While lockdown has kept us stuck at home and isolated for many, for our furry companions it’s meant more time and attention with their owners and many people have opted for a little friend to keep them company during these difficult times as well.

With the gradual lift out of lockdown, many pets may be confused as to the sudden lack of time with their owners and common periods of solitude, possibly even leading to extreme issues in them such as separation anxiety. 

For dogs who have been with their owner pre-lockdown, they may be more accustomed to the disappearances and returning to this pattern will unlikely cause such anxiety. If anything it may only cause brief confusion as to why their owners have gone back to leaving more often but they will most likely get used to it again. 

However, for new pups, rescues and dogs in general (especially nervous ones) that found a home during the pandemic, the more and more frequent periods of being alone can cause more than just confusion and even distress and fear in these unsettled pets. Especially due to the increase in dog-napping, owners are becoming more wary of where they take their dogs and will most likely try to leave them safe at home as much as they can. 

Separation anxiety often starts off in a dog when they become so attached to their guardian(s) that when they are separated, it upsets the dog. Although this may not sound too bad, separation anxiety can cause so much distress in the dog that when their owner leaves them, they show behaviours you wouldn’t normally see in them. 

Common symptoms can include:

  • urinating or defecating in the house
  • persistent barking and howling that seems to only be triggered by being left alone
  • chewing, digging and general destruction
  • trying to escape to get to/ be with the owner
  • pacing in a fixed pattern when alone
  • it can even result in coprophagia which is where the dog defecates and then consumes it.

Most of these behaviours may only be symptoms of separation anxiety if they are not done in the presence of the owner(s) and are mainly signs of more serious separation anxiety.

To prevent such anxiety in a new dog and prepare for the full end of lockdown, when there may be a sudden increase in the time they spend alone, one useful method to try that can help in many different scenarios is crate training. If you don’t want them running around the house and causing trouble when you’re not there then this may be a crucial step. This way, they learn not to panic when in this confined space: with time they will learn this to be a safe and comfortable space of their own and their crate may help to keep them calm whenever they are upset or anxious. 

Firstly, a piece of advice when trying to leave the house, is to not make a big deal when you leave or re-enter so that they can try to understand it isn’t a big deal and start by only leaving for a short period of time. When your dog becomes more confident or cares less about your absence, you can gradually increase the time you leave for. With puppies especially, you can make your separation less stressful and even less noticeable by keeping them distracted with a variety of interactive toys. To prevent accidents in the house, make sure to remember to let them outside for the toilet before you leave, even more so when you plan to be gone for a longer duration. 

Hopefully with help and support towards these loving animals, the end of lockdown can become less stressful for new pups, rescues and any nervous dog that struggles to be alone. 

For more information about separation anxiety in dogs and how to prevent it, visit websites such as Battersea, RSPCA, and Purina.

If you can't find an answer about separation anxiety or for more serious concerns, you can always discuss this with your vet.