“Could the quarantine be undoing the work we’ve done on separation anxiety?”
I came across that question the other day and thought it was a good one.
It can take weeks or even months to teach dogs to tolerate being alone.
Could all that work go out the window thanks to current events?
Let’s find out.
Are we undoing the work we’ve done on separation anxiety?
Before we find out if the quarantine is undoing our work with separation anxiety, let’s take a look at the question that prompted this post.
If you can’t see the embed below, check it out on Reddit.
Now, while the original question refers to what’s happening right now, the answers apply to any situation in which you can’t leave your home.
So, what is the answer? Well, that depends! I know, vague, right?
Let’s look at how we could be undoing the hard work we put into dealing with separation anxiety, then how to mitigate the problem.
What causes separation anxiety work to fail?
As you know, helping dogs overcome separation anxiety is hard work.
The process takes days, weeks, or even months and involves numerous behavior modification steps along with way.
I won’t go over all the steps. I assume you know what they are by now, especially if you’re asking if quarantine will undo all that hard work.
If you’re not quite there yet, though, I recommend checking out these tips for coping with separation-based anxiety in dogs.
Okay, so based on what we know about dealing with it, what could possibly undo all of that hard work?
Why, the one thing we’re told we have to do right now, of course: staying home all day every day.
How is staying home all day ruining our separation anxiety work?
Imagine for a moment that you’re scared of being home alone.
Not really a stretch for me! I was terrified of ghosts as a teenager and actually sat in my door surrounded by salt. Hey, I never said I was normal!
Anyway, so, you’re scared of being home alone, but you do all this work to overcome it.
You reward yourself when you manage to go 20 minutes, half an hour, an hour, a full day.
A month or two later, you’re fine when everyone leaves for the day. You’re totally cool with it…mostly.
Sure, you still have that nagging, “What if they never come back?” feeling in the back of your mind, but you’ve mostly mastered your fear.
Then, your spouse loses his job and your kids are out of school for the rest of eternity (or until next year, at least).
Everyone is home with you all the time! Yay! You don’t have to spend hours reminding yourself that they’ll come back!
A week goes by. A month. Two months. Suddenly, when it’s time for them to go back, that old fear rears its ugly head.
While our dogs may not experience everything quite the same way, this is basically the gist of what we’re dealing with.
So, yes, staying home with your dog all day every day could undo the hard work you’ve put into helping him overcome separation anxiety.
But it doesn’t have to…
How to prevent separation anxiety regression
During normal times, preventing separation anxiety regression is as easy as just continuing to leave your home on a fairly regular schedule.
However, when you’re home due to injury or, say, a national emergency, then it’s not so easy.
In those cases, try some of these strategies (depending on which ones are available to you).
Leave the house without your dog regularly
I know, we just talked about how that’s not really possible. Or is it?
You don’t have to leave for hours on end every day. Just continue to leave your house, period.
Go into your back yard (out of your dog’s view) with a good book.
Take a socially distant hike (if you’re allowed to in your area).
Even just driving around for a while is beneficial.
Of course, make sure that’s permitted first. In my area, we’re not allowed to go for Sunday drives right now.
Do whatever you can do, both physically and legally.
Go into another room without your dog
If leaving your house even to go into your yard (maybe because you don’t have one) is out of the question, then go into another room.
Take that book or your iPad into your bedroom, den, heck, even your bathroom.
While not as effective as actually leaving the house, it’s better than nothing.
If you normally crate your dog when you’re out, then continue to do so during these “breaks.”
Continue with your “cues”
Whether you can leave your house entirely or just go into another room, it’s important to use your “going out” cues.
Remember, these were vital to your separation anxiety training.
They tell your dog that you’re leaving and that you’re planning to return.
These include things like:
- Putting on your shoes and jacket
- Grabbing your keys
- Crating him up (if you normally do so)
For me, it’s things like putting on my makeup and brushing my hair.
The moment I do that, my dog knows I’m getting ready to leave.
Maintain a routine
While you may need to tweak parts of your routine- like when you leave and for how long- it’s vital to keep the rest of it intact.
If you feed Fido breakfast at 8AM on a workday, continue to do so while you’re home.
Always play a certain game in the afternoon? Keep playing it! Freya has a very specific nighttime routine.
Ten minutes after I finish dinner, we play her puzzle game (this one below).
At 6:00, we play a training game where she runs through her tricks for tiny pieces of turkey.
Then, at 6:30, we feed the guinea pig together (she gets green beans while I do this, which she loves).
At 7:20, we play “kissy face,” a highly comical game that involves me sticking pieces of cheese to the side of my face.
I am trying to teach her to kiss on command. So far, she’ll only do it if there’s food involved.
The point is, whether I’m home all day or actually leave the house, we stick to our routine.
I’ve noticed a dramatic change in both her separation anxiety and her general mischievous behavior since we started this nightly ritual.
Not all dogs experience regression
One last note before I send you on your way- not all dogs will experience a regression.
So, staying home all day won’t necessarily undo all your hard work.
The problem is, we don’t know which dogs will regress until after the fact.
In other words, if you do nothing to prevent it, you’ll find out too late that your dog is in fact one that will regress.
So, it’s better to be proactive than sorry later. Assume it could happen to your pooch and take the steps above to prevent it.
Have you dealt with separation anxiety regression with your dog? Share your experiences below.
Last update on 2020-08-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API