Going back to work soon? Learn how to prevent separation anxiety in dogs before D-day arrives, or how to treat it if it already happens.
There’s a meme going around the internet about the different reactions of cats and dogs to their owners working from home. It shows the cats wondering why the “hoomans” are home and in their way, while the dogs are living their best lives by having their pet parents around all day. It’s true in respect of the dogs’ reactions, anyway, but now the lockdown is easing in most regions.
That will result in some dog owners going back to being out of the house for a good chunk of each day. Veterinarians and pet psychologists are already predicting a wave of separation anxiety in dogs particularly, as insecure pets are suddenly separated from their beloved humans again. Just as you will have to adapt to wearing something other than pajama bottoms during your Zoom meetings, your dog will have to make an adjustment too.
Separation anxiety occurs when a dog gets particularly attached to his (or her) owner, and becomes hyper-stressed when he is left alone. This is more than a little whining or barking when you leave, or getting up to a bit of mischief while you're out. It's a serious condition, and it’s one of the main reasons why owners get frustrated with their dogs and give them up to rescue organizations and shelters.
The cause of separation anxiety in dogs isn’t completely understood. It’s reasonable to assume a young dog could develop puppy separation anxiety by feeling insecure and afraid when they’re left alone. Adult dogs who are well-adjusted in almost every other aspect often develop signs of this condition, however. According to the ASPCA, statistics show that more former shelter dogs develop the problem than those who have been in a single home since puppyhood.
Some of the situations that could lead to development of the condition include:
Any or all of these circumstances can trigger separation anxiety, and it can strike at almost any age.
A common complaint by pet owners is that they have a nervous dog, or that their pets get destructive when they’re left alone. Often, however, this is one of the symptoms of separation anxiety. Telling behavior might take the form of house-soiling, barking, howling, chewing things up, digging or trying to escape from the property. While these can be signs of a lack of general house manners, if you see other distress-related symptoms such as drooling or anxious pacing when you’re getting ready to leave, it’s more likely separation anxiety.
Desensitization is one of the best ways to treat separation anxiety in dogs. Start by keeping your comings and goings low-key to avoid generating excitement. It’s especially important not to make a fuss when you leave or return, so ignore the dog at these times.
Try using a different exit than your usual one, so the dog doesn’t immediately realize you aren’t just going out into the yard.
Leave some of your used clothing where he can detect your scent, like on the floor, in his bed, or on the sofa where you usually sit. This will give him a sense of your presence and comfort him.
Take an energetic walk and give him a snack before you leave. A tired dog will nap while you’re out (especially if he doesn’t even realize you’ve gone).
If your pooch is an exceptionally highly-strung and nervous dog, help your initial efforts by giving him a few drops of a natural calming formula like Maxwell Pet Calm And Happy.
It’s upsetting to see your dog unhappy and stressed out, as well as to get your home and belongings wrecked on a regular basis. If you’re in the process of planning your return to normal life, now is a good time to start preparing your dog for the inevitable. Here’s how to deal with anxiety of this type in dogs, and what you can do to prevent it from happening or getting worse.
The sooner you start making preparations to leave your pet alone, the better your chances of success are. Begin by leaving the house more often and increase the duration of your trips each time, slowly building up to the number of hours you’ll commonly be absent.
For random trips, put on the clothes you normally wear for work or grab your laptop bag or your other standard accessories to take with you. Chances are good your dog knows precisely what those things mean, even if he would rather not remember. He will begin to associate you going out like that with the fact that you’ll be gone for a while but will return.
Your dog’s walks and mealtimes might have changed since you’ve been home more. Perhaps you slept late in the mornings, took more frequent (or longer) walks to get out of the house, or ate dinner later because you were snacking all day. Reclaim the schedule you kept when you were working, or the one you anticipate keeping in the near future. Even if you must take walks yourself, resist the urge to take your dog with if it’s not close to his regular walk time.
Many dogs spend their time in a crate or confined in a part of the house behind a pet gate during the workday. If this is the case, consider putting your dog into his crate or area for short periods each day. Especially if you do this after a walk or a meal, chances are good he’ll be happy to take a nap while you’re elsewhere in the house. This will help him adjust to not being at your side the entire day.
If you’re dreading your return to normal life because your dog is almost certain to freak out completely, now is the time to take steps to ensure you leave (and come back home to) a happy, healthy and well-adjusted furry family member.