Does your dog pace back and forth when they’re alone? Do they howl and bark when you step out to run an errand? Your dog may have separation anxiety, a challenging and occasionally baffling issue many pet owners will face as they head back to their physical workplaces, leaving their dogs home alone once again.
Extra time spent at home due to COVID-19 related restrictions inspired nearly half (49%) of Americans to welcome a new dog into their families—but what happens when all those pet parents go back to work? After spending an abnormal time with their dog over the past year, nearly 80% of dog owners said they’re concerned about their dog’s separation anxiety once they go back to work or travel.
How to Identify Separation Anxiety in Your Dog
If you’re wondering whether your dog might be experiencing separation anxiety, Certified Dog Trainer and Dog People Panel member Nicole Ellis shared a few common signs to look out for:
- Not being able to eat or play while you are gone from the room
- Urinating in the house when alone
- Trying to escape when alone
- Whimpering, howling, barking, or crying when alone
- Sweating paws when alone
Nicole cautioned that separation anxiety in dogs may be especially common right now, as so many pet parents have experienced changes in their own schedule. While separation anxiety can become an issue, there are many ways to prepare your dog for it now to ease their potential stress in the future.
Nearly 70% of pet parents have already started to notice signs of separation anxiety. The top three signs they reported include:
- Whimpering, howling, barking or crying when alone
- Going potty in the house when alone
- Not being able to eat or play when the pet parent isn’t in the room
It’s not just the dog experiencing this anxiety: 76% of dog parents said they themselves have anxiety when thinking about being away from their dog. This isn’t surprising, given what we know about the positive impact of pets on our mental health.
How to Prepare Your Dog Now For When You Go Back to Work From Certified Dog Trainer Nicole Ellis
Pet parents reported they’re anxious about going back to in-person work specifically and leaving their pet at home. For some, bringing their dog to work with them is an option and others not.
Over the last year, dogs have provided an undeniable comfort.
- 44% of dog parents said they’ll miss their dog’s comfort during stressful moments and 37% will miss snuggles and affection from their dog.
- One-third of pet parents report their dog helps them stay focused and keep on track during the work day; another third said their dog helps to soften any negative feedback from their boss.
While there are many ways to prepare yourself—and your dog—for potential separation anxiety now, these are Nicole Ellis’ top recommendations:
- Work on crate training games. These are fun ways to create a positive association to a crate which can be a relaxing environment when they are stressed, if introduced properly. For example, throw a couple treats in the crate for your dog to find and give them plenty of encouragement when they go in the crate on their own. Don’t reward them, though, when they come out of the crate.
- Start slow. Spend short periods of time separate for your pet each day, starting really low such as 2-3 minutes and slowly building up time.
- Don’t make a big deal when you leave or come home. By fussing over your pet when you leave and come home, you’re potentially creating extra stress for the next time you leave. Keep it casual.
- Help your dog stay stimulated. Find puzzle games, frozen KONG recipes and other things that help keep your dog stay mentally busy.
- Offer pleasant distractions. Play some music, white noise or the TV to create noise in your house. Have it on when you leave. Animal-loving dogs may enjoy watching DogTV, which has the colors adjusted to attract dogs to the images on the screen.
- Try calming pheromones. Consider using a DAP diffuser, which releases dog-appeasing pheromones in the air. These don’t work for all dogs but may have a positive impact.
- Stick to a schedule. Get your dog on a similar schedule to what it will be when you do go back to work. This includes walks, mealtimes and attention.
How Other Pet Parents Are Planning Ahead
It’s clear that many pet parents are thinking about how they’ll ease the transition for their dogs when they get back into the office and leave the house for longer stretches of time.
In anticipation of going back to work and/or traveling, the majority (73%) of dog owners said they’ve already started to take measures to prevent separation anxiety and 94% of pet parents said they’ve done their own research and/or talked to their vet about separation anxiety in dogs—from getting a pet camera to hiring a dog walker.
These are both great ideas to help monitor your pup’s behavior, but prevention is key to making sure your dog is calm on that pet camera video feed rather than anxious or upset.
Separation Anxiety Tips From Certified Dog Trainer and Dog People Panel Member Nicole Ellis
We spoke with Nicole Ellis, a certified dog trainer and member of Rover’s Dog People Panel, for more tips about how to help your pet with separation anxiety.
Based on your experience as a trainer and with your own dogs Maggie and Rossi, what are your top three suggestions for alleviating separation anxiety?
- I’m a huge fan of crate training, and when done properly, a dog can love their crate—I often find Maggie sleeping in hers. It’s one of the easiest way to potty train a new puppy, to keep them from destroying or chewing things when not in your sight, and also a great way to avoid or fix separation anxiety. It’s also a nice safe quiet place they can go when they are scared, uncomfortable, not feeling well and just need some alone time (I wish I had a crate sometimes).
- Make sure to spend lots of time with your furry friend before leaving—if you give your dog 30 minutes of aerobic activity like walking or swimming right before you leave the house it might help them relax.
- Do not scold or punish your dog as anxious behaviors are not the result of disobedience or spite. Your dog displays anxious behaviors when left alone because he’s upset and trying to cope with a great deal of stress. If you punish him, he may become even more upset and the problem could get much worse.
How do I know which toys to buy for separation anxiety?
Rover.com survey of 1,000 US-based dog owners via Pollfish in April 2021.