Separation anxiety isn't a new phenomenon amongst dogs, but it's certainly come under the spotlight in a post-WFH world. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in dog ownership as isolated Americans sought companionship with man's best friend, but lockdown bubbles eventually burst. Preparing to go back to the office has been fraught with owner anxiety in anticipation of canine blues and behavioral issues. There are, however, a few steps you can take to make the process less harrowing. And remember, pets have different personalities. Don't take it personally if you're one of the lucky ones with a dog that enjoys alone time.
Irregular behaviors indicative of separation anxiety include but are not limited to:
If your dog barks non-stop in your absence, that will rub your neighbors the wrong way. And if you come home to stress-induced destruction, you're going to reach the end of your rope pretty soon. It's best to prepare your dog ASAP to prevent a scenario where you get multiple calls about noise pollution or feel you have no option but to take your furry friend back to a shelter.
Start teaching basic commands like sit, stay, and down if you haven't already. Your dog needs to learn that you won't go poof like a magician's trick if it doesn't tail you all day. Simple commands facilitate this proverbial penny drop. Obedience training also results in what's known as reliable recall, where your dog enthusiastically responds when you call for it.
Dogs are special animals. They're the most popular domestic pets globally because, when they're treated well, their default mode is affectionate. And they can respond and adapt. Slowly change your routine and habits and pay attention to distress triggers that you can keep out of sight.
Ensure your dog has gone potty before leaving it completely alone in the house or in its room. Take a 20-minute stroll and use an affordable smart camera to check its response on your phone. If by the end of your walk, Fido still looks okay, you can try the experiment again the next day but with a more prolonged absence of, say, 45 minutes. Keep extending the time by small increments, and your dog will realize that, like a boomerang, you always return. If your dog can manage four hours solo, it can probably handle a workday.
Some areas of your apartment or home may, for safety reasons, be off-limits to your dog while you're away. This confinement in a crate or room is okay, so long as your dog has access to a comfy, temperature-regulated, and quiet space with an object that has your scent on it.
Adjust feeding schedules in the weeks leading up to your return to work. And make your departure a pleasant highlight of the day's routine by limiting special treats to when you walk out the door. Does your dog have a favorite food? Meaty leftovers from dinner are good options, and a solid chow session leaves bellies full and eyes heavy.
Yes, dogs are generally needy and demanding, but fun enrichment accessories are an excellent substitute for quality time with you. Cheap or homemade toys are often just as successful as expensive store-bought items, and suitable toys can occupy your dog for hours. Fill a Kong toy with dry and wet edibles. Try DogTV or similar audiovisual entertainment—it can also keep your pooch busy for a while, and slow music may help dogs drift off.
Do you know what helps with stress relief? A workout. When you're diligent about walking your dog before leaving the house, it can make the rest of the day go smoothly. Exercise will tire it out, and it will be too busy having doggy dreams during long naps to miss you.
Sometimes dogs have FOMO and feel like you're excluding them from excitement. If your dog only knew how you spend your day at work, it'd probably be less enthused. Either way, you need to try and trick it into believing that you're still at home and technology can help. If that proves impossible, and lil' buddy goes beserk, an OTC aid can de-escalate the situation.
Adult dogs can go as long as eight to ten hours alone. But puppies and breeds with smaller bladders will need assistance going to the toilet much more frequently. A mood booster in the form of some company wouldn't hurt either. Hire a pet-sitter, and ideally a dog walker or specialist, who is a keen observer of dogs and has the right temperament to deal with abnormal behavior. Flagging issues early can nip them in the bud.
If you're struggling to see changes as quickly as you'd hoped and your patience is wearing thin, seek the advice of an accredited expert who uses evidence-based approaches. You can conveniently book and do training sessions online, and a pro's perspective on your dog's mental health could be just what you need to make progress and turn a corner.
Get your paws on the latest animal news and information