a panel of experts who are well-versed in dog separation anxiety and all of the perils that come with it.  

But firstly, what is dog separation anxiety?  

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Separation anxiety, according to the RSPCA, happens when a dog is separated from its owner, causing them to feel distressed.  

Research shows around eight in 10 pooches will find it hard to cope when left on their own – but half of them won’t show any signs, so owners may be unaware how their dog is feeling.  

There are a number of symptoms that owners should look out for, according to Gemma Ninnmey, clinical director and veterinary surgeon at Haughley & Thurston Veterinary Centres

“Dogs will generally be quite unsettled, so they might vocalise a lot, and some may overgroom. They will often show destructive behaviours too, and may urinate or defecate around the house. Some gets themselves so worked up they might be physically sick too.  

“These could all occur even if there’s someone else or another dog in the house because they’re attached to one particular person who suddenly isn’t there anymore,” she says.  

Gemma adds that one of the best ways to see if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety when you’re not around is to get a dog camera so you can check up on them from afar. She says: “These are useful and show you what the dog is up to. If it’s sleeping all day, that’s great, but if you see it’s displaying any of the above symptoms and acting anxious, that will give you an indication. 

“It’s important to remember that separation anxiety in dogs is quite common. Destructive behaviours in the house with a dog that doesn’t usually do that is not something to punish the dog for – but rather something to look into, as it’s their way of telling you they’re unhappy. So it’s important to look out for and listen to the behaviours.” 

If you do find your dog is suffering when you’re not around, there are a number of tips and tricks that can help you and dog cope with that back to work transition over the coming weeks.  

To help your dog cope with you going back to the office, there are a number of things you can do

To help your dog cope with you going back to the office, there are a number of things you can do - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“It’s a complex issue, but the dog needs to be prepared for being able to cope with being left alone. A lot of work can be done while the owner is at home, and that’s quite key,” explains dog behaviourist Helen Goodall. 

“Start by mimicking going out or getting ready to leave, as a lot of dog anxiety starts when people pick up their keys or go to put their shoes on,” she says.  

By doing this, you can help your dog get used to you being away for short amounts of time before leaving them for longer periods.  

“It’s always best to start early – so if you have a rescue dog or puppy, it’s even more imperative to show them independence to make sure they avoid developing separation anxiety in the first place.” 

“A dog who is independent, such as one who can go off and sleep in a separate room to you, or be away from you for periods of times when you’re still in the house, will be less likely to show signs of separation anxiety when you do leave,” adds Gemma.  

Another thing to look at that may contribute to separation anxiety is how your dog reacts to being shut away in one place when you’re not around.  

“They might get frustrated they can’t get out, so if you’re using a crate, it can often make things worse by keeping them in a confined place.” 

Keeping your dog happy and entertained is also key, adds Angela Day, canine massage therapist and founder of Born to Run. She says: “Try leaving them with some enrichment toys, such as chew toys and puzzle toys filled with food or treats in them. Snuffle mats are also a great way to keep them busy when you’re not around.  

“And try distancing yourself from your dog, bit-by-bit, while you’re still working from home. Install a baby gate, or alternatively close the door and see how that goes. It takes time, commitment and consistency.” 

She also recommends techniques such as dog massage and zoopharmacognosy to help relax your pooch. 

A relaxed dog is a happy dog

A relaxed dog is a happy dog - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“Imagine how it feels to have a spa massage – it calms and soothes the nervous system. And this can also be replicated in dogs, in order to release endorphins and stimulate the rest and digest response. Use light fingertip strokes all over the dog’s body to produce a calming, soothing effect.  

“This, coupled with dog-safe therapeutic scents such as valerian and rose will restore calm in your dog and help them to refocus when things become too overwhelming.” 

If none of the above are working for you and your dog however, the next port of call would to be seek the help of a qualified behaviourist or a vet – the latter of whom may recommend medication.  

“Working on your dog’s separation anxiety is a slow and steady process, but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” adds Helen.