I’m feeling so much better this week. I had some pretty intense anxiety last week (who doesn’t these days?) but thanks to therapy and meditation, I’m feeling more like myself.
I wrote last week about what to do when you find stray kittens. It’s by far the most common question I get asked in the summer. During the pandemic though, I’ve been getting a new question, “how do I deal with my dog’s anxiety now that I’m going back to work?”
COVID-19 has brought so many wonderful things to the animal world. Adoptions are up, animals are being fostered, and many people were able to quarantine with their pets. Of course, now that people are starting to go back to work, our pups may be a little more anxious when we leave. So, I turned to one of my most trusted training sources, Sarah Gaziano, for help. Sarah is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and the former Director of Training & Behavior for One Tail At A Time.
What is separation anxiety?
Any type of anxiety can vary in severity, but when we talk about true separation anxiety, we are usually talking about dogs that have a lot of stress when being left alone. This stress usually manifests with barking, destroying things, eliminating in the house, etc. If a dog can recover, meaning the behavior stops after a few minutes (10-30 minutes), I would not categorize that as being true separation anxiety. While anxiety might play a part, you usually are dealing with a dog that is simply bored or confused.
Is Separation Anxiety more common in rescue dogs?
In my experience, separation anxiety is no more common in rescue dogs than in breeder dogs. There isn’t enough research out there, but I would argue its a factor between genetics and experiences. If you don’t work on it soon enough, the behavior might escalate. But you don’t often see separation anxiety as a stand-alone. Other anxious behaviors usually come with it.
What is happening with COVID and separation anxiety?
I think we’ll see an increase in what owners consider separation anxiety because we haven’t left our dogs for so long. Change is hard on all of us, so its important to remember that. Make sure to leave your dog with plenty of items to do. If you think its enough, add at least two more things. For dogs with true separation anxiety, it’s a good idea to go on short outings before you make it back to a full workday to help them get back to whatever was working for you previously. One of my personal dogs has severe separation anxiety, and he’s definitely more stressed when we leave the house. I noticed that he calms down after about 30 minutes, so we make sure to go out for at least that amount of time at least once a day.
What should people do if their dog has separation anxiety upon returning to everyday life?
If you had the dog before COVID, go back to what worked for you, but add some enrichment. Frozen kongs filled with stuff, scattered food around the house, etc. If you adopted your dog during the pandemic, start leaving for short bursts while giving your dog something to do. If you can put a camera on them to see whats going on, you’ll get a lot more information. Also, remember that even 30 minutes of barking is likely just boredom and adjustment. Give your dogs at least 3 weeks to get back to the swing of things before giving up on what you are trying.
Are there any instances where someone should seek out a trainer/vet?
I recommend medication and training for almost every dog I meet with true separation anxiety. If your dog is hurting himself, going to the bathroom inside, or barking non-stop when you leave, meds are a great jumpstart to helping them make better choices, take the edge off, and gives them the ability to learn.
Favorite tricks/tips for someone who is at their wits end?
If you’re at your wits end for separation anxiety its likely time to try medication. Separation anxiety is a hard behavior to change because you’re up against true anxiety and anxiety is unreasonable. You could tell the dog you’re coming back 100 times and even if they understood you, they would still be anxious because that’s how anxiety treats us all.
If people already have their dogs and didn’t crate during the stay-at-home order, is it too late to start?
It’s never too late to start something, but you have to work within the dog’s limits. If your dog was good without a crate before, you’ll probably be fine with one. You should not just a crate it when you leave. Crate training should be done with humans are home so that dogs don’t have a negative association with it. Make sure your crate set up is dark, quiet, and has lots of enrichment so the dog has a job to do, but then will likely fall asleep after that. If you aren’t sure if crate training is the right move for you and your dog, call a trainer. They will be able to give you a great recommendation
Thank you Sarah for taking the time to help us with all these Separation Anxiety questions! If you’d like to show your appreciation for Sarah, please consider donating an enrichment toy for One Tail at a Time. Licki mats, Kongs, and peanut butter will provide endless fun for so many pups!
Separation anxiety can be a tough one for owners. It takes time, patience, and persistence to work through. However, with guidance and the right tools, you can definitely set your dog up for success!
Has your dog started to get stressed out now that you’re going back to work? Let me know in the comments below!
This bonded pair have found their forever home! Congrats Tucker and Shep!