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5 Ways to Help Dogs with Separation Anxiety

12th April 2021

Life over the past year has been far from normal. We’ve clapped on our doorsteps, traded pub quizzes for virtual ones and ate banana bread until it came out of our ears.

But what we have got to remember is that times also changed for our canine companions.

Suddenly, owners were around a lot more. Rather than heading off to work, the dining room table became the office and our pets became the real stars of conference calls. I mean, why talk shop when you can listen to a dog howling at the postman or watch a cat plonk itself in front of the camera?

Our pets have loved having us at home more over the past 12 months or so. But what happens when owners go back to work or the office? How will our furry friends cope with going back to their old routines and being away from their human pals?

According to The Telegraph, the UK dog population has risen by at least 10 per cent during lockdown. However, the RSCPA has warned this pet ownership boom could turn into a ‘crisis’ for those animals when their owners return to work, with the extra time spent together over lockdown resulting in separation anxiety once life goes back to normal.

Here, we look at 5 ways in which businesses in animal-related industries can help dogs with separation anxiety.

Back-to-work blues
Months after you hung up your walking boots, clippers and treats, it’s almost time to get back to work and reunite with some old friends – and some new ones.

But it is important to recognise the adverse effect lockdown may have had on your furry customers.

When a dog gets dropped off by their owner, they might seem calm on the surface, yet their personality could change dramatically once their human has stepped out of the door. Symptoms of separation anxiety include:

• Barking, howling and whining
• Uncontrolled urination and defecation
• Destructive behaviour
• Repetitive pacing
• Panting and salivation

They could also go into ‘fight or flight mode’ – making every effort to get back to the safety of their owner, whether that is trying to escape through the door or being aggressive to you, a staff member or another dog.

So what can be done to help curb this anxiety?

1. Practice visits

When clients are booking your services, ask if their dog has spent any time away from their owners over the last 12 months. If they haven’t, asked the customer to bring their dog to you for a few short practice visits. This will give dogs the opportunity to get used to you and your surroundings.

It is also worth asking owners to practice leaving their dogs for short periods of time. Start with 5 minutes then gradually lengthen their absences to help their furry friends adjust to time apart.

2. Home comforts

If it’s after June 21, get the owner to bring their dog’s favourite toy or blanket with them. Just like in children, certain items can provide dogs with a sense of comfort and security.

Dogs are pack animals and the familiar scent on their item can remind them of ‘their pack’, aka their humans, and help overcome their fears.

Alternatively, use a plug-in diffuser, like the ADAPTIL Calm Home Diffuser, which releases a smell that mimics a mother dog’s natural nursing pheromones, helping to reassure and calm the dog. If you are going out for ‘walkies’, you can also buy a collar that emits the same smell.

3. Soothing sounds

We all know that some music has soothing properties. There’s not many of us that will pop on heavy rock when we need to chill out. Instead, we tend to turn to much softer, slower tunes to induce a state of relaxation.

It seems like our canine companions are exactly the same. Research by the SPCA at the University of Glasgow found that while classical music has an initial calming effect on dogs, reggae and soft rock were the best genres for reducing their stress. According to the SPCA’s Head of Research, this is due to “those genres [having] a rhythm that is similar to the dogs’ own heart rate. When a puppy is feeling stressed it will snuggle into its mother and use her heartbeat as relaxation, so this music mimics that.”

Try playing relaxing music in the background when the dogs arrive, as well as throughout the day. There are playlists available on YouTube, the artist ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’ on Spotify or you can download RelaxMyDog, a music and TV app specifically designed to help canines overcome anxiety, stress, boredom and hyperactivity.

4. Calmly does it

Dogs can read body language so fretting and getting worked up when a dog is already anxious won’t help the situation.

Instead, take a deep breath and remain composed. Take slow and relaxed body movements around the dog and provide it with reassurance. If the dog has chewed something it shouldn’t have, stay calm and keep your voice as light and happy as possible.

For groomers and trainers, take regular breaks to prevent the dog from becoming more stressed.

5. Fun and games

Just before their owner leaves, give the dog a toy to distract them, such as a treat dispenser puzzle. You could even stuff a chew toy, like the Kong one, with delicious snacks (here are some recipe ideas). They will probably be too busy eating to notice their human has gone!

Boredom can cause separation anxiety to kick back in so make sure to keep them occupied.

On a final note, going back to work will be an adjustment for everyone. It will take time to ease back into a routine and there may be bumps in the road but with patience and perseverance, you, your pooches and their owners will endure and enjoy brighter times!

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