In addition to washing hands and wearing masks, there’s something else many people did during the pandemic; they added a dog to their family. Now, as restrictions are lifted and pet parents return to the workplace and resume social activities, many of these dogs will be left home alone. It’s hard to say how many of these “pandemic pets” will be affected by separation anxiety, but there are steps you can take before heading back to work to help ensure a smooth transition for pets and pet parents alike.
Typically, symptoms of separation anxiety manifest when there is a change in routine. For example, when a dog is rehomed or when children return to school at the end of the summer. It can also become an issue when a pet parent returns to work after being at home for a long time for a paternity/maternity leave or unemployment.
If your pup hardly ever left your side during the pandemic, or if you recently adopted a shelter pet, this article provides advice on preventing, identifying and dealing with separation anxiety in dogs.
Steps to Prevent Separation Anxiety
The American Kennel Club offers the following suggestions to help your dog adapt to feeling comfortable while you are away from home.
Spend time away from each other. Go into a different room and close the door or have them spend time in their crate. When your dog relaxes, wait a few minutes and then praise them and give them a treat. Repeat this exercise several times each day if possible. This will help your dog gain a sense of independence.
Increase the time you are separated. Once your dog is successfully handling short spurts of separation, put them in their room or crate and leave them alone for several minutes. Next, leave the home for a short period. The idea is to gradually extend the amount of time the dog spends apart from you. Always remember to reward with a treat and belly rubs when you return!
Ease back into your routine. About a week before returning to work, begin getting up at your normal time and going through your typical morning routine, leaving at the time you would leave for work. However, you should come back home after a short time. Do this a few times so your dog can adjust and begin learning your routine.
Exercise or play before leaving. Don’t just run out the door; instead, build in some time for physical exercise before you leave. Take your dog for a walk or spend time playing tug or fetch. By burning off extra energy, your dog will be ready for a nap after you leave.
Provide interactive toys: Puzzle toys and chew toys can help prevent your dog from getting bored and can also help comfort and distract them from other possible anxiety triggers, such as strange noises or activities happening outside. Try stuffing a hollow dog toy with a mixture of peanut butter or cream cheese and kibble and freezing it overnight for a long-lasting treat your dog won’t be able to resist.
Don’t project anxiety: Dogs are perceptive animals that pick up on our stress and anxiety. If you are relaxed and calm, it will increase the chances your dog will adjust to being home alone.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
It’s easy for a dog to be labeled as ‘bad’ because of destruction or other unwelcomed behavior when left home alone. Unfortunately, separation anxiety isn’t a sign of an untrained or disobedient dog. The Humane Society points out the following ways a dog suffering from separation anxiety might act:
- Digging and scratching at doors or windows in an attempt to reunite with their owners
- Destructive chewing
- Howling, barking and whining
- Urinating and defecating (even with otherwise house-trained dogs)
If you come home and discover any of the behaviors mentioned above, watch how your dog acts before you leave and after you return. As you go through your morning routine, does your dog eye you suspiciously or start acting nervous? When you return home, does your dog act extremely excited to the point of whining or crying out? Obviously, every pet is happy to see their owner return but a greeting that is too exuberant could be a sign of separation anxiety.
How To Tackle Separation Anxiety
If your dog has a mild case of separation anxiety, there are simple things you can try. Making sure they have had a good walk with plenty of time to potty is crucial. Having to “hold it” in their crate for an extended period of time will only add to their stress. It might also help if you leave a t-shirt that smells like you on the dog’s bed or in their crate. Also, don’t make a big deal about leaving. After you’ve walked or played with your dog, put them in their safe place, give a high-value treat they can look forward to and walk out. When you return, calmly greet your dog with verbal praise and a treat.
A calming supplement may also make life easier for both your dog and you. Calming supplements can help to slow down your dog’s chaotic thoughts, allowing them to relax and feel more at ease. Plus, these products can typically be given long-term without concerns about drowsiness or other side effects. The following active ingredients are common in calming supplements:
- Ginger root
- Hemp (CBD)
Your Pets are our Priority!
When selecting a product, be sure to look for the NASC Quality Seal on the label, as this tells you it comes from a responsible supplier that maintains ongoing compliance with the National Animal Supplement Council’s rigorous quality requirements.
Training and routine are your first line of defense in helping your dog adjust to being home alone. But the simple truth is that some dogs have a harder time with being separated from their people. Before you give up on your pup, talk to your veterinarian about the problem. He or she may have some ideas or may be able to connect you with a reputable dog trainer or behaviorist in your area who can help you help your dog overcome their fear of alone time.