While most of us cannot wait for the quarantine to be over so we can get back to work and see our friends and families, our dogs may not feel the same way. There is actually a high chance that our dogs will experience extreme separation anxiety when you return to work because they have gotten used to having us home all the time. The American Veterinary Medical Association finds this troublesome because pre-quarantine, approximately 20-40% of dogs had been diagnosed with separation anxiety — and this was even when they were not isolating with their owners. As many of us, plan on returning to work to a location outside the home, we must be prepared and expect a change in our dog’s behavior. By taking a proactive approach now, you can mitigate the post-quarantine dog separation anxiety and make this transition a more gentle and easy process for your furry companion.
What does Dog separation anxiety look like?
Dogs thrive on consistency and predictability, so the change of not having you home as much will also be a huge stressor. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals had said that this change can cause even the most well-behaved dogs to behave rather erratically. In fact, experts believe that dogs that have never shown separation anxiety in the past may actually be most at risk because your furry companions have less of an understanding of what may happen when they are left alone.
Separation anxiety can trigger behaviors like:
- Attempts to escape
Some anxious dogs could partake in coprophagia, where they defecate and then consume their own feces. And not only is separation anxiety psychologically damaging to your dog, but ASPCA reports that stressed pets could attempt to dig and chew through doors and windows, which could ultimately result in self-injury. They could experience damaged nails, cut and scraped front paws, and broken teeth.
Slowly get your dog used to being away from you
Experts advise that you should start acclimating your dogs now so that there is a bit of a transitional period between the present time and when the quarantine ends. The end goal is for you to train your dog to be okay with more and more alone time. One of the most important things that you can do right now is to establish a routine that closely resembles one they had before the lockdown was issued. You can start by gradually incorporating more absences to teach your dog that absences are okay and safe. We know how hard it is to abandon your fur baby — even if it is for a couple of minutes — as we have become very dependent on our furry companions during this lockdown. However, for the future health of your dog, you must be strong and begin these exercises.
Do a trial run, and observe your dog’s behavior
To test how your dog would react to you leaving the home, set up a pet camera, and observe your dog’s behavior. Even if they had not struggled with separation anxiety in the past, you may be surprised to see your dog howl and act anxiously at your departure. So before doing anything else, determine how soon after you leave your dog’s panic begins. Does your dog bark and have an accident immediately after you leave the house? Are they relatively relaxed for a couple of minutes until they display anxious behavior? Using that pet camera will be crucial for observing your dog’s behavior so you can get a good sense of how they are feeling when you leave.
After gauging your dog’s anxiety levels, try leaving the house more frequently and for lengthier times. We suggest that you do this at least three times a week. For dogs who are extremely anxious, three times maybe too much. In that case, gradually build up to where you are leaving at least three times a week.
More alone time does not mean less affection!
While establishing that space from your dog is important, do not withhold your affection from your dog when you are together. Give them all the love and attention that they are used to receiving. Expects actually say that dogs can get worse if owners withhold their attention and affection. This will just exaggerate their stress, and make their behaviors even worse.
Additional resources and tips to mitigate dog separation anxiety
Canine specialists also advise enrichment activities such as crate training and interactive toys. If you don’t have much space in your home where you can put your dog in another room, try even training your dog to perform an out-of-sight “stay” command through a bathroom door.
There are also many products on the market that can help you during this time. We suggest:
Another solution to easing your dog into separation is to drop them off at doggy daycare for a couple of hours. K9U is considered an essential business and most of our services are available — including pickups and dropoffs. Many dogs are still coming here each day, and you can take advantage of this! While you are separated from your dog, they won’t feel too alone because they will have other dogs to play with! Also, while at the doggy daycare, your pup can participate in some dog training sessions to divert their attention from their separation anxiety. You can even have a dog walker walk them a few times a week.
You may also check out our previous blog on puppy separation anxiety for more in-depth guidance on dealing with a new puppy’s separation anxiety.
Ease Your Dog Into Post-lockdown Normalcy
While it seems like the quarantine is going to last forever, the earlier you start this separation anxiety training process, the better it will be for your dog. Start a schedule where you leave the home several times a week. Take advantage of that time. Use those days to go for a nice long walk, sit outside for half an hour, or do some essential grocery shopping. Throughout this entire process, remember to be patient and persistent.
Stay safe, and happy training.