Thank you to all the essential employees who are working so hard on the front lines to keep us all safe, healthy and well fed. For the rest of us who are home, our pets can bring great comfort during these uncertain and scary times. Our pets are loving that we are home, giving them more attention and not leaving them alone all day. Unfortunately, this sets up a situation ripe for Separation Anxiety once we all go back to work, school and our normal daily lives. For those with pets who have already shown signs of Separation Anxiety, this situation may worsen what you have previously experienced. Even for pets who have not shown previous Separation Anxiety signs, the sudden change in situation could stimulate some anxiety related symptoms. So what can we do to help prepare our beloved pets to not be traumatized when we need to leave the house again?
1) Try to spend at least some time away from your pet every day -
Take your dog for a walk and then maybe go for a walk on your own. If you can't do that, try to at least spend time in a different room or another part of the house. Act like you are getting ready to leave, go out and spend some time in your car. If your dog is crated, make sure to still crate them for at least a portion of the normal time they would spend in the crate.
2) Use training departures to mimic your normal routine -
This is a great time to help those dogs with Separation Anxiety, and without, to actually be more prepared and less scared when you leave in the future. How to accomplish this is to go through your normal "getting ready to leave" routine. Monitor your dog closely to see when they start to show signs of stress or anxiety. Subtle signs of stress can be yawning, lip licking, ear back, eyes off to the side so that you can see the whites of the eyes, "pouting", amount others. Once you have determined when your dog becomes stressed, go through your routine to just prior to that point and then stop and stay home. Go through your routine again and try to get further along without it causing stress for your dog. Continue this slow process until you actually leave the house and come right back in, leave the house and get into your car then come back, leave the house and start the car and come in, then back down the driveway and come back, etc. If your dog gets stressed at any point, go back to just prior to that point and start the process again. You can use to scent or a sound to distinguish these departures from normal departures. I prefer a sound, especially calming music, as it can be played while you are gone and becomes a relaxation cue.
3) Always make sure to be as unemotional as possible when returning home -
After a long day at work, we can't wait to get home and see our beloved pets. Unfortunately, when we make a big deal about greeting our pets when we come home it can actually worsen the Separation Anxiety. Anything that heightens emotions can heighten anxiety. Make sure that you do not greet your pet when you come home, you can let them outside for a potty break, but otherwise try not to interact with them until they are relaxed and quiet. Once they are relaxed, quietly give them attention. As a general rule, you always want to reward relaxed and calm behavior, not high levels of emotion, even positive emotion.This doesn't mean you can't have fun with your dog, just make coming home a non-event to help decrease the anxiety while you are gone.
4) Make sure that your dog is physically comfortable and provide abundant enrichment and exercise - Giving your pets sufficient exercise to tire them out and abundant activities to keep them busy, can help them be ready to rest when you leave. Good options for enrichment are games and puzzle toys. You can use your dog's meal as training and game time. We are so used to feeding our dogs in a bowl that we don't think to use their kibble as "training treats" or for a game. Treat balls, that need to be rolled to dispense the kibble, are a great way to feed meals that keep our dogs active and mentally stimulated. There are many other food puzzles that are fun and of differing levels of difficulty. The "Find It" game can also be a lot of fun for both cats and dogs. You teach your pet to stay, or leave them in another room, then you hide their food around the house and they need to go find it. This is a lot of fun for both animals and people. Just remember where you hid the food if they don't find it!
If you have any questions about Behavior or your animal's health, please know that we are still here to serve you during these difficult times. Please feel free to call the clinic at 231-652-1681. Stay safe and enjoy this time with your beloved pets!
9022 Mason Drive
Newaygo, MI 49337
Monday-Friday: 7 am to 5 pm
Two Saturdays a month: 8 am to 1 pm