By: Heather Lineaweaver, DVM for Humane Veterinary Hospitals – Lancaster
Many of us currently spend the majority of the day at home with our dogs. They, of course, enjoy the extra attention and time spent with their family, but this can lead to stress and anxiety when the family returns to work and school. Signs of separation anxiety can include excessive barking, crying, pacing, drooling, destructive behavior, and acting withdrawn. Taking preventative steps now can help ease the transition back to a normal routine. Basic strategies will be covered here; however, if your dog already has a history of or is under treatment for separation anxiety, you may need to contact your veterinarian for a more tailored plan.
A good first step is to take 10-15 minutes each day to work on basic commands. If your dog does not already know it, teach a “bed” or “crate” command that you can use before leaving. Give praise and attention whenever they go there on their own to reinforce the behavior. This way, they have a predictable, comfortable place to go when you leave. A favorite toy or blanket can provide additional comfort. If it’s not already, the designated area should be out of sight of the door. For dogs that are food-motivated, you can give them a Kong stuffed with a mix of food and peanut butter or a treat dispensing toy to distract them from your departure. It’s important that they associate you leaving with something positive.
Another way to make your departure more positive is to practice with treats. Do all of the things you normally do to get ready to leave – put on shoes, pick up keys, grab your purse or briefcase, etc. – while giving small treats. Repeat this a few times each day. Your dog also needs to become used to being alone, so leave the house for increasing amounts of time. At first, you can just go out side for a few minutes, then come back in. Gradually increase this to several hours. Make sure you send them to their bed area before leaving. Also, it is extremely important to not make a big deal out of your departure or your return.
Hopefully, the above tips will help ease your dog’s transition when you return to work. If your dog develops signs of anxiety despite your efforts, additional training techniques and possibly short-term anti-anxiety medication will be needed. Your veterinarian can assist you with additional strategies as needed.