Written By: Ellie Scheurich, Animal Care Technician, Humane League of Lancaster County
Separation anxiety in dogs is a very common issue brought up by pet owners. A lot of us have been working from home during this pandemic which has allowed for more walks, fetch, and treat giving to our four legged companions. As most would see this as “living their best lives” it can also be described as a blessing in disguise. Being home 24/7 with our dogs can cause issues down the road when things go back to “normal.” Meaning we will have to go back to saying goodbye to our four legged love bugs as we run out the door, racing the clock, to punch in on time.
As we slowly start making our way back into the normal routine, here are some behaviors to look for when departing and leaving your dog at home:
- Pacing around different areas.
- Barking, howling or whimpering upon departure.
- Urinating/defecating when left alone.
- Destroying objects in the home, or exit points such as doors, crates, etc.
Keep in mind, while these are possible signs of separation anxiety, they are also signs of boredom. They’re currently used to us being at home entertaining them, going for extra walks, and receiving chin scratches under the desk while we work. Even the thought of going back to work makes some people feel guilty about not being at home with their dog(s) BUT there are so many different ways to keep them occupied that will also help adjust them back to their, and our, normal routine.
While some dogs may still chew up our favorite pair of sneakers when left alone, we can help set them up for success by putting them away where they can’t chew them and provide constructive “busy” work for all of us feel good about. Here are a few ideas:
- Go back to our original routine before the stay at home order. Wake up at your normal time, get dressed, and have your favorite cup of cold brew. Then prepare them as you normally would for your departure. Whether that be putting them in their crate or putting them in their safe space. After they are in their normal area, give them a busy toy to keep them occupied (such as a frozen peanut butter Kong). Then grab your keys and head out the door. Now, it sounds crazy, but hang outside for a little while. Enjoy the fresh air, maybe even take a walk around the neighborhood. This exercise helps prepare your animal for your normal departure in the morning, but also gets them back in the routine of having alone time during the day. You can do this routine throughout the day to give them alone time and help them practice your departure and arrival. Remember when you are leaving or coming home to stay calm and relaxed. You don’t want to get them excited. Instead, you want to act like it’s completely okay and not unusual for you to leave the house.
- Enrichment. Enrichment. Do you know how important enrichment is? Sure exercise really helps get a dog’s energy out, but the key to a healthy dog is offering them the opportunity to use their brain. Imagine your day consisting of just a walk, being fed twice a day, then sleeping on the couch all day. Followed by the occasional keep tabs on your human around the house for some extra love routine. That’s going to get boring and believe it or not your dog will appreciate the extra mental stimulation.
- Frozen peanut butter Kong’s are a wonderful way to keep your pet busy AND it requires them to think about how to get the peanut butter out.
- Food bowls are overrated, seriously throw out your food bowl already and start making your pet work for their food. You can use slow feeding bowls or that cereal box you were going to throw out last night after your midnight snack. Fill that sucker up with their food and some treats and let them destroy the box to work for their food. You can also feed them by doing a training session and work on their basic obedience commands. Also, have I told you one of my favorite ways to feed dogs? No? Well get ready. Fasten your seat belt. The best way to feed your pet is to do a treasure hunt for them. Hide their food throughout the house but remember where you hid the different kibbles so you don’t step on them late at night when you are trying to sneak a snack. Not only do they get to use their nose to find their food, but it also keeps them busy and isn’t as boring as eating out of the same bowl every single day.
- Slow feeding bowl resources through DoggieDesigner- https://doggiedesigner.com/best-slow-feed-dog-bowls/
- Remember those walks you’ve been taking them on multiple times a day? Well you need to start cutting them back if its not your normal routine. Instead, walk them the same amount of times your normal routine allows you to BUT make the walks more engaging. Work on their basic obedience throughout the walk. Have you ever seen parkour? Where people jump off stuff and do cool tricks? Well don’t have your dog jump off high areas, but practice urban agility on normal everyday objects. Let them jump up on picnic tables and ask them for a sit. Allow them to walk across park benches as if they’re walking the plank. Enjoy your time with them and get creative. Urban agility is so much fun and your dogs will appreciate the extra fun during the walk.
As difficult as it will be for all of us to adjust back to our normal routine, it will also be difficult for our pets to adjust too. Now is the time to work on their training and prepare them for your return to work. You will appreciate it in the long run if you prepare your dog now. No one enjoys coming home to a destroyed couch and chewed up slippers.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and most importantly stay positive.