How Can We Help Our Dogs with Separation Anxiety?

It’s no secret that, as we venture back out into the world to rejoin the office status quo, many of us are concerned about how our dogs may be thinking and feeling. Our pets have become, unsurprisingly, as reliant and expectant upon us during almost a year and a half of isolation. Old dogs may have actually learned new, and detrimental habits. These are as understandable – they have known nothing but constant care and attention.

Dog between two cushions

The changes will cause shocks for both human and canine parties, with symptoms of anxiety from your doggy counterpart. These could include behaviours such as urinating, barking, chewing, and pacing. We have therefore compiled some tips and tricks that could help ease the transition of separation. These will allow both you and your dogs to adapt to new habits and schedules, as we simmer out of a national sense of isolation. 

Exercise

Going out for lengthy walks and engaging in play will be just as important now as it was during the height of the pandemic. Our dogs need a healthy amount of exercise in any case, but they feel more at ease if they are worn out after an energetic, fulfilling play session. See if you can establish a habit of walks, either before you leave for a work, or later upon your return. In the latter instance, your dog may become reassured by this routine and knowing to expect time with you when you return later. The waiting game therein will be less a cause for anxiety rather than excitement towards spending some more time together.

Collie with football

Short separation durations

Before the lengthy 9-5 return to work, it may be best to accommodate the change by first leaving your dog alone in short bursts. You could do a few throughout the day (such as starting with a trip to the shops or a short visit to see friends), and then gradually add to this until your dog is used to you coming and going from the house as you need. ASPCA also recommends that, when leaving and returning from your departures, that you try to be as calm and quiet as possible. This is in order to minimise the difference in atmosphere, and attention between whether or not your dog is alone in the household. 

Normalize leaving habits

Dogs can become easily anxious about you leaving the house, once they start to recognise your behaviours upon departure. Your ritual may include cues such as packing a bag, putting on your shoes, shaking your keys, and calling goodbye. Your dog may then begin to bark and become distressed before you’re anywhere near the door, this being perhaps they are afraid that you may leave and not return.

In order to change this misconception, it may help to integrate some of these ritualistic moves into your behaviour whilst you’re at home. From time to time you could pick up your keys but not actually unlock the door, or put on your shoes and shout goodbye just to sit in the garden. The association of these actions with leaving will then become less anxiety-inducing for your dog. The practice of this for a few weeks should aptly prep both of you with separation for a longer haul. 

Food stuffed toys

Another tip to help preoccupy your dog may be to give them a toy filled with pastes, food or treats of their choice. A WufSalad could come in handy for this, as your dog could be so engrossed in the food hidden within that they’ll be less focused on you when it is time to leave. Foods could include bowls of peanut butter or cream cheese – the objective being to find more time consuming things to eat. Frozen treats such as frozen yogurt or fruit could be optimal options, all of which will allow your dog to focus less on the separation than lapping up foodie sensations. 

Dog peering into a WufSalad

Dirty laundry

As odd and unappealing as this may sound, leaving behind clothes which may have your scent could help dogs feel comforted – as if you’re still around. This method may be particularly effective with young dogs and puppies. It is scientifically proven to have a significant impact on easing your dog’s anxiety levels. You can use anything (within hygienic reason!) such as something you’ve worn once or twice recently, along with towels and bed sheets. All of these can help enhance comfort and attachment to their favourite human and/or parent.

Friend and family check-ins

It can also be helpful to ask for friends, neighbours and family members to keep your dog company from time to time whilst you are away for long periods. Your trusted nominee could pop in to change your dog’s food and water, take them out for a quick walk, or have a brief play sesh and cuddle. If possible, you could employ the aid of a dog sitter, and tailor the hours to suit the needs and limits of both dog and owner.

Medications and natural supplements

If your dog’s separation anxiety is persistent, there’s no harm in seeking professional or veterinary help. This will aid understanding how best to adapt to the new ways of living. At your chosen vet’s advice and discretion, the use of medication could not only contain ingredients to help naturally and safely calm your dog’s nerves. Methods and strategies like the ones listed above are also more likely to work. The key is finding the right balance between medication and behaviour modification. Your vet will be able to help you with the best ways of weaning so that your dog can feel more at ease and like themselves again.

Dog curled up on duvet with snake toy

Have faith

Please do not punish your dog! Any scolding or isolation will not help the effectiveness of any approach. On the contrary, such treatment will make your dog more likely to become anxious and fearful. Instead of focusing on punishment for negative outcomes, it would be more productive to make a large fuss whenever your dog gets something right! Also, remember that instilling these methods will be a process – there will be no straightforward or overwhelming result straight away. It may take a few weeks for your dog to learn how to deal with overcoming stress responses, though this can be dealt with before you know it so long as you remember love, patience, and that both you and the dog are dealing with separation anxiety together!