Life is dramatically different than it was just a few short months ago. Zoom meetings, face masks in public, and social distancing are the new normal and Americans are spending more time isolated at home than ever before. This is great news for our pets, who have been spoiled with attention since our quarantines began. However, as the country begins to open back up, experts warn canine separation anxiety might be an unforeseen side effect of the pandemic.
According to the ASPCA, separation anxiety can be triggered in dogs with a change in schedule, setting, or guardianship. The end of quarantine can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression as you suddenly leave your pet alone after they have learned to expect your company 24/7. If your dog is drooling, panting heavily, agitated, barking/whining, having accidents, frantically attempting to escape, or becoming destructive following your departure, these may be signs of separation anxiety.
Before moving to treat your dog’s separation anxiety, it is important to rule out other medical or behavioral problems first. For instance, underlying health ailments may induce discomfort or incontinence in your pet. Have a conversation with your veterinarian if you notice “leaks” around the house, which may be signs of a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, complications following a spay surgery, or another issue. Some prescribed medications may induce uneasiness in your pet as well. Behavioral issues like submissive urination, incomplete house training, juvenile destruction, or boredom could also be the explanation behind your pet’s distress. These common issues can have similar symptoms as separation anxiety, but different solutions. A professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist can help identify the issue if you suspect separation anxiety might not be the culprit.
If separation anxiety is the reason behind your dog’s discomfort, how can you help your pet navigate life post-quarantine? Counterconditioning, or changing a pet’s emotional response or feeling towards a stimulus, is a tried and true method for mild cases of anxiety. Introducing a reward can retrain their brains to have a positive reaction to what would have been a stressful situation. For example, leaving a toy stuffed with treats or an engaging puzzle every time you leave the house can help your pet associate fun with alone time. To make this technique most effective, make sure to take the treat away again once you arrive, so your dog only has access to the reward when they are alone.
Factoring in time at home to practice being away can also help prepare your pet for independence and relieve stress. Even just 15 minute breaks away in another room can teach them that being separated from their owner is a normal part of their schedule. And as always, sufficient mental and physical exercise for your dog can mitigate unwanted behavior. If your dog still has persistent, damaging separation anxiety, more complex counterconditioning and medication may be a helpful route. Talk to your veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist if the anxiety is out of control.
Pupsicles Dog Care is a great way to ensure your dog gets the enrichment they need to decrease stress and excess energy that could turn destructive.
Call us at 720-929-9760 to schedule your pet’s adventure today!