We dog owners all know that face. The big eyes, downturned mouth, little whines, maybe some paw tippy-taps when you’re getting your shoes on and making your way towards the door. They know you’re leaving. And they don’t like that one bit.
Dogs are social creatures - that’s what makes them good pets. Being away from the “rest of the pack” naturally gives them a sense of unease, at least at first. But there’s a difference between not liking the fact that their humans aren’t around and being unable to cope with the fact that their humans aren’t around.
The pandemic has been a boon for dog attention - owners at home, all the time? Kids, too?? What fun! It’s been two and a half years and our routines have changed to incorporate working from home, online learning, food delivery, grocery delivery, and so much more. Our dogs have gotten used to those routines, too! But now the in-person school year is starting again and many offices are formulating return-to-office plans… which means that your furbabies will have to be left alone again.
So how do you help ease the transition and the anxiety that comes from a change in routine? Here are a few brief tips to help you keep your dog calm during these transitions.
Note: these strategies are intended for adult dogs. A puppy with separation anxiety requires different strategies and training.
Make sure your dog has a place where they can go to rest. Whether this is a dog bed in your bedroom, a kennel in the place where they eat, or a toy room with a mat, this is the space where your dog can go to still be comfortable while they’re alone.
Ensure that your dog has everything they might need in this space for enrichment, food, and water. Some other things you might put in this space to comfort your dog could be some kind of ambient noise (like dog music, a radio, or a TV), some of your dirty or old clothes, or a favorite toy.
Dog trainers tell pet owners all the time that a tired dog is a happy dog. When a dog doesn’t have a lot of pent-up energy, they’re much more relaxed in their surroundings and with you. Make sure your dog is getting enough playtime, exercise, and mental stimulation (from toys, puzzles, training, etc.) so that they don’t spend that energy destroying your favorite pillow out of boredom.
Like many other behaviors, independence in a dog may need to be trained. Some dogs have more independent personalities than others, but all dogs will need some guidance from you about what level of attention to expect from you and how often to expect it.
If you want your dog to be comfortable while you’re gone, then ensure that you don’t reward attention-seeking or anxious behaviors with attention. This can include following you from room to room, pawing, jumping, etc.
Instead, reward your dog for relaxing in their safe space (see above). You can even start instituting a “downtime” routine where your dog gets rewarded for staying in their safe space with a self-play toy, high-value treat, or napping. When you see your dog engaging in these behaviors without expecting your attention, you can reward them with some calm pets or a belly rub. For more information about training, the VCA Animal Hospital has a great article describing specific training methods.
Severe anxiety, including home destruction, intense barking or vocalizing, frequent accidents or vomiting, will need some more love and attention. Consult with your veterinarian and/or a dog trainer or behaviorist to help you find healthy ways to relieve your dog’s intense stress.
Hey, Nick and Mandy Burnham here. We breed our Golden Retrievers, but we aren’t your usual breeding family. Awareness of unethical puppy mills has increased in recent times, and breeders aren’t accepted. We don’t blame people for calling them out. We call them out as well.