Dog: Life is great right now! My hooman is doing this thing called “working from home,” where he sits around in his pajamas all day, while I hang out next to his chair. He absentmindedly pets me while he talks on the phone, or stares at the computer, and I get so many long walks and snuggle sessions. Everywhere he goes, I go. I hope he stays home forever.
Cat: Day 549351048 of my servants “working from home.” Conditions here are becoming unbearable. Sunbathing time has been interrupted twice this week. The female servant tried to snuggle me while I was grooming yesterday, so I had to start my beauty regime over again. I long for the blissful days where they would fill my bowl with crunchies, and clean my litter box, and then I wouldn’t see or hear them for hours. I don’t know how much longer I can withstand this torture.
While cats may be celebrating the long-anticipated day when their owners stop working from home, and the kids go back to school, dogs who loved the constant company of their owners working from home during COVID-19, and are suddenly alone again all day, may have a difficult time. If you adopted a dog or puppy during the pandemic, their life has almost always involved someone being at home with them, so they may be in for a rude awakening when they are suddenly home alone day after day. The barking, howling, chewing, urinating, defecating, digging, and escape attempts that dogs with separation anxiety exhibit can distress you, destroy your house, or injure your dog. Fortunately, you can take steps to minimize the impacts of separation anxiety on your dog.
#1: Practice social distancing from your dog
Although you are home all day, and your dog can stick to you like glue, they should learn to be comfortable away from you for a period of time. Give them a chance to practice being alone by going on a walk or drive, leaving them at home. Close the door to the home-office for a short time so they can’t join you, give them some alone time in their crate, or use a baby gate to confine them in a room by themselves. To make the separation a pleasant experience, pair it with a toy or puzzle feeder that your pet only gets when they are away from you. Your dog may enjoy a frozen Kong stuffed with xylitol-free peanut butter and dog food, or relish the thrill of getting every last piece of food out of a puzzle feeder. Ideally, find something that holds your dog’s attention for 10 to 20 minutes, so they are distracted from your absence, and relaxed by the sustained chewing and licking. You can also use the toy or puzzle feeder when you actually leave for work, because your dog will already look forward to it when you are separated.
#2: Maintain a normal routine for you and your dog
When you are working from home, the last thing you probably want is to continue with the normal morning routine of showering, getting dressed in real clothes, brushing your teeth, and whatever else you typically did before leaving for work. However, a predictable routine can be comforting for dogs, because then that part of their day will be the same when you start leaving for work again.
#3: Exercise your dog’s mind and body
A mentally and physically tired dog is better equipped to deal with separation from their owners. Walk briskly for 20 to 30 minutes, play a game of fetch or tug-o-war, or work on tricks before settling into the home-office or, eventually, leaving for work, to ensure your dog is worn out, and more likely to sleep than stress. Instead of walking the same path every day, drive to a new neighborhood where your dog can explore new sights, sounds, and smells. Set up a food scavenger hunt by hiding your dog’s food throughout the house, letting them search while you are gone, or start feeding all meals in a puzzle toy.
#4: Seek help for your dog’s separation anxiety
Use a camera or baby monitor to evaluate your dog’s response to the trial separations, and if they become distressed, plan an intervention before you stop working from home. You may be able to manage mild separation anxiety on your own using pheromone sprays like Adaptil, a compression garment such as a Thundershirt, or calming supplements approved by our veterinarians. However, the longer your dog remains anxious, the harder their separation anxiety will be to manage. If your dog is not handling separation well after trying these tips, promptly consult our Acorn Animal Hospital team or a veterinary behaviorist, so they can design a management plan specific to your pet’s situation. You could also consider hiring a dog sitter, or having your dog attend doggie daycare, to minimize alone time until you get a handle on their separation anxiety.
We probably can’t convince your cat that you are not torturing them by being home all day, but we can help keep your dog from being tortured by your absence. For more tips on managing separation anxiety, contact our Acorn Animal Hospital team.