As we begin to get a handle on our new normal many of us are preparing to return to our workplaces and our regular workdays; so what does this mean for our pets? Whether they are new to your family or not, your pets have reveled in your glorious presence 24-7! Some retraining of habits may now be in order to reduce the chance of your pet experiencing separation anxiety. Start changing their schedule now to help them later!
First, here’s a quick overview of what separation anxiety looks like from mild to severe: “sad” posture and following you around; barking after you leave for a period of time; mildly destructive behaviors like digging, ripping papers, counter-surfing; over-enthusiastic greetings on your return (barking, leaping, spinning); pacing and drooling; repetitive sharp methodical bark that continues for some time (your neighbors will tell you!); peeing or pooping in the house after they are housebroken; development of “worry spots” or areas on their body that your animal is constantly licking; ripping up pillows or furniture; scratching of window and doorframes, doors, walls beside doors, pulling down blinds or curtains; digging out under fences or gates and escaping; and the most serious: doing actual physical harm to themselves in an attempt to “escape” their feelings. Basically, the behavior displayed indicates the degree of anxiety your friend is experiencing with your absence.
Do not despair! There are many ways to help your animal cope and retrain them to tolerate your absence. Start working on these habits as soon as you hear you may be returning to work.
If your animal is already crate-trained, remind them of the basics using treats, short times inside while you are around the house and releasing them frequently then longer times while you go outside and return to release them. Stay calm when you release them, don’t make it a party just make it seem “normal”.
If you don’t wish to crate-train your friend other options can include mat training—essentially training them to stay in “their spot” using “go to” commands, treats, toys and chews. If your friend already has a cozy spot they seem to enjoy, take advantage of it and train them to go there on command. This is also really useful for human dinnertime and guests! You can also set up a baby-gate system (usually in your kitchen).
Work on “exits and entrances”: go in and out of your doors frequently and for longer periods. Do not make a big production of leaving, just gather your things and head to the door and, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, tell your friend “I’ll be back” and leave. When you return (either in training or for real) don’t make a huge party of reuniting with your friend, just smile, say “Hi” and give a quick pet as you move inside from the door. You want to reduce the anxiety-producing activities related to your coming and going.
With all of these suggestions leaving them with stuffed or frozen Kongs, bones (if your animals share!), good chews and toys will help keep them occupied on “their stuff”, not yours! Sufficient exercise is key too: a happy pet is a tired one!
From the list of behaviors above anything from “pacing and drooling” onwards in anxiety level might need some outside help to keep your pet safe and happy. There are over-the-counter CBD medications you can try or “calming” chews; lunchtime check-ins; a dog-walker or doggy-daycare; checking in with your vet to make sure there is no medical issue causing the anxiety or pee/poop issues; trying the training techniques outlined in the article below; or consulting an animal behaviorist to help. We really encourage you to not avoid the problem by leaving your friend in the yard (yes, they can have daytime access!), in a closed garage or in your car while you work—these can have unfortunate results for both you and your pet.
Most of our pets are going to experience some degree of separation anxiety as we return to work. In many cases it’s manageable by just making preparatory changes to your human schedule now and forming new household habits with our four-legged friends.