There’s nothing like the comfort of companionship.
During the pandemic, animal shelters and breeders have reported record numbers of pet adoptions, according to CNN. This means that more people are seeking companionship and connections, especially given the challenges of isolation.
While adoptions can be a positive for both owners and pets at any time, the pandemic sets up a tricky situation when owners have to return to work.
Some of us may already be familiar with “puppy eyes” when we get ready to leave or “little surprises” when we return home. Pet separation anxiety is real — just as real as it is for humans.
While it’s likely that pets could develop or start showing signs of separation anxiety if their owner has to return to work in-person, there are some tips that can be used to help get ahead of these issues and potentially prevent them.
We take a look at what separation anxiety is for pets, what it looks like (particularly for dogs), and how owners can prevent it. We also share what you should not do if you come home and discover your pup has pitched a fit.
What Is Pet Separation Anxiety?
Pet separation anxiety means your pet becomes anxious when being left alone for periods of time. VCA Hospitals defines the condition as when “the pet experiences a feeling of anxiety or even panic when they are separated from preferred people.” Humans can also experience separation anxiety, although the symptoms look different.
What Are Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
There are a number of ways your dog or pup may show that they have separation anxiety. Here are some signs to look out for:
- Destructive behavior (chewing on objects, ripping objects)
- Clingy behavior
- Making attempts to leave the house
- Going potty indoors in uncommon areas
- Panting a lot
- Tucking the tail
- Holding the ears down or to the side
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in movement
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Routines not only help us thrive by creating structure in our daily lives, but they also help your pup to thrive. If you feed your pup in the mornings and again when you come home, continue this when transitioning back to work. Create a routine for exercise, playtime, and alone time as well so your dog will have an idea of when they can expect these activities. Don’t get too caught up though! It’s always nice to have a little novelty, so when you can, try something new such as a new puzzle or take a different route for your exercises.
Make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise
If you’re wondering where all the extra energy is coming from, it may mean that your dog isn’t getting enough exercise. Adjust the amount of exercise based on their age, breed, and size so they can be more content and healthy.
Try to eliminate departure and arrival cues
Does your dog start whimpering or whining when he or she hears your keys? They’ve likely made an association that when they hear your keys or see you put on your shoes or jacket that you’re getting ready to desert them. Also, when you come back home and make a big scene about being home, that could worsen chances for the development of canine separation anxiety because they’ve gotten used to big greetings.
Try to minimize these cues by jingling your keys and staying at home, or putting on your shoes and sitting back down so that your dog won’t make these hard associations. When arriving home, greet your pet but not excessively.
Help your dog learn how to be alone
Just as we need some alone time, our dogs need it to. If they’re accustomed to being with or around us a lot throughout the day, that won’t help when you have to leave them for hours at a time, so it’s best to start easing them into learning how to be alone and content.
One way to do this is to give them treats or interact with them near a place where they can rest, such as while they are lying down in their pet bed, on a mat, or in their crate. Consider giving them something to do like playing with a favorite toy while they’re in that spot, and then walk away to another area of the house.
Hire a dog walker or pet sitter to help.
A dog walker or pet sitter can provide intermittent companionship while you’re away. For instance, you can have someone walk your day around lunchtime or have a pet sitter come in, feed your dog, and tend to a few pet needs before you get home. If your budget allows, this may be one good option so your pet isn’t left home alone all day while you’re absent.
Consider crate training your dog.
Crate training isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can help your pet to learn how to rest alone for periods of time. Additionally, they will be better prepared in the event of an emergency and needing transport to and from the vet. While your dog is in the crate, give them some treats and something they can chew on as they relax by themselves.
Automate treats throughout the day.
One convenience on the market today is a pet treat dispenser. Products like the Petcube Bites 2 Camera & Dispenser, Furbo Dog Camera & Dispenser, and the WOPET Automatic Pet Feeder can help out while you’re gone. A few of these double as a pet camera so you can check in and see how they’re doing throughout the day.
Try a pet calming spray or an anxiety jacket.
Pet calming sprays tend to have pheromones designed to help alleviate stress. They can be helpful to consider for separation anxiety as well as if your dog is afraid of thunder and lightning. Another option is an anxiety jacket that provides a little pressure, similar to a hug, so your pet can feel physically comforted.
Check in on your dog with a security camera.
Have an indoor security camera? You can actually double its use as a pet monitor so you can check in during the day and see what’s happening. If your camera allows two-way audio, you can also listen and talk to your pet, which may be able to provide a little assurance.
Consider a pet door for more freedom.
If you don’t have one, consider getting a pet door so your dog can roam a little more freely. While there are traditional ones on the market, you can also find automatic pet doors like the myQ Pet Portal that automatically opens and closes for your dog if you’d prefer. For concerns about your pup disappearing, you can also consider a collar with a pet tracker or a standalone tracking device that you can add to the collar they already have. This way, your pet can go outside to play as well as take care of business without having to wait for you to return home or for the sitter to get there.
What Not to Do
Ultimately, you don’t want to berate or punish your dog for showing signs of separation anxiety. Considering that sometimes conditions are beyond our control, we have to learn how to manage and re-adjust. So if you notice destructive or anxious behaviors when you return home, have a little compassion and try to change the behavior with prevention strategies.
What to Do if My Dog’s Behavior Worsens
If you find that your dog’s behavior worsens, make an appointment with your veterinarian to see if there could be other potential issues at hand, such as medical conditions. Your veterinarian may also provide other recommendations such as medication or therapy. Separation anxiety may just crop up periodically for your pet, and that can happen, but having strategies for managing it may be able to provide some relief for both you and your furry friend.
Photos by smrm1977 / Olena Yakobchuk / New Africa / Shutterstock