If there’s one silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we’ve been able to spend a lot more time with our pets. Conversely, experts predict that when life goes back to normal we could see an increase in the number of cases of separation anxiety in dogs.
As it is, it’s estimated that roughly 14% of dogs exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety, which include: excessive barking, urinating or defecating indoors, and chewing up household items whenever you leave them alone. The question is, how do we treat it?
Until now, separation anxiety has largely been viewed as a distinct diagnosis, but new research from the University of Lincoln suggests that it should instead be treated as a symptom of other underlying frustrations.
“[T]here is a danger that a syndrome such as ‘separation anxiety’ is seen as a diagnosis,” write the authors of the study, “when the relative significance of emotions such as fear, frustration and the panic associated with loss of an attachment figure may be fundamentally important to understand for effective treatment.”
The study, which looked at more than 2,700 dogs from over 100 breeds, identified four key forms of distress in dogs separated from their owners:
Rather than focus on the trigger of the unwanted behavior (i.e., the owner’s departure), this study recommends that animal behavior specialists address the root cause of the problem. This new understanding of the condition can be “used by clinicians to enable the implementation of more precise and thus less demanding treatment programs.”
In the meantime, if you’re worried that the amount of time you’re spending with your pet during lockdown will lead to issues down the line, experts suggest that you stick to a routine that is similar to the one you had before the pandemic, and allow your dog to have a bit of alone time each day.