Hello everyone. I hope you are all well and keeping safe. This month’s blog is all about separation anxiety and how to combat it.
Separation anxiety is a common stress and anxiety issue and can cause even the most laid back dog to become fretful and at times destructive. A dog with separation anxiety will become distressed the moment their owner leaves them alone. Most often it’s the lack of a human presence that's the trigger, even the company of other dogs does not always relieve separation anxiety.
Indicators of this anxiety can include destructive behaviour, unwanted toileting or howling/barking. Other signals can be very subtle such as whining, pacing, trembling and excessive salivation (drooling). Some dogs don't outwardly show any signs of distress at all, although blood tests do reveal elevated cortisol (stress) hormones.
Research has shown that 8 out of 10 dogs find it hard to cope when left alone and 50% don't show any obvious signs of stress. So it’s best to assume that most dogs are not happy when left alone.
But the good news is that separation anxiety is preventable. We can teach a pup about alone time and encourage them to understand that being alone is nothing to be worried about, and we do this by gesture leaving.
Teaching this to your pup is probably the most important aspect of training that you can do.
Separation anxiety is so very distressing for everyone and certainly at Pawprints we have seen over the years lots of dogs with separation anxiety and after having everyone at home for six months, with endless attention and interaction many more dogs are showing signs of separation anxiety since lockdown.
So how do we do this? Let me break it down into 5 easy steps.
When your dog is in a relaxed state of mind and is in a comfortable place, encourage your dog to stay where it is and simply step away. This could be just a few steps away, or walking out of a room, depending on how comfortable your dog is. Return to your dog immediately, reward and praise.
Repeat. Ask your dog to stay, while you move away. Return and reward.
ALWAYS return to your dog before he displays any reactions.
Continue this routine, moving progressively further away and for longer periods of time. The distance and length of time that you increase on each occasion will depend on your dog. Again, always return before your dog displays any reactions. If you miss judge the time or distance and your dog reacts simply go back to the previous stage.
Progress the routine, by varying the location, duration and situation. You may find that by simply changing the location you may need to shorten the duration by a few steps.
Repeat as often as possible. You will find that the more you do, the less anxious your dog will be and by this stage you should be able to leave them for longer periods.
If at any stage your dog shows signs of distress just go back a stage and repeat.
And the really good news is that with many people still staying home either for work, or self isolating then being at home means you can work on this. You could fit several short training sessions in throughout the day. Each time you get up from your desk for a comfort break, or to get a cup of coffee you could gesture leave your pup. Build it into your daily routine, include the children. Frequency is key. The more you can do of this, the more your dog will understand that being alone is nothing to fear and you'd be surprised at just how quickly you will progress.
At Pawprints we routinely gesture leave to help build on the work you do at home. All the dogs have a lunch time rest and a rest at the end of the day, but some dogs need rest periods in addition to this, but if they are too anxious then they will struggle to relax and rest. So we regularly build into their days short periods of gesture leaving training to help them.
Unfortunately however our progress depends on both how frequently we see the dog and what their routine is like at home, but our approach is to support owners and help dogs to be happy and playful yet also calm and relaxed.
I hope that you find this helpful. We’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave your comments below.
There is currently no licensing or regulation in the pet care industry for England. As things stand, anyone can set themselves up as a trainer, groomer or a walker with no qualifications or even experience.
Dog day care is however a licensable activity under the DEFRA Animal Welfare Regulations 2018. Ensuring your pet care provider has this license should provide some assurance when choosing your petcare service provider.
Pawprints worked closely with the local council when initially planning and designing the site and gained full planning approval before any of the building works was carried out. We were also granted a 5 star award under the Animal License which is the highest award issued.
As an individual considering what service provider to use, key considerations should be; how much physical exercise will my dog get and will that be appropriate for my dog's age, size and needs. At Pawprints we are able to tailor the day to each specific dog's physical needs. Puppies are able to have frequent snoozes and rest periods, whilst also helping them learn to be calm and relaxed whilst in a stimulating environment. Adolescent dogs are able to burn off their energy yet have regular rest periods whilst their young bodies grow and bones strengthen. Mature dogs are able to enjoy being outside all day, gaming, playing and learning new tricks and skills, and older dogs are able to have low level, gentle exercise throughout the day, ensuring they do not do too much nor too little. This helps older dogs maintain mobility, but also allows them to take their time doing whatever they wish to do.
You should also check how dogs are socialised. Personality clashes do happen, and you need to check how this is managed. No dog wants to spend all day with a dog they dislike. Equally, consideration needs to be given to dogs with different energy levels. Your quiet, shy dog doesn't want to spend 8 hours surrounded with high energy, fizzy dogs jumping around them. But equally fizzy dogs need to have careful arousal management plans in place to help bring their arousal levels down. As much as it may seem that the dog is having a great time, it does not do their mental health much good to be high as a kite all day, and no owner wants to pick up an exhausted dog that spends the next 2 days trying to recover from its daycare day.
It’s equally important to ask what other activities are included in the day. Cognitive exercises help keep an older dog’s brain sharp, as well as exercising mature, adolescent and puppies in a demanding yet non physical way.
It’s also important to know what rest is provided. If your dog is not comfortable resting with other dogs you need to understand how this is catered for. No dog should be kept crated with another dog, and you should also check how long your dog may be kept in a van whilst other dogs are collected and dropped off. Your dog could end up spending more time taxiing to and from its walk than actually walking. For this reason, Pawprints does not offer a taxi service. We prefer dogs to travel independently, and for short distances. This also allows us to see our lovely clients at both drop off and pick up times ensuring we can regularly check in and discuss any issues or concerns.
Lastly it's always recommended to get as much general information as possible so that you can get a good measure and understanding of how dogs are managed. Some areas to check are:
The dog care industry has rapidly expanded and as I said at the top, not all daycares and pet service providers are the same and cannot readily be compared to one another. What works for one dog may not be appropriate for another, what suits your needs may not be the best fit for your dog. It’s therefore important to gather as much information about the service provider as possible, ensure you understand what is important for your dog, be clear about your own requirements and go from there.
At Pawprints we do our best to ensure we are the best fit for each dog. We don't accept any dog that we don't feel we can meet their needs, as our goal is to ensure every dog has an amazing experience with us at every visit.
I have always been an outdoorsy type, loving nature, wilderness and animals. I was very lucky to own a horse as a child and teenager and again as a young 20/30 something.
I was always fascinated with the relationship that could be developed with an animal even with the speech and species barriers. This encouraged me to study natural horsemanship and understand how animals communicate with one another, their psychology; what is important to them, what helps motivate them and why.
This helped me realise that our increasingly demanding lifestyles frequently puts pressure on many pet owners who, whilst unquestionably love and care for their pet, fail to meet some of man's best friends' instinctive needs and wants.
A seed was sown and it didn't take long for a business idea to develop that could provide a solution. I wanted to create a day care environment which would not only be a secure, loving environment for dogs to receive all the exercise and attention they need, but to help owners enrich their dogs lives by providing activities for a dogs mental, emotional, social and behavioural needs.
Pawprints was officially born in 2015, but it was a very tough ride to get there. I found the perfect location, yet it had nothing there except for pigs, mud, mud and more mud. No facilities at all and the council needed to grant me permission to turn the site from agriculture to a business class. That was the first, monumental hurdle as permission was declined. Eventually after a lot of committee meetings, presentations and talks on the benefits of the business I successfully got the decision overturned and the go ahead was given.
Then started the build. This was tough. I had to get water, electrics and drainage installed. My bank balance was dwindling, as was my strength. There seemed to be an obstacle at every turn, but eventually the site was set up and business could commence.
Initially it was a team of just me. I look back and have no idea how I did it. I had dog clients to look after 12 hours a day, human clients to engage with, endless site management tasks and business admin to do in the evenings and weekends. I was on the go so much I developed Plantar Fasciitis in both feet and every step was like walking on broken glass. I remember being so exhausted one evening my partner suggested we go out for supper, I sat down in a pub and nearly fell asleep while eating! This was a far tougher ride than I had envisaged.
Luckily the business grew and with more clients I was able to slowly grow the team, but I then sadly had to face a series of personal tragedies. My beautiful horse died, my partner and I split up, my devoted dog died and then my mum died. It was the hardest time of my life. Pawprints was all I had. I was broken in so many different ways I didn't know how I could carry on, but my friends, Pawprints and all the clients held me up and gave me strength and purpose.
The business continued to grow and with that we expanded the size of the centre, and developed new exercise areas. The team was settled and enjoyed each day managing the daily/weekly/monthly challenges that all businesses have to face with a smile on our face and determination in our hearts, until 2020 and the year of CoronaVirus. This hit us hard and we had to close for several months. We have reopened but with vastly reduced numbers. My hope is that the new normal establishes itself soon and that people's lives and work patterns are reestablished so that we can once again help to care for and enrich clients' dogs lives.
Pawprints is my life, my pride, my passion and my privilege.
Thank you for listening to me.