To say 2020 turned our world upside down would be the ultimate understatement. Not just for us, but for our pets as well. With stay-at-home orders in place, and offices and schools closed, that 9-5 window your dog spent alone has gotten a lot busier. For the past year, we’ve established a new normal, and our pets were along for the ride. But as vaccinations continue to be distributed, families are heading back to work and school, leaving pets home alone again.
After spending more than a year constantly together, you and your pet have a much deeper bond. A sudden shift in routine creates the potential for your pet to develop separation anxiety. The American Kennel Club defines separation anxiety as, “when your dog exhibits extreme stress from the time you leave him alone until you return.” This “extreme stress” can be seen as destructive behavior, excessive panting, howling, defecating, and attempting to escape.
This can be especially difficult for families that adopted during the pandemic. The Shelter Animals Count, which collects information from hundreds of rescue organizations across the country, reported a 15 percent increase in pet adoptions in 2020 versus 2019. Many of these newly adopted dogs don’t know a life without their owners being home with them throughout the day. This adjustment could be extra scary for these pups, which can also lead to anxious behaviors.
No one wants to see their dog anxious or to come home to a house in shambles. Whether or not you plan on returning to the office, it’s important to work with your pet to avoid separation anxiety.
Without realizing it, you have a routine you do every day before you leave the house. From putting on your sneakers to grabbing the keys, these are signals for your pet that tell them you’re leaving. The buildup to you leaving the house can be just as stressful for your pet as your absence. Take the time to remove the meaning behind these actions so your dog doesn’t create this negative association. Try putting your sneakers on then cooking dinner. Or grabbing your purse and sitting on the couch to watch TV. When you remove the meaning behind these actions, your dog is less likely to react to them.
Create Positive Associations
It’s important to teach your dog that being alone doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Before you leave your home, give your pet a toy or treat that they love. You could give them a frozen KONG® filled with peanut butter, or a bone that they love to chew on. These special treats distract them from your departure and they’ll begin to associate their time alone with a positive treat. Just ensure that whatever treat you give is safe for your pup to have unsupervised.
Take It Slow
Like any training, teaching your dog to be okay home alone will take time. Going from spending all of your time together to leaving for eight hours a day is a huge adjustment for your pet. If your dog isn’t used to you being gone for long periods of time, it’s important to start small. Perhaps this means stepping into the next room over, or outside for a couple of minutes. Combined with the above coping mechanisms, build up this time apart until you’re comfortable leaving your pet for an extended period. This helps show your pup that even though you’re leaving, you’ll always come home.
Talk to the Pros
Sometimes despite our best efforts, our dogs develop separation anxiety. This doesn’t mean you failed as a fur parent, it simply means you should reach out a professional. Veterinarians and Pet Behaviorists are great resources to consider to help treat the symptoms of separation anxiety. If your dog is still struggling with separation anxiety, try recording their behavior when you leave the house. You could use a nanny cam or even your phone. Showing this behavior to your vet or a behaviorist will help gain a better understanding of what they’re working with and the best course of action to help your pet. Sometimes, medications are needed alongside very gradual behavioral training to help your pup reach a point where they can safely be left home alone.
Look to Outside Services
If you’re planning on returning to work and don’t want to leave your dog at home, there are plenty of options to help break up the day. Doggy daycare is a great resource to consider that gets your dog out of the house all day while you’re away. Daycare offers dogs the opportunity to socialize and play with other dogs as well as other people. Not to mention, they’re getting plenty of play and exercise under the watchful eyes of trained staff.
Bringing your pet in regularly for daycare also prepares them for longer stays. As the world opens up, so do opportunities to travel. If you plan on traveling and lodging your dog, they’ll already be acclimated to their new surroundings from all the fun they have in daycare. This helps alleviate the anxiety of a new location and your absence, which means no stress for them, or you!
Preventing your dog from experiencing separation anxiety is crucial as we begin this next chapter in reality. As the world returns to normal, ensure that your dog is both mentally and emotionally ready for the new, new normal.
ABOUT MORRIS ANIMAL INN
Morris Animal Inn is an internationally recognized, full-service, luxury pet resort for dogs and cats located in Morristown, N.J. and soon to open additional locations in Montville, NJ and Warren, NJ. Established in 1960, the award-winning, family-owned country inn is a state-of-the-art facility offering lodging, spa services, grooming, training, daycare and camp. For more information call 973-539-0377 or visit www.morrisanimalinn.com.