After being homebound for the last year, normality is gradually returning. While this is good news for humans, your dog may not agree. Dogs are social creatures and love their humans being close at paw. When you return to your regular routine, your dog may find the transition difficult. And, if you adopted a “pandemic puppy,” your new pup may not be used to spending time alone. Separation anxiety is a serious issue, and dogs who suffer from this condition are under considerable stress. The Best Friends Veterinary Care team wants to help you prevent this problem from plaguing your dog.
#1: Make your departure a positive experience for your dog
When you leave your house, your dog does not know where you went, why you left, when you are coming back, or if you are coming back, which can be extremely distressing. Use the following techniques to change this into a positive experience.
- Desensitization — Follow your normal routine (e.g., put on your shoes, pick up your keys, and grab your jacket) before leaving your house, but do not leave. Instead, go to another room, or leave for a few minutes and come back inside. Do this several times until your dog no longer pays attention to the actions that cue your imminent departure. If they do not see this activity as a precursor to your leaving, they will not become anxious.
- Distraction — Give your pet their favorite treat before you leave, to help them associate your departure with something positive. A food puzzle toy that administers treats will keep your dog occupied for 10 to 15 minutes after you leave and distract them from your absence.
- Practice — Remain gone for short periods to start with, and then gradually increase the absences. This helps reassure your dog that you will come back home.
#2: Create a safe zone for your dog
A safe zone could be a crate or small room where your dog feels secure and comfortable.
- Place treats and favorite toys in the area to make the space more inviting.
- Put your recently worn clothing in the space to establish security for your dog.
- Have your dog spend time in their safe place while you are home. Ensure that you leave their sight for gradually increasing time periods, which will help them realize that you do not have to be in their presence at all times.
#3: Ensure your dog gets sufficient exercise
Daily mental and physical exercise is important for a happy, healthy dog. An exhausted dog will not have the energy to be overly distressed when you leave.
- Go on a vigorous walk, or engage in an energetic game of fetch before you head out for the day.
- Teach your dog a simple trick and practice the new skill several times before your departure.
- If you will be away for an extended time, have a friend or dog-walking service walk your dog during your absence.
- If you are open to another dog in the house, adopt a second dog to provide physical and mental stimulation while you are away.
#4: Stay calm when saying goodbye and hello to your dog
If you arrive and depart with much fanfare, your dog will see these moments as important occasions, and become stressed.
- As you leave the house, do not take a long time saying goodbye. Make your farewell short, sweet, and unemotional.
- When you return home, calmly pet your dog and then go about your business. You can be more affectionate later. The point is for your dog to disassociate your comings and goings with extravagant emotion.
#5: If necessary, use dog-specific anti-anxiety products
Some dogs continue to have anxiety issues after you have employed the appropriate measures. Talk to the team at Best Friends Veterinary Care to see if an anti-anxiety product would be right for your dog.
- Compression shirts are made for dogs. They are supposed to calm your dog by applying pressure to their torso, similar to the way a crying infant is comforted by swaddling.
- Pheromone collars or diffusers help decrease stress in some dogs.
- Prescription and over-the-counter medications are available to help decrease anxiety, but never give your dog a medication or supplement without veterinary direction.
What if your dog develops separation anxiety?
A dog affected with separation anxiety becomes extremely distressed when their owner leaves them alone. They can cause harm to themselves as well as property by attempting to escape and find their owner.
- Distinguish between separation anxiety and boredom. Leave your pet alone for only 30 minutes. If they have not caused any trouble in the home after this time, their behavior is likely caused by boredom, and interactive toys, music, and videos may help.
- Any damage or mess is not the result of misbehavior, so punishment is unwarranted and unhelpful. Patience is important.
- Let a friend or family member dog sit while you are away.
- Find a doggy day care facility.
- Consult a dog behaviorist.
Your dog loves you and wants to be near you always, but as the world returns to normal, this will not be possible. These tips should help prevent your dog from pining after you when you go back to your regular schedule. If you are concerned your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, or if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the Best Friends Veterinary Care team to schedule an appointment.