This time at home has been a special opportunity to spend lots of time together with your dog. But when you return to work and your former social activities, your dog will be left alone for a large part of each day. Here’s what to do now to help your dog when you return to work. It’s a good idea to start working a little each day to get your dog get used to being left alone again.
Dogs are naturally social animals. They prefer not to be alone. In the best-case scenario, your dog may just become bored being alone all day without you for the company. Separation anxiety, on the other hand, can become a serious problem. Even dogs who have never had separation anxiety issues before may experience them now when owners are no longer available for constant companionship.
Bored dogs may act out their frustrations by exhibiting behaviors like destructive chewing or digging (unless you have an immature puppy who just needs more training). Boredom-related behaviors usually occur an hour or more after you leave the house. If you come home after only 30 minutes and find there is no problem, he is likely just be bored.
- Consider hiring a dog walker to provide socialization and exercise during your work day.
- Provide your dog with fun, safe, interactive toys to help occupy him while you are away.
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise before you leave for the day. Tired pets are happier pets!
- If your dog is a puppy or youngster, he may just have to outgrow his boredom-related behaviors. You can prevent most issues by crating him or confining him to a certain area when you are away.
- Start leaving your dog alone. Begin by leaving for just a few minutes and gradually increase the time to several hours
- Your dog may react to noises outside your home and bark in response. Try playing quiet classical music or leaving the TV on to mask these noises and calm your pet.
- In some cases, providing an appropriate companion animal might alleviate loneliness.
If your dog exhibits destructive behavior – has accidents, leaves puddles of saliva or injures himself while you are away – you may be dealing with true separation anxiety. How do you know? Leave your pet alone for 30 minutes and if you find a problem, your dog probably is suffering from separation anxiety.
DOGS WITH SEPARATION ANXIETY
- Don’t punish your dog. Punishment doesn’t correct the behavior, but rather will increase the anxiety and worsen the situation.
- Create a plan to desensitize your dog. Change your routine. To get your dog accustomed to you leaving, pick up your keys and walk toward the door, but don’t leave the house. Put on your shoes and jacket, but don’t leave. Walk out the door, but come right back. You may have to do this several times a day for several days before your dog no longer exhibits anxious behavior.
- Don’t make a big deal out of leaving. Leave the house for a few minutes at a time. If your dog doesn’t become anxious, you can gradually increase these planned absences so that your dog becomes used to your prolonged absence.
- Don’t make a big deal of returning home. Greet your dog briefly when you return, then resume your normal activities.
- Make sure your dog is contained in a safe area, where there is no way to escape. If the dog cannot be crated, confine them to space.
- Your goal is to resolve your dog’s anxiety by teaching him to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone. Try to set things up his environment so that when he experiences the situation that provokes his anxiety – being alone – he is surrounded by things he enjoys. Having special toys and treats that are only available when the dog is alone can help with this.
If you try these behavior modifications do not help, a trip to your vet is the next step. Medications may help. Always consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist before giving your dog any type of medication for a behavior problem.
The use of medications can be helpful, especially for severe cases of separation anxiety. Some dogs are so distraught by any separation from their pet parents that treatment can’t be implemented without the help of medication. Anti-anxiety medication can help a dog tolerate some level of isolation without experiencing anxiety. It can also make treatment progress more quickly.
On rare occasions, a dog with mild separation anxiety might benefit from drug therapy alone, without accompanying behavior modification. The dog becomes accustomed to being left alone with the help of the drug and retains this new conditioning after he’s gradually weaned off the medication. However, most dogs need a combination of medication and behavior modification.
For help designing and carrying out a desensitization and counterconditioning plan, consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. If you can’t find a behaviorist, you can seek help from a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, but be sure that the trainer is qualified to help you. Determine whether she or he has education and experience in treating fear with desensitization and counterconditioning since this kind of expertise isn’t required for CPDT certification.