Researchers claim it takes about 21 days to form a new habit. Many of us have been quarantining at home for several weeks now, well over 21 days. We’ve been forming new habits, and those of us with pets at home know they’re forming new habits too. They have become accustomed to slower mornings, extra walks, and more one-on-one time with their favorite people on earth.
As our communities begin returning to work full-time, our pets will feel confused and maybe even anxious. We want you to know that it’s normal if your pets are feeling stressed and exhibiting disruptive behaviors related to changing work schedules. We also want to encourage you to think ahead about acclimating your pets, especially dogs, to being alone longer during the day.
Some common changes in dog behavior that can be brought on by separation anxiety and stress are:
- Urinating and defecating (when otherwise housebroken)
- Barking and howling
- Chewing, digging, and other destructive behaviors
- Escaping (from crates or confined spaces)
- Pacing, drooling, panting
It’s important to consult trusted veterinarians and reputable behaviorists to determine the cause of these behaviors. More serious cases of separation anxiety are just as much a medical concern as a behavioral concern. Mild or severe, these changes in behavior make it much harder to leave our pets for longer amounts of time. Our pets can accidentally hurt themselves or frustrate neighbors, and their anxiety quickly becomes our own.
If these behaviors are related to separation anxiety, here are some things to try as you acclimate your dog to being home alone when you return to work:
- Work on desensitizing your dog to pre-departure cues. Think about the routine you follow before you leave the house. What parts of the routine elicit responses from your dog? Could it be when you put on your shoes or when you pick up your keys? Start giving these pre-departure cues randomly. Put on your shoes and walk around the house. Pick up your keys and sit down at the kitchen table. By shaking things up, we are able to desensitize our pets to the overwhelming feelings they experience when they think we’re going to leave them.
- Practice leaving the house for short trips and getting your dog in the routine of you being gone. Leave to check the mail, to pick-up a meal, or to go to the grocery store. Start with the shortest trips possible and build back up to longer amounts of time. This will make the adjustment to being alone during the day easier than just leaving them for a full 8 hours the first time you head back to work.
- Provide your dog with a comfort object that will keep them busy when you leave and reinforce that being alone is okay. At LHS, we help dogs practice being alone by rewarding them with a KONG toy. You can fill the toy with food and then freeze them so that it takes longer for the dog to work out their treat. Peanut butter or plain yogurt are popular choices, but we always encourage you to utilize foods that are safe for your dog. Only offer your dog this comfort object when they’re by themselves because you want them to understand that alone time equals something they love.
These are not the only solutions to try in regards to separation anxiety, but it’s a start. We always recommend reaching out to reputable and trusted professionals for support with your pets when you feel like you’re not sure what the next steps are. You are their greatest advocate! We hope as our community is able to healthily return to work that our community’s pets are able to stay mentally healthy and happy at home.