5 tips on coping with your dog's separation anxiety

Dog looking sad

Missing you - there are several ways to spot whether your dog has separation anxiety - Credit: Nick Brown

As many of us prepare to go back into the office or tentatively prepare for the party season and a deluge of invitations, Surrey dog behavioural expert and founder of Pippin Pets Jo Sellers offers her advice on leaving your lockdown puppy home alone 

In the first 12 months following the initial lockdown in March 2020, more than 3.3million UK homes acquired a pet – many of them puppies. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association, this takes the total of pet-owning homes to a whopping 17million. 

And while this has had a positive effect not only on the new owners and the doggies that may have been looking for love for some time in a rescue centre, the trend is not without its drawbacks – namely, what do you do when the time has come to leave your four-legged friend behind. 

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‘Experts say around 10 million dogs struggle once they are alone,’ says Jo Sellers, Surrey Hills-based dog behavioural expert and founder of Pippin Pets. ‘But sadly most owners are unaware. Dogs may seem okay as you leave them, possibly with a toy or a treat but you don’t know how they actually feel once you have gone.’ 

For dogs, says Jo, separation anxiety is a phobia that will only be ‘cured’ gradually over time. ‘There is no quick fix,’ she explains. ‘It won’t suddenly help putting them in a crate or buying a calming plug-in. Puppies need to be trained from the beginning.’ 

Jo Sellers dog trainer

Jo gets to work - Credit: Jo Selers

Jo says having a dog that is seen as a ‘tie’ is often the reason some owners choose to hand them over to a shelter or sell them on. ‘Having dog shouldn’t mean you are a prisoner in your own home,’ she adds. ‘Dogs need to be trained to think differently. They need to know that you will return but it is up to you to build up the trust.’ 

Which is where Jo comes in. Working one-to-one with owners, and by watching the dog’s behaviour once an owner has left, Jo formulates a daily plan that is created to suit each individual situation. 

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‘Some dogs react better than others,’ explains Jo. ‘And for some it may be better to look at things like “daycare” as a least bad option. Sadly, lockdown has created a perfect storm – owners were at home, walks were longer and dogs have got used to these feelings of security. But dog-owners have to act responsibly and think about their dog’s emotions.’ 

Jo's list of tips on how to recognise Separation Anxiety:  

  •  Your dog immediately gets up to follow you as soon as you move away to another room – even if you think they were asleep  
  • They start showing mild stress signs (yawning, lip licking, tail dropping, whimpering) when you pick up your keys, shoes and coats. 
  • There are scratches or marks around the door frames that were not there before 
  • Your neighbour kindly drops a note through your door to say your dog was noisy while you were out 
  • Set up a camera (or Zoom yourself), and watch your dog on your phone as you leave your house. Hang around nearby and see what happens. Separation anxiety dogs never give up with the noise or distressed behaviours, it just keeps going on until you return. If they are distressed, do return to them straight away, as it is not healthy for them to be so stressed for long periods of time. 

To find out more, visit: pippinpetsdogtraining.co.uk