During lockdown, the pets of non-essential workers were pretty dang happy that their owners were home all day, every day. But as the world begins to slowly open up (and you continue washing those hands, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask!), going back to work could majorly be disrupting that solid quarantine routine with T-Bone. And just as dogs greatly benefit from routines, separation anxiety can wreak havoc when you break the pattern. Because we have to adapt to change—hell, we’ve learned how to date on Zoom—we spoke to a few experts on how to prevent the canine freak out when we go back to work.
First, what is separation anxiety exactly?
According to Dr. Danielle, global veterinarian with Wellness Natural Pet Food, separation anxiety in dogs is “ a behavioral reaction triggered when dogs become upset because of separation from their guardians, the people they are attached to the most.” Long story short, it’s basically really unhealthy, codependence that, if left to manifest, according to ISCP-qualified dog behaviorist, Emma Bowdrey founder of Four Long Legs, can cause severe distress to a dog and create an unmanageable problem for owners. Think: self-injury, destruction, excessive drooling, accidents and more.
Why anyone who’s been quarantining with their pet should be concerned
You may think your dog has no problem with you coming and going, but dogs are incredibly sensitive and, just like us, can change based on circumstances. “The challenge is that now, there’s a chance that our dog may have become more attached to us than normal, potentially causing separation anxiety in the coming weeks as we start to go back to work or our daily lives,” explains Dr. Danielle. So, when all that extra wonderful time is removed suddenly, dogs don’t just immediately understand it’s because your city has entered Phase II. “Dogs have the cognitive and emotional levels comparable to a young child and can take such changes badly, becoming frustrated, disruptive or depressed,” warns Bowdrey.
So, how do you prepare to go get to work with a happy, healthy dog?
Just like you trained T-Bone to roll over, you have to train your dog to get used to your absence before you officially go back. Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM and veterinary consultant for Dog Lab says we can prevent this if we start prepping now, “Help your dog get used to you being gone.” Here are some expert tips on doing just that:
1. When you are working at home, put your dog in a different room
Lock yourself in a room or put T-Bone in another room for a bit so they are away from you and/or other people and can get used to the concept of being alone.
2. Try not to indulge your dog with too much extra attention.
Yes, this seems absolutely impossible, but, per Bowdrey, if you make being home 24/7 the best thing in the world, your dog will notice it even more when things change.
3. Leave your house!
If you can, Dr. Ochoa says to “go for a short trip somewhere every day, even if this is just a ride in the car around town.” Start with ten minutes and increase from there. This will help your dog realize that you do come back home after leaving.
4. Play it cool when you leave and return home
“By limiting the attention your dog gets shortly before leaving or after you arrive home, it lessens the shock of leaving and eases the moment of relief when you do come home,” explains Dr. Danielle. You want your dog to learn that hello’s and goodbye’s aren’t the end-all be-all
5. Leave out fun toys
Tiring T-Bone out physically and mentally is key to his happiness. So load up on some interactive toys that challenge his puzzle-solving skills and leave out the ones he loves the most only when you leave. This will help him associate a fun activity with your absence, which can reduce anxiety.
6. Consider crate training your dog.
“Crates when used properly can help your dog remain calm and importantly also out of trouble. To start getting them used to it start with just short periods while you are present. For example, when you are watching television, put your dog in his crate and put the crate next to the sofa,” says Dr. Danielle. From there, you can gradually increase the time crated and reward quiet behavior with calm praise or, of course, treats.
7. Steadily go back to the way things were
Just as we have been slowly getting back into the flow of our public life, you should re-introduce your pup, too. Per Dr. Danielle, if you have been taking T-Bone on longer, more frequent walks, start to phase down the lengths of your walk , introducing shorter and shorter strolls until you are back to your normal, pre-COVID routine.
And, of course, if you are trying these things and your dog seems anxious or becomes destructive, seek veterinary advice.