It’s been a year of change for all of us, and our pets are no exception! With all the time most of us have spent at home this past year, our pets have had to adjust to shifts in their routines as well. Dogs have been overjoyed by the continual presence of their humans, while cats have, more likely than not, been peeved to have their 18 hour naps interrupted by our constant company.
Now, as we slowly re-enter our ‘normal’ lives, our pets will be faced with the challenge of once again adapting to a change in their routines. Luckily, one of the hundreds of good things about dogs is their resilience. Over the next few months, as millions of us head back to the office, alter our schedules, and remember how to socialize again, the majority of our dogs will adjust quickly and easily. It won’t faze them one bit! Some of our pups however, may struggle with the diminished time with their best friend.
What Are The Signs of Separation Anxiety?
Panting, whining, pacing, jumping, howling, barking, drooling! The signs of a dog’s separation anxiety are enough to give any dog owner anxiety herself. Pillows, couches, rugs, and even walls are no match for the teeth of a fearful pup. Extremely anxious dogs may even have accidents, urinating or defecating in the house even if they’re already house trained.
Dogs are social animals and form strong bonds with each other, other pets in the household, and of course their human families! We can’t really predict which puppies and dogs will struggle to adjust to being on their own, but there are steps we can take to minimize the impact of this scary new situation.
What Can You Do?
If you’ve welcomed a new puppy into your home in the past year, chances are he’s had the luxury of multiple potty breaks, long walks, and frequent belly rubs during the day. If, one day, your 10 month old puppy suddenly finds himself alone for the first time in his whole life, things may not go as smoothly as you’d like. Slow acclimatization to any new events in your pup’s life can make the transition easier for everyone involved. The best time to start is now!
Make Gradual Changes
If your puppy is going on four long, leisurely walks a day and you know you’re soon going to only have time for two somewhat shorter walks, make sure the transition isn’t a sudden one. Gradually shave off 5 minutes at a time rather than cutting down on his much-loved walks all of a sudden. Similarly, if your puppy hasn’t known a room without you in it, slowly and gradually increase the time you’re away from the home. Work your way up to longer separations. Start by simply grabbing your jacket and keys while not actually leaving the home and gradually progress to the point where you take short drives around the block. And remember to make your departure and return ordinary events. Rather than lavishing your pup with attention during these times, wait until he has calmed down before you greet him. Reward Alone Time: Always leave your dog with something delicious and ideally time-consuming before you leave the house. Food puzzles, snuffle mats, and rubber chew toys stuffed with frozen treats can distract dogs during that crucial departure period; save the yummiest treats and the most interesting toys for these times. The best food puzzles are durable and mentally challenging; you want your pup to be distracted and challenged by something besides your absence! Some food puzzles can function as slow-feeders, gradually giving your dog his entire meal as he works out with his snout and paws how to extract that next bite.
Ensure His Mental, Emotional, and Physical Health
Before we settle on a diagnosis of separation anxiety, it’s important that we rule out other causes for your dog’s behavior. Is your puppy teething? Is he generally potty-trained but is now having accidents in the house? Differentiating between normal behavior, illness, and separation anxiety may not always be straightforward. Ensuring your puppy’s mental and emotional health through training and socialization is a crucial step in helping him thrive on his own. Well-trained and well-socialized dogs are generally easier to communicate with and have healthy outlets for their boredom and stress. Consider puppy training classes and work with your dog at home to “come,” “sit,” and “stay.” Ruling out medical causes for your dog’s unwanted behavior is also important before a diagnosis of separation anxiety; make sure to have your dog examined by a veterinarian regularly and any time he exhibits behavior that’s abnormal for him.
For some puppies and dogs, this means a crate with a comfy bed and their favorite toys. Yet others can hurt their paws, noses, and teeth trying to escape a crate. Every dog is different and what works for one may be stressful to another; the key is to make sure your puppy can’t harm himself while you’re away.
Consider Natural Supplements
Some dogs respond well to natural supplements designed to calm and soothe. Products containing dog-appeasing pheromones are formulated to mimic these naturally occurring soothing substances. These products come as diffusers that can be plugged into outlets or collars that are worn by your pup. Other calming supplements formulated specifically for dogs may contain naturally derived products such as L-theanine, CBD, or alpha casozepine.
Set Up Video Surveillance
Watching how your puppy acts when you’re away can help you better assess his progress. Focusing a camera on the crate if your pet is contained or on the door if he’s free to wander will give you an idea of how he’s feeling throughout the day, how long it takes him to settle down, and how effective different treatment strategies are.
It will take time and patience to help your puppy learn that he’ll be alright on his own. Be gentle on him and yourself as you both acclimate to a new situation. Get help when you can. Perhaps consider having a dog walker stop by in the middle of the day to get him that much needed exercise and social interaction or consider reaching out to a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or Veterinary Behaviorist for more hands-on help with your pet. Check out the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists website to find a local Veterinary Behaviorist and talk to your BetterVet veterinarian today about how you can help your pup thrive when he’s on his own.