As we begin to see businesses reopening and COVID-19 restrictions lifting, it seems the end of extreme social distancing might finally be in sight.
And though you may be quite ready to venture outside your home, an empty house could come as a shock to your furry family member. After all, your pup has probably grown accustomed to having you around 24/7.
To protect your dog from a confusing or unsettling experience, here are a few ways to make the transition easier.
What causes separation anxiety in dogs?
A silver lining of quarantine life is that you get to spend a lot more time with your dog—which is great for offsetting loneliness and other effects of social isolation. But all the extra cuddling and play sessions may have caused your dog to grow more dependent upon your presence.
And that means when you return to eight-hour workdays at the office or take a few weeks to travel, your dog may panic. Fear or anxiety triggered by the absence of a dog’s owner (or other companions) is known as separation anxiety.
What are the signs of separation anxiety in dogs?
Diagnosing separation anxiety can be challenging because the condition is most obvious when you’re not around. That being said, affected dogs often show great interest in any signs of your leaving (e.g., grabbing keys, putting on a coat). They may also take a long time to calm down upon your return.
According to ASPCA, dogs with separation anxiety may also chew, dig, run away, bark, or act as though they have forgotten their house-training. All undesirable reactions, to say the least.
How do you treat separation anxiety in dogs?
The best way to keep your pooch from panicking in your absence is to practice spending time apart now. That way, when you eventually do leave home for long periods, it’s not a completely foreign experience for them.
If you’re currently working from home, for instance, try spending part of the day in separate rooms, or occasionally go for walks or drives alone. Starting with short periods of separation and slowly increasing the duration will help desensitize your dog to solo time.
This may seem as though you’re punishing your pup, but such preparation is actually in their best interest.
Which dog breeds get separation anxiety?
Though any dog can develop separation anxiety, research suggests extremely sociable dogs may be somewhat genetically predisposed to the condition.
For example, German Shepherd Dog, Goldendoodle, and Miniature Schnauzer owners have reported above average frequency of anxious behavior associated with separation. Mixed-breed dogs are also at higher risk.
All that to say, understanding your dog’s ancestry may help you figure out how much effort to put into getting them ready for the return of normal life.
Pro tip: If you don’t know your dog’s breed background, find out with a dog DNA test.
Make plans for a post-quarantine pet care routine.
Another benefit of the last several weeks is that many people have tried and learned to enjoy new activities.
For example, if you’re like most dog owners, you’ve probably started or stepped up (no pun intended) a walking habit during the COVID-19 crisis. Now your dog surely looks forward to the daily strolls just as much as you.
Rather than abandon your walks completely when you resume your work commute and busy days, consider how the help of others could allow you and your dog to continue this healthy habit.
Maybe you plan to return to your job soon, but your partner will continue working from home. In such a case, discuss sharing the responsibility of taking your dog on a daily walk.
Did summer camp get canceled? (No kumbaya this year. Sigh.) To create a sense of structure and encourage responsibility, assign your kids the task of exercising—or training, feeding, etc.—your dog.
Why do routines help dogs with separation anxiety?
As creatures of habit, dogs do best with a consistent schedule. When they have routines and a sense of how their days will go, they feel less anxious. But when schedules change and the patterns they’re used to cease to exist, they can get stressed out.
So, anything you can do to make things more predictable will benefit your pup.
Note: Did you decide to adopt or foster a dog during the quarantine? (Good on you!) Maintaining a consistent level of care may require even more intention since having a dog under normal circumstances will be a new experience for you.
Have patience with your pup.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we experienced dramatic changes very quickly. And though the transition back to normal life is a good thing, the change may feel just as dramatic to your dog.
So, remember to cut them some slack during this time. If their sense of stability has faltered, a little extra patience may be in order.
P.S. If you had to postpone checkups or other veterinary appointments due to the virus, be sure to reschedule those when possible. Annual exams and vaccines are an important part of keeping your doggo healthy!