In light of the COVID-19 crisis, many people are home more than before. Most of our dogs are quite happy to have us home all day. More time for playing, snuggling, extra walks and lots of ear scratches throughout the day. As wonderful as this may be for our dogs, the time is going to come when people go back to work and kids go back to school. But, where will that leave our dogs who have gotten used to so much attention throughout the day? Unfortunately, it may leave them suffering from various levels of separation anxiety. However, there are things we can do now to help prevent our dogs from having to suffer from separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can manifest itself in many forms. Dogs may bark or howl throughout the day, they may be destructive and chew furniture, doors, baseboards, or chew holes in walls. When crated, some dogs will either destroy the crate trying to escape and even end up hurting themselves. Rehabilitation for dogs with this condition is extensive and can take a long time, with many dogs needing prescription medication while they are receiving behavior modification. There are things we can do to help prevent our dogs from ending up with this very challenging condition! Here are 7 things you can begin today to help prepare your dog to be more independent and confident and set your dog up for success when you return to work or school.
1. Keep a regular routine with your dog. If you previously crated your dog when you went to work prior to the Shelter in Place Order, having your dog spend some time in their crate during the day will help continue the normal routine they were used to. It doesn't need to be all day, but once or twice a day for a couple of hours while you take a walk, sit and read a book or relax while listening to some music will keep that structure you previously had in place. 2. Provide jaw-licious items for your dog to chew on. Dogs chew for a number of reasons. Boredom, reducing anxiety, and recreational chewing are just a few of the reasons dogs enjoy chewing. Providing long lasting and enjoyable items can keep your dog busy by themselves for an extended period of time. Of course one of the bonuses of chewing is it can also provide mental stimulation making your dog tired. A few of my top things to provide to dogs to chew on are bully sticks and tendon chews. I avoid the ones in the bulk bin due to potential for contamination and bacteria and stick to pre-packaged ones. My personal favorite are by Best Bully Sticks but there are others as well. If you're okay with it, frozen raw bones such as kneecaps, knuckle bones and chicken feet are a favorite of my dogs. I know some people are not comfortable with raw bones, so other alternatives are Himalayan Yak chews, Nylabone chew toys or Kong toys stuffed with yummy food. Pro tip: put the stuffed Kongs in the freezer before giving them to your dog - they last longer!
3. Encourage alone time for your dog. When your dog spends time occupying himself on his own, he is learning it is okay to be my himself. Giving your dog a toy, one of the items above to chew on or play with a food puzzle toy by herself helps build some independence and a level of comfort knowing they will be alright on their own for awhile. 4. If your dog is not comfortable in a crate, or hasn't used one in awhile, play some crate games to help develop calmness while your dog is in the crate. Crates can provide a safe place for your dog to go to and when we teach them good things happen in the crate, they will become comfortable hanging out there. My dogs know that the crate means good chews are coming and they will run to their crates when I give their cue word. If you need some help with crate training, check out this article I wrote all about crate games! 5. Provide mental stimulation - brain games! Obedience training, teaching a new trick, nose work and focus games are great ways mentally stimulate our dogs, which not only helps with achieving better behaviors from our dogs but promotes calmness once we are done training.
6. Physical stimulation is another very important factor in helping our dogs lower anxiety in addition to keeping them physically healthy. A game of fetch or tug, or a long brisk walk or run with your dog will provide that much needed exercise and release a lot of anxiety and frustration that may have built up from just hanging out inside. How many times have you experienced your dog acting out or doing things you don't want and once you take them outside and play with them, their behavior changes for the better? Dogs need exercises and games that are physically stimulating. And, combining physical and mental stimulation is an added bonus! For example, a safe way to play fetch is to have your dog sit or down, you throw the ball and when you're ready, release your dog to go out, get the ball and bring it back. Not only are you working on obedience and impulse control skills, but you get the physical endurance and cardio aspect of it as well! 7. Maintaining a healthy relationship with our dogs is important in reducing anxiety and encouraging independence. When we teach our dogs there is a time and place for petting, playing and training, we are providing structure for them. There are times you would like to sit and read a book or watch a movie, or even interact with other members of your family and not have your dog, nudging you, pawing at you, barking at you, jumping into your lap for attention. Dogs that are independent and confident will not only be okay by themselves when you are gone, but will be physically and mentally healthier. Dogs who constantly need or want attention are generally not mentally balanced. They are not confident and generally have various levels of anxiety, which can increase to sometimes severe levels. Like people, dogs who suffer from dependency and levels of anxiety also tend to have more health issues.
Putting these 7 things in place now, will help you and your dog be ready for the transition when you go back to work or school. Of course, if you need more help with training, please reach out to me! I am offering a special right now to make it easier for people to get training for their dogs and who may not be able to or want to enter into a bigger training program. My 30 for 30 is 30 minutes for $30 and is designed to help people with smaller training challenges they may be facing. Things like impulse control, jumping, crate training, puppy challenges, mental enrichment and fun games to play with your dog are just some of the training this mini session can help with. If you would like to take advantage of this, click here to schedule your session!