Covid-19 has made most of us spend more time at home with our Aussies. Now that we are possibly preparing to go back to work, how will this change affect our dogs?
Australian Shepherds can be very attached to owners and are more than likely living their best lives during this quarantine mode. They are getting 24 hours of attention and company, many walks, and a lot of daily playtimes. What could be better, right? Now that we are starting to think about going back to a normal routine, some Aussies may have a hard time adapting. They will have to relearn how to be alone and independent while we spend the day out at work.
This article will talk a little about separation anxiety and what we can do to ease this process.
What is Separation Anxiety in Australian Shepherds?
Separation anxiety is a distress response exhibited by dogs when they are alone at home or separated from their owners. Although a specific, universal cause remains unknown, many factors can contribute to the development of separation anxiety and can also affect the degree of its manifestations.
Improper conditioning to an owner’s departure and absence, prolonged contact with the owner without being alone, improper or early separation from mom and siblings, and traumatic episodes that happened during the owner’s absence are just some examples of factors that can influence the onset and degree of separation anxiety.
If your Aussie has been re-homed or adopted, past traumas and fear of abandonment could also be associated with it. Other causes of anxiety such as fear or storm and noise phobias can intensify the manifestations of separation anxiety.
It is estimated that around 7-28% of companion dogs experience some degree of separation anxiety. It can affect any age but it is more frequently seen in dogs older than 6 months can increase in aging dogs starting at around 8 years.
What are some signs that your Aussie might be suffering from separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety can have a wide variety of manifestations. Some examples are:
Episodes of destruction – doors/windows/owner’s possessions;
Vocalization – whining/howling/barking;
Elimination – urinating or defecating indoor
Self-trauma from excessive licking
Behavioral depression including lack of appetite, drooling, hiding, shaking, pacing, panting.
Those signs usually present within 30 minutes of the owner’s departure.
Excessive attention-seeking and following behavior
Excessive attention-seeking and following behavior and also excessive excitement upon the owner’s return could indicate some degree of separation anxiety.
We know that Australian Shepherds can exhibit signs of excessive attachment, so do not confuse hypersensitivity with separation anxiety. One easy way to figure it out if your Aussie is showing any symptoms of separation anxiety is to use an indoor camera and record or live stream how your dog behaves when home alone. That is actually the only way to properly diagnose this condition.
Treatment Options For Australian Shepherd’s Suffering From Separation Anxiety
There are many treatment options for separation anxiety and marked success can be achieved with training.
It is known by any Australian Shepherd owner that a tired Aussie is a good Aussie. Playtime and regularly scheduled is essential in an Australian Shepherd’s life. They enjoy a combination of both mental and physical work such as agility, flyball, Frisbee, and dock diving. Do not worry if you cannot provide these specific sports. Simple walks, hikes, ball playtime, teaching basic tricks, puzzle toys, and play dates at dog parks also can provide lots of stimulating fun and exercise.
If you provide a good exercise routine and still see signs of possible separation anxiety, here are some training tips you can try to minimize the impact of your absence.
Change the value of actions
Try to pick up your keys without leaving the house. Repeat 2-4 times a day until your Aussie stops reacting with anxious behavior.
Counter conditioning – teach your Aussie to sit and stay by the door. Increase the distance between your pup and the door progressively. As a next step, open and close the door until you can open the door, step outside, and come back.
Ignore your Aussie 30 minutes before leaving and also upon arrival. Just attend to your Aussie when quiet and calm.
Leave a treat or toy when you leave. Your Aussie will start to associate your departure with something good.
Decrease following behavior at home – have your Aussie sit and calmly stay at a specific location for periods.
Crates are not always a solution
Some Aussies have their crate as a safe environment and will be calmer when in it. Leaving them in a crate while you are out may be beneficial to them. On the other hand, if they are not properly crate trained it may be more stressful for them because they might feel trapped or unsafe. That could lead to worse injuries and traumas as they try to escape and even worsen the manifestations of separation anxiety.
It is important to know that although there are drug options for separation anxiety, they very rarely work alone. Associated training is essential and most times enough.
If you have tried training and did not see any improvement, there may be other conditions associated with the symptoms. Talk to your veterinarian to guide you on a treatment plan to rule out any medical reason that could be causing the symptoms. If no medical condition is elicited, your veterinarian can discuss with you some drug options that can be attempted in association with training to ease the anxiety symptoms.
Also, implementing resources like Thundervests during storms, and leaving a radio or television on during the day are alternative methods to medications.
How do I prepare my Aussie to be alone at home when I go back to work?
As you go out briefly to the store, for example, you can assess how your Aussie reacts. Lately, there is a vast variety of indoor cameras that allow you to monitor their behavior while home alone. Some of them even allow you to interact with them either through voice-only or throwing treats. It is a good idea to watch them and see if they have any behavior that indicates some degree of separation anxiety so you can practice some of the training tips before you have to be out for longer periods.
If you have a device that allows throwing treats, for example, you can condition them to come to the camera, rewarding them with a treat when they pay attention to your voice. That can be used to ease their anxiety throughout the day as they will be excited when they hear your voice and focus on something else other than the fact that they are alone at home.
As mentioned before it is very important to keep an exercise routine. If they are tired when you leave they will spend more time resting and be less bored at home. Planning some time on your schedule for a long walk before and after work can be very beneficial, for you and for your Aussie.
Some extreme cases of separation anxiety can be hard to handle on your own. It is important to keep in mind that punishment is not the answer and that your Aussie could be suffering from a medical condition and not just being stubborn and misbehaved.
Remember to always discuss it with your veterinarian if you think your Aussie is not responding well. Also, it can be very helpful to seek the help of professional trainers. Each case has its individualities and a professional trainer can help you identify them and help you find the right approach to discourage unwanted behaviors on a case-by-case basis.