Dog anxiety is a real issue, particularly during the pandemic, and with the explosion in pet adoptions. As the potential for full or partial returns to the office increases, so does the potential for separation between people and their pets. If your office has not adopted a new pet policy, what can you do to prepare ahead of time?
Take advantage of the time that is available while you are currently working from home; use this as an opportunity to prepare. A lack of proper planning on your part should not result in urgency for your dog to learn something new and quickly.
Understanding the basics of Dog Anxiety.
Just like people, dogs experience anxiety. While it can be unpleasant, it is a normal emotion. So to start, let’s agree that there is nothing “wrong” with your dog.
Dog anxiety can affect all types of dogs regardless of breed, but each individual dog may experience the emotion at different levels. While it is normal that all dogs experience a bit of separation anxiety from time-to-time, if unexpected or unreasonable levels of anxiety are left unchecked, this can further develop into a form of anxiety disorder. If left untreated, dog anxiety can lead to behavioral and other issues. At this level, professional help should be sought after.
Dog Anxiety Causes
Dog anxiety can have a variety of causes. The spectrum increases based on the lack of such things as proper training, socializing and other healthy things dogs need to live their best life. Some of the most common causes of dog anxiety are:
Fear-related anxiety can be caused by loud noises or sudden and unexpected sounds. Fear can come from people (dogs can sense various things on their own), strange animals and even something like a new object they have never seen before. New or strange environments can cause a bit of fear. Of course, specific situations like going to vet’s office can cause alarm to them. While for some dogs a fear reaction can be brief, for a more anxious dog, the effects may have more consequences.
Separation anxiety is when it goes beyond simply missing you when you go to the store for an hour. Separation anxiety in dogs is when they are unable to find comfort when they are left alone or separated from you. This level of anxiety often results in undesirable behaviors, such as urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings, and excess barking.
Age-related anxiety affects older dogs and can be associated with various cognitive issues. Just like the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans, a dogs’ memory, perception, and awareness start to decline. As you can imagine, this leads to confusion, stress, anxiety and more in older dogs.
Source: Merck Veterinary Manual
Basic Dog Separation Training
Dogs are generally crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk), therefore they can learn how to calmly pass the time during the day.
We assume that you are reading this in advance and have time to prepare your dog for your absence while you are actually present. We also assume that your dog has been basically trained and has been properly socialized. So while you’re at home with your dog, monitor your dog’s behavior when confined for various short periods throughout the day. Your dog’s first impressions of a newly established daily routine create an acceptable and enjoyable experience, so all factors must be considered with your dog in mind. The goal is really to instill confidence, independence, and training.
For starters, we must admit that we were initially not big fans of pet crates. This was many years ago with our first dog. However, at that time, we simply misunderstood pet crates. It took us about a year and a tremendous amount of research to understand the value of a pet crate.
Dogs are actually den animals, and they value their own special place. For example, when we got our first pet crate, even though the door was open, our dog believed that for some reason, there was a magical barrier that no human could cross. Our dog began to understand that her crate was a special place just for her. She turned it into a peaceful retreat, a place for some serious and uninterrupted chewing on a dog toy, and a spot for a good snooze.
So think of a pet crate as a “dog den”, and as an ideal separation training tool. A dog den is also a disciplinary tool, but it must be used carefully. If you need a pet crate for disciplinary reasons, you should seek out help from a professional dog trainer.
In terms of training your dog for separation, when you are home, regularly send them to their den with the command of “place”. That’s right, think of it as issuing a command to go to their den for some quiet time. Set a timer for an hour or so, and then go open the crate door. Here is the hard part… When you open the door, you must ignore them. You are not there to demonstrate that you missed them. They should not feel that you released them from confinement and are now free to roam. Repeat these steps several times throughout the day and over weeks, increase the duration on the timer. Are you going to be gone for 8 hours? They should get to the point of being comfortable for 8 hours (we encourage you to read this post completely). During the training period, they should get to the point that when you open the crate door, it means that they have the option to leave their sanctuary or to stay if they like.
When you officially “get home”, then its back to full on love and fun, as well your dog should feel that they are back to free roam of the house.
There are not many alternatives to a pet crate, so its critical that you get this right. If your dog has misunderstood his/her pet crate, that can be a big problem. Click here for a popular pet crate.
What should be inside the Dog Den?
If done properly, over time your dog will furnish the pet crate to their liking. They will begin to move various items in there on their own. At first, think of it as “autoshaping”. Autoshaping is the a method of conditioning in which the conditioned response has not been reinforced by reward or punishment.
For those of us with children, we see the parallels of teaching a child to spend time in their room. If you place a child in an empty room with only a video game, they will train themselves to just play with the video game all day. In contrast, if you place books, art supplies, or a chemistry set, they will likely develop those skills and interests. It is important to understand that you are setting up an environment where they will automatically train themselves.
If your dogs’ den has a variety of chew toys (some stuffed with a total measured amount of proper treats) they will learn that chewing toys is way more fun than chewing furniture. In regards to the chew toys that come with a hidden surprise (to them), each treat that is extricated progressively reinforces enjoyment, their ability to calm down, and that its ok not to bark. If done properly, in an 8 hour day, your dog has very little time left over for inappropriate chewing (on the crate itself for example), digging, or barking.
Of course, they want their favorite toys, water, a comfortable bed inside their den too.
What about Potty Breaks?
In order for a pet crate to be successful, your dog must be able to predict when he/she can relieve themselves. We do not quite agree with pee pads and the like once beyond the puppy phase. Taking your dog for a walk outside is more than just an opportunity for them to use the restroom. It’s a chance for them to be exposed to their immediate environment, to potentially socialize with other dogs and so much more.
If your dog is not already house trained, never confine them to their crate for longer than an hour or so. Since they have not learned to “predict” when they can relieve themselves, sadly, they may be forced to soil their den. As you would guess, this not at all a good thing. Dogs have a tremendous amount of self respect and dignity so this is no fun for them at all.
Assuming your dog is house trained already.
The fact is that a dog can hold their pee for 10 – 12 hours if needed. However, the average adult dog should be allowed to relieve themselves at least 3-5 times per day (we lean more towards 5 – 6 times per day). Of course, the above estimates vary depending on a dog’s size, health, and habits. But any dog forced to hold their urine for too long is at risk for urinary tract infections and other issues.
We like to think of potty breaks in two ways. There is the quick potty break, and then the dog walk. The morning walk before breakfast, that is the awesome stuff. The evening walk before dinner, oh yes, that is magical. But in between, we’re simply going outside quickly, followed by returning back to normal, there is nothing to get excited about. Remember how during the initial crate training phase you opened the door like its no big deal? The same thing applies for the quick potty break. Over time, they will even demonstrate, “no need for a quick potty break, I’m actually good for now”.
If you are not able to consistently do proper dog walks, you need to find a dog walker. A good dog walker can reinforce proper training and more along their walks. A trusted dog walker relationship can evolve to include giving them keys to enter your home, collect your dog and feed them upon return as well.
We wish you the best along your journey! We hope that we have demonstrated that the process of basic separation training can be very simple. If done correctly, the results are life long.