For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant additional time at home with our four-legged friends. As states begin reopening and we’re no longer as homebound, behavior problems can arise for our pets who’ve grown used to more quality time and attention.
The term “separation anxiety” is used broadly, but anxiety is just one way an animal might exhibit symptoms of separation-related stress. Boredom, frustration, reactivity, and indoor elimination (pooping and peeing) are some of the other ways our pets tell us they’re stressed by change.
The key to helping your dog manage stress as a result of sudden change is to make it not-so-sudden! By implementing these five strategies now, you can prevent separation-related behavior issues before they start.
Strategies to prevent separation-related behavior issues
The following advice should only be used with pets that have NOT exhibited separation-related problems. If your pet is already showing anxiety or engaging in destructive behavior, please scroll to the next section.
- Maintain a routine. Keep your pet’s meals, exercise, play, and alone time scheduled at similar times of the day. Similar to humans, having more structure in their daily routines can reduce stress and frustration.
- Create a sanctuary. Find a spot in your house where your pet won’t encounter people or other pets. It’s ideal for this space to be as quiet as possible, so consider turning on a fan or other white noise to drown out noises. Something comfy to lay on is also a must! This safe space allows your pet to practice being alone while also giving them time to get away from household stressors.
- Provide enrichment. Puzzle toys and food dispensers can teach your pets how to entertain themselves independently (though we recommend that you're always nearby to monitor use, as some toys and puzzle feeders can present choking hazards). Start with easy puzzles and increase the difficulty level as your pet succeeds. Try a few of these DIY enrichment ideas.
- Practice leaving. Leave your house at least once a day to go on a walk or a drive. Prior to leaving, simulate your normal routine, such as grabbing your keys, bag, shoes, etc. This will allow you to maintain some normalcy in your pets’ lives.
- Visit your vet for regular check-ups. Underlying health issues are often a cause of behavior problems, so don't skip your pet’s scheduled veterinary visits!
It's inevitable that you'll leave your pet home alone at some point. When you do, consider some of these additional ideas for improving their alone time and helping them feel more at ease when you're away. Try:
- Hiring a dog walker, even a day or two per week
- Enrolling in pet day care
- Leaving on the TV or radio
- Crate training your pooch to provide a safe and comfortable space for them
What to do if your pet is already exhibiting anxiety
If you start noticing your pet acting differently ― following family members around your home, blocking family members from leaving, changes in appetite, aggression, or any other unusual or destructive behaviors ― it's likely that your pet will need some help overcoming their anxiety. Do not scold your pet. Punishment will only make the problem worse (and it can damage the bond you have with your pet)! Instead, try using counter conditioning and desensitization techniques with the help of a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer or Veterinary Behaviorist.
Call our FREE Behavior Helpline
For more help managing separation-related behaviors, contact our free Behavior Helpline at 763-489-2202. We can provide additional resources and connect you to a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer or Veterinary Behaviorist.