This is a question that has been top of mind for a lot of my clients since some version of ‘quarantine’ began around March 15, 2020 as a result of the rapid spread of Coronavirus (Covid_19) in Bergen County, Northern New Jersey and many other areas of the country.
Here’s the good news…according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), “CDC has not received any reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States. To date, there is no evidence that pets can spread the virus to people.”
While your dog’s health is luckily not likely to be negatively impacted, the necessary changes in lifestyle that dog owners and families have made recently could negatively impact your dogs behavior. Cancellation of school & home education of our kids, working from home as a result of self isolation, quarantine and social distancing probably seem like a dream come true to your dog. After all, all of his/her favorite people are around ALL of the time now. More belly rubs, more fetch, more walks, more treats, more tug toys…and less time alone or confined. But all of this attention now is conditioning your dog, not only to like, but to expect you to be around. So, what happens when we get back to some semblance of ‘normal’…when you’re not there ALL of the time?
“Where’d everybody go?!?!”
The kids will go back to school. You will go back to work. Eventually you won’t be around ALL of the time anymore. Your dog will be left alone or confined a lot more often again, and he/she won’t understand why. That will likely effect your dog, potentially in some pretty problematic ways.
As dog behavior therapists, we’re expecting that our current reality could contribute to increased cases of Separation Anxiety for our pets once things get back towards ‘normal’. It’s one of the more complex behavior issues we help dog owners resolve. It can be complicated. And one of the contributing factors for Separation Anxiety is what we call ‘incorrect conditioning’ – doing things inadvertently that tend to create problems. Being around ALL of the time will get your dog conditioned to expect you to be around…ALL of the time. So, when you’re not, that can confuse your pet. I have heard many stories during the past few weeks about dog lovers using this time to adopt and rescue pets…a very honorable and noble thing to do during this otherwise unsettling time. And, the reason I hear most often for the choice to add a dog to many families now has been consistent…”Well, seems like a good time to do it since I’m going to be home to spend plenty of time with the dog now…” It’s not untypical, even during otherwise normal circumstances. Over the years I’ve heard the same from teachers, for example. They often wait until school is out for Summer to bring a new dog into their home/ life. And just like the advice I have been giving them for years, I am giving the same advice to families now – regardless of whether their dogs are new, or they have been companions for some time – don’t let your dog get used to you being around ALL of the time! It is vitally important that your dog become accustomed to and comfortable with being left alone.
Separation Anxiety manifests in a number of ways – vocalization (excessive howling and barking), inappropriate toileting, destructive behavior (chewing/digging), excessive panting, pacing and drooling, etc. I have seen dogs chew through furniture to the wooden frame, literally eat through doors, break teeth off attempting to escape crates, destroy blinds and window sills, bloody their paws digging at the base of gates…even jump through plate glass windows. Not all cases are this serious, but even a mild case of Separation Anxiety can be problematic for your dogs feeling of wellbeing. No ‘magic pill’ exists to help…while a pharmaceutical may mask the symptoms, it will do little to address the underlying reasons for the anxiety. And, like most long term use of pharmaceuticals, this could have some unsavory side effects for your dog.
The advice I have been giving my clients recently is to practice separation. That can be difficult…after all, we’re supposed to #stayhome right now. So, how do we get our dogs accustomed to being left alone when we can’t leave? I have been suggesting to dog owners that they don’t need to be physically gone to get their dogs accustomed to being left alone. It really comes down to just not allowing your dog to be the center of attention during this time while you are there. How you address your dogs attention seeking behavior, when you pet & play with your dog, not allowing your dog to follow you through the house, teaching your dog to be comfortable some distance away from you or in his/her own space – even in another room away from you, or in their crate for short periods of time throughout the day – even when you don’t need them to be – are some ideas to make sure your dog can be comfortable without being glued to your hip. Spending time away from your dog when you don’t have to will be difficult for you – after all, we love our dogs too as much as they love us! However, in the long run practicing separation now will set your dog up for success, and give you both peace of mind knowing that everyone is safe and comfortable when you eventually do have to leave again.
Contact Bark Busters of Northern New Jersey for more help with addressing your dog behavior and training needs, or for more advice on avoiding potential Separation Anxiety issues as a result of Coronavirus (Covid_19) quarantine and self isolation. Bark Busters of Northern New Jersey is currently offering Lifetime Support Guarantee through Virtual/ Video/ Remote training sessions until we can get there to see you and your dog for in person support. Call 201-207-6190 for more information.