All over social media people post photos of family members cuddling with their dogs and trade stories on how much they love being at home with their puppies. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to this lovefest.
Behavior and training experts say that once the stay-at-home COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and life goes back to normal (or a new normal), many dogs will suffer from separation anxiety.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, if your dog seems to worry when you’re heading out, destroys stuff when you leave the house, follows you from room to room when you’re home, goes berserk when you come back and seems to be eyeing you suspiciously even before you leave—you may be dealing with a case of separation anxiety.
Some of the most common behaviors of a dog experiencing separation anxiety include:
An abrupt change in schedule in terms of when or how long a dog is left home alone can trigger separation anxiety. For example, dogs who are now used to having their guardians working from home might become anxious when left home alone again.
“Dogs behave because of the rules or environment we create,” said Ken Nolte, a professional dog trainer, and owner of the Etlon Training Academy, serving families in the Middletown, Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, NY area. “They will react based on that change. It’s the same anxiety we will feel when going back to work in this new environment that has been created for us.”
Just how difficult it will be for dogs to adjust to being home alone again depends on the dog’s personality Nolte said. Many families adopted or fostered rescued dogs while working from home, and for these dogs, the sudden change in routine might be challenging.
Nolte said that rescued dogs came from “… an unsettled constantly-changing environment” to a consistent routine in loving homes. These dogs are bound to feel uneasy when their new routine suddenly changes and they are left home alone.
For dogs with mild separation anxiety or dogs trying to readjust to being left home alone again behavior experts recommend counterconditioning. According to the ASPCA, this is a “…treatment process that changes an animal’s fearful, anxious, or aggressive reaction to a pleasant, relaxed one instead.”
Counterconditioning helps dogs suffering from separation anxiety by developing an association between being alone and good things.
Following are some things you can start doing now to help prepare your dog for being home alone:
Borns-Weil believes that being forced to stay at home has given families more empathy for what their dogs go through when locked alone in a house all day. She said that just like us, dogs need “…mental stimulation, social contact, and exercise during the day to be happy.”
Beth Stultz-Hairston, president of Pet Sitters International, said professional dog walkers and pet sitters offer the perfect solution. Professional dog walkers help break up a dog’s day and provide not only mental stimulation and exercise but also lots of love.
Finding the right professional pet sitter or dog walker takes time and lining up services now will help dogs make a smoother transition once stay-at-home orders are lifted Stultz-Hairston said.
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