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 a third of dog moms in a recent survey by Rover to welcome a new dog into their families—but what happens when all those women go back to work? The majority of dog owners (58%) in another survey are concerned about their dogs experiencing separation anxiety when they return to work, and 63% are pretty sure their dogs will experience it once they start leaving home more again. This isn’t surprising, given what we know about the positive impact of pets on our mental health.
What’s a pet parent returning to work soon to do? The overwhelming majority, 97% of respondents, say they’ve bonded even more closely to their dogs during the pandemic. A closer bond is a beautiful thing, but it can also make leaving your pup home even harder. And while 58% of dog owners in the survey noted that they aren’t doing anything to prevent separation anxiety now, they also cited wanting to learn more about prevention. So, we turned to two dog training experts to find out more about separation anxiety in dogs and to learn a few tips and tricks for alleviating it.
But first, we asked pet parents how they’re currently planning ahead for when they need to leave their pets home alone again:
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.
A little more than a quarter, or 27%, of dog owners in a recent survey said they are planning to purchase a Furbo or other pet camera for when they go back to work so that they can keep an eye on their pup. Another quarter (26%) said they hope to hire a dog walker to break up the day while they’re gone.
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. Let’s get back to the experts:
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.
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.
Q: What are your top two suggestions for alleviating separation anxiety?
A: First, it’s best to encourage and reward calm and independent behavior, not anxious and attention-seeking behaviors. A great way to promote desired behaviors is to start a predictable and positive reinforced “KONG ROUTINE.”
Predictable, meaning the routine begins at the same time every day, preferably after a good walk. It’s helpful to have a quiet time with few distractions. The routine starts by working with your dog to sit down and stay (preferably on a mat), be patient and calm, and wait until your dog responds in kind. Reward the calm behavior with a KONG toy stuffed with a high-value reward and only calm behavior.
After a few days of the “KONG ROUTINE” you might practice some mock departures. While your dog is challenged with getting the food out of the KONG toy, quietly leave the room 5-10 times for 20-30 seconds, gradually increasing the duration in the weeks to follow. Your dog learns that you will always come back, and that when you do leave they get something special. In time, your dog should look forward to your departure.
Second, departures and homecomings should be a non-event. Whenever possible, avoid cues that initiate anxiety during departures, sound of car keys, putting your coat on, talking to your dog, etc. Leave quietly. White noise helps people sleep, and it’s also helpful to calm your dog when left alone. Upon coming home—although it’s difficult—either ignore your dog or place them on a mat until they are calm before you reward them with your attention.
Q: How do I know which toys to buy for separation anxiety?
A: The most common toys for separation anxiety are food-stuffed, dispensing puzzle toys. These toys are mental and physically stimulating which helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
Rover.com survey of 1,000 US based pet owners via Pollfish in April 2020.