The pandemic restrictions led pet owners to spend more time with their pets inside, but have also completely changed their daily schedule and routine. Although the bonding time serves both the owners and pets, there is a real concern whether our dogs will be able to get back to the daily grind and accept inevitable separation periods with their human companions.
Separation anxiety is a real condition in dogs, and very likely to happen after difficult circumstances like the ones created by the quarantine. If you notice some of the mild (or severe) symptoms in your four-legged friend, try out these simple techniques to help your dog get used to new rules, and make the transition from constant attention to alone time as stress-free as possible.
Common signs of separation anxiety in dogs
From mild whining to aggression and uncontrolled defecation, separation anxiety can show its face in various ways. Here are the common signs your dog is struggling with separation:
- Aggressive barking, whining and pacing when you’re about to leave the house
- Obsessive chewing and digging
- Defecating or urinating in places he knows are not for potty breaks, or uncontrolled eliminating around the house
- Repeated clawing on windows and doors
- Attempts to run away
- Aggressive behavior, like destroying furniture, chewing bandans, chewing through cushions and sofa, or aggression towards their owners
- Extreme excitement, zoomies, and uncontrolled happiness once not alone anymore
It’s also important to note that some dog breeds are more prone to separation anxiety, including:
- Labrador Retrievers
- Border Collies
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
- Jack Russell Terriers
- Bichon Frise
- Toy Poodles
- German Shepherds
While most of the symptoms are reversible with a few training techniques, severe aggression in dogs is not only dangerous for owners but also for the dog’s wellbeing. Check with your trusted vet how to eliminate aggressive behavior before doing anything single-handedly.
Teach your dog to stay
If you already haven’t, this is a great time to try out obedience training to help your dog accept separation as a normal process. Also, when the dog is disciplined, getting out of the house will become smooth, without unnecessary temper tantrums.
Start with baby steps, as you don’t want to overwhelm your already stressed dog with strict commands. Before actually applying the technique for real, practice by leaving the dog in a separate room. You know you’ve made progress if the dog is capable of remaining calm for five minutes while you exit their field of vision. Make sure to give plenty of treats for positive behavior and reinforcement.
Work on a new routine
Dogs like consistency and repetition, so separation anxiety can only be reinforced by sudden changes in the daily schedule and disrupted routine. Providing a new plan may help the dog feel secure as he knows what’s coming next. Establish the time when your pup will have potty breaks, mealtime, or when she is expected to stay in the crate (if you practice crating).
Before the time comes for you to be gone for a long time, it is best to introduce multiple short periods of separation during the day. This way, your pooch will get a chance to get accustomed to loneliness and avoid developing unpleasant symptoms.
Make their alone time as relaxing as possible
A quick and efficient tip for distracting your dog from disruptive behavior is meeting their needs and keeping them satisfied and relaxed. Before you leave for work, try to take your dog on an energy-packed, tiring walk. Find the time to play mentally stimulating games together, so the dog is ready for a long nap and quiet alone time.
For pups and dogs that need frequent potty breaks, installing a dog door is a nifty solution to allow the pooch to relieve itself when needed without waiting for you and holding everything in. If your four-legged friend has a hard time adapting to silence, make sure to maintain a busy and lively atmosphere even when you’re not there. Some dogs enjoy white noise, background music, or just TV being on. Invest in interactive toys and accessories to ensure peace and a stress-free atmosphere for your dog.
Leave no space for boredom
When the dog is bored and poorly stimulated, it will diverge from calm behavior. To keep your dog both physically and mentally stimulated, it’s essential to keep them on their paws and always do something engaging. For instance, you can utilize a Kong toy and stuff it with their favorite treat, fruit, frozen, melted cheese, peanut butter, or whatever your pooch likes to munch on. The dog will get occupied with reaching the snack and forget about anxiety and stress, at least for some time before someone gets home.
Another fun idea is to adapt a game of hide-and-seek: place the dog’s favorite snacks or toys around the let him roam around the house to find them. Make sure the dog is aware when the game “starts” and that he can venture on the quest for the prize.
Obedience train when you’re at home
As much as you want to cuddle and play with your furry friend after a long day at work, it’s best not to turn your arrivals into a big deal. When your dog jumps around, runs in circles, and gets all excited, you shouldn’t reinforce that behavior, as he will continue to connect your departures and arrivals with something meaningful. Upon arrival, gently pat your dog and continue with your day for a few minutes. After the dog gets used to your presence, snuggle and play as much as you like - the more, the better!
If nothing else works, try out natural calming remedies
Dogs with severe separation anxiety may not be able to change their behavior with these routine adjustments. In that case, consulting your vet for supplementary remedies for anxiety may help them calm down and not harm themselves. There are vet-approved medications or natural home-made treatments you can try out, but it’s essential to always consult a veterinarian or a professional before medicating your pet in any way. Your pet’s health and wellbeing are of topmost priority.