With many families working from home due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the timing seemed perfect to adopt a dog. As you plan to head back to work, you may find your dog has truly become your best friend and does not cope well with your absence from your home. Some dogs will demonstrate separation anxiety by crying or barking, while others may take on more severe behaviors such as chewing your family heirloom sofa or trying to escape the house. The good news is there are things you can do to ease your dog into quiet time alone while you are at work.
It is true that a tired dog is a good dog! If Fido is not getting the playtime and a long walk every day he needs, he is more likely to suffer the symptoms of separation anxiety. Some time at the dog park, a walk in the morning, or a session of fetch every day could be one ingredient of the recipe to ensure your pup isn't a ball of anxiety while you are away from home.
It is essential that when you leave home you do so without putting on too much of a show. Keep even energy and pace about your preparation to go, and do not tip off your dog that you are headed out. Telling your dog in a high pitched voice that you are leaving and will be home after work is likely causing more anxiety, not less. Dog owners facing separation anxiety from their dogs frequently feel anxiety themselves when they leave home. Try your best to not transfer stress to your dog by displaying anything out of the ordinary.
Dogs can associate certain items or activities with your departure. It is helpful to desensitize your dog to these things so their anxiety can be managed. For example, pick up your keys, give them a jingle, then put them back down without leaving home. You can do the same with putting on your shoes. Anything that you would commonly do leading up to a departure of the house can be practiced to desensitize Fido from feeling anxious about these activities. Over time, these elements of leaving home will not create such a stressful departure for you or Fido!
Counterconditioning may sound fancy, but it isn't! Counterconditioning is changing your dog's negative reaction to a positive one. One easy way to try counterconditioning is by using a treat-stuffed Kong toy. Simply pick up a Kong at your favorite pet supply store, then fill it with some healthy food for your dog. When you leave home, give the food-filled Kong toy to your dog. Our favorite way to stuff a Kong is with a little dry dog food and peanut butter. (Note: be sure your peanut butter does not contain Xylitol, as it is harmful to your furry friend). Put the stuffed Kong in the freezer for a few hours before you leave, and it will occupy your dog's time even more! Fido may eventually realize that when you head out for the day, they get a little treat. Over time, they may be conditioned to accept your departure without much fuss! Visit Kong.com for more ideas on how to stuff your Kong toy.
Doggie Day Care
Fido may need a break from the monotony of the daily routine. Doggie Day Care services are a great way to give your dog exercise. Remember, a tired dog is a good dog! If you are in the Erie area, check out our partners at Lucky Dog Stay and Play. They have a range of plans to give your dog just what he needs while you're away. Maybe a day or two per week is all Fido needs to alleviate his anxiety.
Many dogs will find comfort with the enclosed feeling of a crate. The crate should be large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lay down in several positions without touching the sides. It may be helpful to crate in small intervals while you are home and increase the amount of time Fido is crated. Each time you take him out of the crate, be sure to give him a treat, so he begins to identify the crate as a happy place. This will help him understand that every time he goes to the crate does not mean it is for a long time. After all, you wouldn't want him to associate the crate with your departure, which could increase the severity of separation anxiety.
This may sound sophisticated and expensive, but it isn't! According to researchers at the NIH, music may decrease the signs of anxiety in some dogs. We have found classical music with long tones and soft rhythms to be more beneficial than simply turning on a radio station. For our friends with Amazon Echo devices, try saying "Alexa, Calm My Dog." In addition to the potential for providing a calming environment for your dog, the music can also serve as a method to drown out sounds from outside, which can cause quite a stir if your dog reacts to those disturbances.
Contact a Trainer or Veterinarian
For additional approaches and techniques, consulting a dog trainer can produce a world of other options. Try our friends at Something Els Dog School. In cases where behavior modification isn't working, your veterinarian can be consulted to discuss further treatment options. Sometimes a veterinarian and a trainer can work together to come up with a comprehensive plan. We highly recommend the veterinarians at Animal Hospital of Waterford, if you're looking for a great veterinarian.
A Friend for Fido?
While we would never suggest adding another dog to the mix right away, some dogs do find great comfort in having another doggie friend at home with them. If possible, invite a friend's dog to stay the day at your home to see if Fido finds relief from his stress. If it worked, get in touch with us, and we can help you find a best friend for Fido.
A Combination of Approaches
Try a few of these tricks out to see if they help your dog's issues of separation anxiety. You may find that a combination of various items from the list provides great relief for your dog while you are away from home. Some elements may work better than others for your particular situation.