You’ve been at home with your dog and you have been called back to work. Are you afraid your dog may struggle with separation anxiety? Luckily we can prepare them for the change.
Preparing our Dogs for a New Normal
Over the last year, we developed new routines. Our animals got used to having us around and now that’s likely to change again. It’s important to recognize these changes affect our four-legged family members too.
Separation Anxiety vs. Separation/Isolation Distress
Dog trainers are preparing to see many more cases of separation anxiety. This is because dogs like a steady routine and when that routine changes, some can have a hard time adjusting. They have gotten used to the family being home, going for walks, playing in the yard, and more. When their humans go back to work, walks may happen more infrequently and the kids may not play as much. Fido will have more down time resulting in boredom—a surefire cause of destruction around the home.
Fido may panic if he/she bonded with one or more member of the family. This anxiety, depending on severity, can manifest itself in severe destruction of the home. Ripped up furniture, clawed through door frames, broken windows and more are all signs of separation anxiety. Luckily, most cases won’t be this severe, but will lie more in the range of separation/isolation distress, not separation anxiety. There are things we can do to help prepare them.
what is the difference – Clearing up misused terms?
Separation/isolation distress and separation anxiety are two very different behaviors. It is imperative that we know the difference. The following quotes help explain.
Separation anxiety “is a serious emotional problem where the dog becomes panicked when his owner leaves. Dogs with full-blown Separation Anxiety act as though they are in terror about your departure, and about being alone in the house while you’re gone.” — Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., I’ll Be Home Soon
“Isolation distress means the dog doesn’t want to be left alone – any ol’ human will do for company, and sometimes even another dog will fill the bill.” — Pat Miller, Whole Dog Journal, July 2008
what can we do now to help our pets cope when we go back to the office?
The best thing we can do to help our pets is to start slowly changing their routine while you are at home.
- Leave the house for a few minutes at a time, then return
- Keep your leaving and returning low key. Don’t make a big deal out of it.
- Go for walks, run errands, etc. without your dog.
- Give them a stuffed Kong, Lickimat, or other safe treat as you leave so they associate you leaving with them getting a treat.
- Turn the TV/radio/white noise machine on while you are in the home and leave it on when you leave.
- Avoid making this a part of your leaving routine. The dog can start to associate you turning these on as a precursor to you leaving if you don’t do it while you are there as well.
Start with small, short absences, then, if your dog remains calm, increase the time you are gone. If they bark or paw at the door when you leave, wait until your hear silence, then go back in the house. Avoid returning when they are actively barking or pawing. If you do, they will associate those behaviors with your returning and the behavior will increase, creating another problem.
Call in a professional if you notice more severe signs of panic as listed above. A professional trainer can help you determine if Fido is bored or if he/she is experiencing true separation anxiety.
Wrapping it up
As you return to work, make sure you incorporate regular physical exercise, mental enrichment like food puzzles, and other activities for your dog to help alleviate boredom.
Dogs are very resilient to things happening each day. Most of the time they can cope fairly easily, but it is always a good idea to help them prepare for changes when you can. If you start now and gradually get them back into their new routine, it will be a much smoother transition as you go back to working from the office.