During the coronavirus pandemic, your pet likely enjoyed the stay-at-home orders, since the entire family had to refrain from going to work or school. Plus, many families adopted pets during the pandemic, so those dogs typically have seldom, if ever, been left home alone. If your furry pal has loved the extra time and attention you lavished on them, or you recently adopted a “pandemic puppy,” learn how to set your pet up for success by warding off separation anxiety when you return to work. Use the following five tips to teach your canine companion independence, and how to comfortably cope with being home alone.
#1: Entertain and distract your pet with food puzzles
A food puzzle not only slows down pets who gulp down their food, but is also a fun distraction while your pet is left alone. Create a special food puzzle, such as a stuffed Kong, that your furry pal receives only when they are not by your side. If you typically feed your pet meals from a food puzzle, reserve this one for special use. Fill a rubber Kong with your four-legged friend’s favorites, such as canned food, yogurt, fresh veggies, small pieces of fruit—no grapes or raisins—and crunchy kibble. For longer-lasting enjoyment, freeze the Kong overnight, so it’s ready to go when you head out the door for work.
#2: Encourage your pet to “stay” while you are out of sight
Remember that frozen Kong? Break it out for training your pet to remain in a “stay” position while you leave the room. Instruct your pet to settle on a bed or mat, and then offer the Kong before leaving the room. If your pet tricks you, and follows you while holding onto the Kong, remove the Kong from their mouth, and try again.
If, despite your best efforts, your pet will not remain in a room without you, set smaller goals. Forget the Kong, and use high value treats instead. As your pet remains calm and settled in place, toss them treats, while you slowly step back. If your pet attempts to follow you, try again, until your pet stays in place with each step back.
#3: Venture outdoors without your best friend
Although your pet is your best friend, and never wants to leave your side, separation is good for you both. Stroll around the block, run a quick errand to the post office, or simply shut yourself in your room to read a book while your pet is otherwise occupied with a long-lasting treat or food puzzle. However, ensure your four-legged friend doesn’t feel that being made to behave independently while you are gone is punishment.
#4: Disconnect your pre-departure cues
A separation anxiety trigger can occur before you leave your home. Pets who become anxious when left alone can become stressed as soon as they realize their owners are preparing to leave. For example, your pet may become anxious when you put on your shoes, grab a jacket, or pick up your keys or purse, because they’ve learned that these cues signal your imminent departure. If your pet displays anxiety at the sight of your keys—not the typical “I’m excited to go for a car ride” anxiety, but true nervousness—work on dissociating your pre-departure cues with leaving. Try putting on your shoes, and then sitting down to watch TV, or picking up your purse, and placing it on your dresser. In time, these tasks won’t trigger your pet’s separation anxiety.
#5: Ask for veterinary assistance for your pet’s severe separation anxiety
You may notice drooling, vocalization, and restlessness if your pet is anxious when home alone, but if their behavior escalates to destroying your home, or being injured while trying to escape, veterinary assistance is needed. Anti-anxiety medications are commonly used during training and behavior modification, to reduce harmful actions by pets with severe separation anxiety. The best results are achieved with a multimodal treatment plan that uses medications, supplements, pheromone therapy, and behavior modification.
Are you heading back to work soon, and worried about your steadfast canine companion coping with being home alone? Call us to schedule a behavioral consultation, and let’s discuss the best plan for your pet’s needs.