While we struggle with COVID-19 and the often intense hardship and anxiety it brings, some dogs feel like they’ve hit the jackpot. Due to physical distancing, their owners are home all day! That means more attention and tons of petting, a few more treats, maybe the added bonus of more walks when owners step out for a bit of fresh air. But your constant availability to your pet might be setting the stage for future struggles. It’s unclear when we will be able to go back to work or school. But when that day gladly comes, we will spend much less time at home, and lots of dogs are going to plunge into some degree of separation anxiety. So it’s best to start preparing now.
You’ve heard of separation anxiety. But what exactly is it? Dogs are highly social beings. When some are left at home alone, they fall into patterns of highly anxious or troublesome behavior, such as constant barking or urinating in the house. The most costly result of social anxiety can be the all-out destruction of furniture, clothes, or other household items in a flurrying of chewing and ripping. If you are lucky and such a rampage hasn’t hit your home, check out destructive dog social media videos that inspire a mix of horror and amazement. By the video’s end, you will double over in laughter. The first time we left our dog at home alone, she bounded from dining room table to dresser drawers to kitchen table, trying in a panic to look out any window while leaving claw marks dug deep into the wood grain. It looked like we had pet sat a wolverine!
Why do dogs lose it when they’re home alone? We tend to think it might be because of the great love they have for us, their owners, and they can’t bear time away from us. Well, that can be true. But frequently dogs stress out because they want to go outside or become obsessed with outside noises, grow scared that there is something in the house, or are just bored.
Over these past weeks at home, all of this together time has likely amped up your dog’s dependency on you. This dependency is going to be more extreme if your COVID-19 project is a puppy you just adopted! What are some ways to prep your pup for some alone time? The American Kennel Club advises:
- Social distancing. We have spent our share of keeping our physical distance from others; now it turns out our dogs need the same medicine. They can spend more time in a crate, alone in the house or by themselves in the back yard. If they are successful, give them a treat and praise.
- Increase time alone. Gradually build up their alone time, a little bit longer each day.
- Imitate your old routine. For the days before you return to your job, get up at the normal workday time, go through your morning routine – even leave the house for a while. This will make those first days alone more normal to your dog.
- Exercise! Each morning, set aside time for a walk, a run or at least 15 minutes of fetch, tug of war, or other types of vigorous play.
- Toys. Your dog chewing on toys is better than them shredding your shoes! Also, puzzle toys might keep your pet occupied for a good stretch of time. The more distracted your puppy is, the less likely they are going to go ballistic from a neighbor’s barking dog, the tedium of a long solitary afternoon or that evil squirrel that always hangs outside the living room window.
- Stay mellow. This may be the hardest one of all, considering we are in the middle of a pandemic. But dogs sense our feelings. If you can be relaxed during this time of transition, the more likely your pup will accept that this change is okay.
- Start now. Remember – this is the time for your dog to start building up its home-alone endurance.
Want to read more about separation anxiety in dogs? Check out the American Kennel Club’s advice at https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/the-comings-and-goings-of-separation-anxiety/