As COVID-19 begins to ebb and life begins returning to a pre-pandemic normal, your time at home will likely decrease. As an unfortunate result, your dog might suffer from this unexpected change in routine and develop separation anxiety as they learn to adjust to their time alone.
On behalf of Vetnique Labs, we’ll offer suggestions to help you and your dog through their post-COVID separation anxiety!
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is something more commonly associated with humans. This form of anxiety is caused when people who spend a lot of time together such as a small child and their parents, feel anxiety when apart. Some symptoms can be mild but the issue can become so stressful that it causes panic attacks. Dogs and other pets can also experience separation anxiety. The anxious feelings can lead to unusual behavior from your dog including causing damage to your home and even worse, injury to themselves.
These actions are a direct result of the panic your dog feels when they suddenly find themselves alone.
Instead of thinking your dog is behaving badly, it’s important to recognize the signs of separation anxiety and act fast to help your beloved four legged friend overcome their fears.
Common signs include:
- Urinating and defecating
- Barking and howling
- Chewing, digging and destruction
- Coprophagia (eating their own feces)
If you notice this behavior, your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety.
Training doesn’t only apply to teaching obedience. It can also be used to teach your dog independence. As soon as you know your daily schedule will change you should begin training. By slowly removing yourself from your dog’s presence for longer periods each day, they can learn to ease into being alone.
Provide a safe place where you know they feel comfortable and have them stay in this area as part of the training. Be sure to use positive reinforcement by praising them when they behave appropriately. You can teach them to go to their special place and offer a treat or a favorite toy when they obey.
Continue to Offer Company
Your dog’s separation anxiety is caused because they are accustomed to having company. When you head back to work, see if you can arrange to have someone visit your dog. Maybe older kids can come home for lunch, or a neighbor they recognize can pop in for some cuddles and playtime. This takes the anxiety of being alone away and helps them feel more content. Also, ramp up walks and playtime, so your dog remains active. When they are more active, they are also more tired. This can help reduce anxiety-related behavior.
Prepare Them for Departure
Dogs understand humans are creatures of habit. If they notice you have a daily routine to get ready for work, they begin to use these cues to build up their anxiety. A good trick is to avoid unintentionally teaching them to read these cues. Instead, try mixing things up a little each day. For example, if you grab your keys before heading out the door, start grabbing and jiggling your keys when you are home. This way they won’t associate this action with you leaving. Additionally, consider sharing a well-loved toy or a behavioral aid toy that recreates intimacy with physical warmth and a simulated heartbeat to ease crying, loneliness, and separation anxiety in pets of all ages.
Keep Them Busy
Boredom from being alone doesn’t help the situation. If you can find things to keep your dog busy while you’re at work, they won’t be as likely to destroy your home or hurt themselves. Teaching them a new game you can play before you leave can help. For example, playing “Hide the Treat” works very well. Hide treats around the house and train them to find them with an exciting and playful cue like “find the treats!”
Playing this before you leave makes your departure less traumatic and keeps them occupied as you walk out the door. They also get a reward for their efforts which can contribute to better behavior. It might be tempting to leave them in the backyard to avoid boredom. However, locking them outside all day isn’t fair. Also, avoid punishing your dog even if their anxiety leads to damage. This will only increase their anxiety.
Try Calming Sprays
There are many products available on the market today that use calming pheromones to help reduce dog anxiety. You can choose from a series of products including sprays, treats, chews collars and even diffusers. The pheromones can help keep them calm until you get home.
If you try these ideas and nothing seems to help, don’t hesitate to speak to your vet or trainer. They can offer advice to help your dog cope.