Dealing with Separation Anxiety Once You Go Back To Work.

For the majority of our household pets, 2020 was a stellar year. After only two months of watching their families leave for work or school every day, one day they woke up and everybody was home. And everybody stayed home, en masse, day after day until it became routine to enjoy a midmorning nap on the couch next to a warm body and not all alone in a quiet house. Nevermind the medical, emotional, and financial tragedies the human world was experiencing, in your dog’s world 2020 looked completely different.

And what if you were one of the lucky ones that adopted a shelter pet? Since leaving their former situation your new dog has had your company and attention 24/7. Which means they’ve had the mental stimulation of training, bellies full of snacks and treats, and lots of snuggles and hugs.

But, as Chaucer said “everything has an end,” and we humans will resume leaving the house for work and school. It might look different, and it might not be every day, but eventually, we won’t be around quite so much. And how will our good boys and girls react when that happens?

So what do we do if, when we start to leave our houses again, our dogs struggle with separation anxiety and start destroying our walls and shoes from distress? What if no amount of scolding prevents our dogs from urinating or defecating their worry and loneliness onto the rugs? Our jobs as pet parents are to reassure and teach our dogs that being alone means they haven’t been abandoned and that no matter what, they are loved and valuable members of the family.

If you Google “treating separation anxiety in dogs” you get results from so many reputable sources that the information can easily be overwhelming, so here is a condensed list of tips from those sources you can use to help your dog adjust to a brand new schedule once the world opens back up and life gets back to the new-new normal.

Take A Power Walk Before You Leave For The Day:

It is a well-known saying that “a tired dog is a happy dog” and depending on the breed of dog you have making them tired, and therefore happy, could be a monumental task. It’s important, however, during this time of transition, to make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise. Exercise and playing with your dog increases the bond you two share and keeps both you and your dog young. And even if regular exercise is a part of your day, you still might need to consider adjusting your routine slightly to help your dog feel the best he or she can before you head off. If you are normally an early riser, you could put off that first cup of coffee until after both of you have got your heart rates up. Or if you exercise later in the day, or at a gym, a quick trip to the park or backyard to play a rigorous game of fetch or keep away would help take the edge off that morning energy your pup has stored up overnight. On the other hand, if you are a late riser, or like me, despise sweating, remember that dog owners are less likely to struggle with obesity and heart disease and all of that can be attributed to your dog and the amount of exercise he or she may need. So if you don’t want to do it for yourself, get out there and get walking for your pup, you’ll both be reaping the rewards of an active lifestyle before long.

Leave A Piece of Laundry Out That Smells Like You:

If, after your morning walk, your dog is still struggling when you leave the house another thing you can do is make sure they’re surrounded by something that smells like you. Dogs have approximately 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to our 6 million, so not just any dirty rag will do. Dogs want to get up close and personal with your familiar smell, so allow them a dirty bath towel to snuggle up to, or let them sleep on your bed while you’re away.

If it isn’t possible, or you’re averse to leaving your dog loose in your house while you’re gone, make sure they and the dirty towel are in a room that has a little space for their bed, busy toys, and for them to stretch out and walk around. If it is possible, make sure that the room has a window that the dog can reach. Dogs love to watch the world go by, and if they have a window there’s always the possibility they’ll be able to watch that squirrel that they’ve been tracking for months, and that will keep them occupied for hours.

Music Really Will Soothe The Savage Beast:

In 2017 the Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow published a study to find out if music affects a dog’s mood. Researchers played a variety of music to shelter dogs and assessed their physiological and behavioral changes to each genre. And while, like humans, each dog had a preferred genre of music they enjoyed over the others, generally dogs reacted positively to classical, reggae, and soft rock (ironic), and had no reaction or reacted negatively to Motown, pop, and hard rock. No matter the music, however, each dog spent more time lying down while the music played and didn’t pace their kennels quite so much. If you think music might help your dog remain calm during your absence there are a few playlists on Spotify and YouTube set up specifically for a dog’s general listening preference. However, if you find out your dog is more of a metalhead than a laid back Bob Marley fan go ahead and play the best of Black Sabbath, just make sure it’s at a volume that won’t annoy your neighbors.

Train Your Dog:

This one seems the most obvious, yet the most overlooked way you can help your dog overcome separation anxiety. A dog with rules for behavior is a dog that feels secure. Start with the sit-stay or the down-stay command. Once your dog has an instant recall for those commands, slowly work your way into physically leaving the room while your dog waits for you. Let them learn that it’s ok to be separated from you. This would also be a good time to train them to listen for a word or sound that lets them know you’ll be back. Pick a word or a sound, and repeat it as you’re leaving and returning to the room your dog is in. Eventually, the neurons in their brain will connect that sound to the comfort of knowing you will come back to him or her. Whatever you do, train your dog with praise and positivity for the steps they’re making, no matter how small, and don’t discourage or harm them with punishment and negativity. This stress does nothing to help a dog feel calm and less stressed and is counterintuitive to helping your dog overcome separation anxiety.

If you are a new dog owner or aren’t quite sure how to train your dog in this specific issue, look into obedience or dog training classes near you and make time to learn along with your pup.

Look Into Anxiety Reducing Products for Dogs:

If none of the other previous options are working, and your dog is still a total wreck while you’re away, you might want to look into anti-anxiety toys and non-medical solutions in your nearest pet store or online. There are a lot of different options out there at a lot of different price points for someone looking to help their dog relax. Here are a few examples.

No matter what you choose, and there are hundreds of options out there for you to peruse, make sure that whatever catches your eye keeps your dog healthy and free from harm. It is not recommended that you use tight restraints or crates to keep your dogs anxiety at bay. A lot of times this will make the separation anxiety worse, and in the case of the crate, unless your dog is already crate trained, will make your dog associate a place you want them to go with negative feelings and any attempt to crate train your dog will be unsuccessful.

Make An Appointment With Your Dogs Vet:

Sometimes dogs, just like people, need medication to deal with their brain chemistry and medical problems. Your dog’s veterinarian is the perfect resource to go to when nothing seems to be helping, and your dog needs more serious intervention. The veterinarian knows your dog and knows its medical history, and should be the only person qualified to suggest any kind of medication, whether naturopathic, over the counter, or prescribed. Well-meaning friends and family will make suggestions about things you can and cannot give to your dog, and while their intentions may be pure, their suggestions may lead to expensive medical problems for you and your dog down the road. No matter what, none of us are medical experts on canine health, and no matter how much a piece of advice makes sense, it’s always best to get a professional opinion before treatment.

Your dog has had a wonderful year, and it was all because of you. Even though dealing with your dog’s separation anxiety and destructive behavior can be frustrating, remember it’s because their entire life is centered around you and you are no longer available anytime they’re in the mood for a snuggle. Be gentle and understanding with your canine pal, take the time to help them work through their fear, and both of you will eventually be at ease when you leave the house. So, as the world will one day start to normalize for us humans, let’s make sure our canine pals aren’t paying the price for our accidental ignorance and “sudden” neglect.

Works Cited

ASPCA, www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety.

“Does Your Dog Freak out When You Leave?” The Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org/resources/does-your-dog-freak-out-when-you-leave

“Dogs ‘Prefer Reggae and Soft Rock’ to Other Music Genres, Research Suggests.” BBC News, BBC, 26 Jan. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-38757761

Gibeault, Stephanie. “Dealing With Puppy Separation Anxiety.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 10 Dec. 2019, www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/puppy-separation-anxiety/. “Separation Anxiety.”

“How Powerful Is a Dog’s Nose?” Phoenix Veterinary Center – Veterinarian in Phoenix, AZ US, 23 July 2020, phoenixvetcenter.com/blog/214731-how-powerful-is-a-dogs-nose#:~:text=They%20possess%20up%20to%20300,to%20new%20and%20interesting%20odors.