As parents begin the preparation of buying school books and uniforms and the kids search for their school bags , few consider the impact returning to school can have on the family dog , especially if said animal is a puppy. Summer holidays have meant that your dog or pup has been at the centre of all things around the family spending long hours with the kids (whole days if they’ve been smuggled into bedrooms!). Then suddenly the kids disappear for 8 hours and perhaps both parents also disappear and the dog is left alone and bereft of companionship. Instead of a gradual transition the dog is suddenly isolated for most of the day. With this sudden change in daily routine, your dog may experience depression or separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is triggered when dogs become upset because of separation from the people they’re attached to and this separation anxiety can be manifested in its behaviour:
- House soiling
- Attempting to escape from the house or garden
- Barking or howling
What can be done ? The best cure is prevention so before the dog is left alone completely begin to get the dog used to being left alone for short period seven when you are in the house. If necessary crate train the dog (see www.petsbehave.com for more information on crate training) so that the crate becomes a safe haven for the dog. Gradually build up the time the dog is left alone and only return when the dog is quiet (not when it is barking or howling as this will give the dog the impression that vocalsising makes you appear).
Lick behaviours can relieve stress and the preparation of lickable objects such as a Kong with a suitable filling, which can then be left with the dog, helps to reduce anxietyand mentally stimulate the dog. It also pairs the departure with a reward so that the dog learns that being alone brings good things.
Intervention before the anxiety becomes severe is time well worth investing ,as moderate to high separation anxiety requires a more complex program to desensitise the dog’s fear and to change theirbehavioural responses. Use the run up to the school return wisely and you won’t be returning to a distressed dog and a trashed home.