With many of us alternating between working from home and in the office due to the pandemic, it’s important to remember that these changes to routines can be stressful or disruptive for our animal family.
Many dogs especially can become anxious when separated from family - particularly if it’s the first time since they’ve started living with their human family, that they’ve had to spend all day without them!
Here are our top tips on how to recognise and manage your dog’s anxiety when you’re not at home - and as always, if you have any questions, we recommend getting in touch with your vet for advice.
Recognising an anxious dog
Anxiety is characterised by signs of distress when affected animals are separated from an owner or family group (or sometimes another animal), to whom they’re attached.
Behavioural responses can include unexpected toileting in the house, destructiveness, excessive barking, digging or pacing and attempting to escape, as well as other distress signs.
The goal of management and treatment of anxiety is to teach the dog how to be calm and relaxed when you’re not there.
There are a number of ways you can do this, including changing your leaving and returning routine, teaching your dog how to be content and calm when left alone, as well as other environmental changes and management.
Pet owners should discuss any concerns directly with their local vet, who may help directly or provide a referral to a behavioural specialist who uses humane, reward-based training.
Leaving and returning
One of the best ways to help your dog be less anxious when you leave the house is to try and make leaving not so much of a big deal! These strategies involve ignoring attention-seeking behaviour and rewarding the dog for being calm and relaxed.
You can try ignoring your dog 15-30 minutes prior to leaving, and when you return, greet the dog softly, calmly, and quietly, and only attend to them when they’re calm and quiet.
Does picking up your keys, as you’re about to head out the door, make your dog anxious? Try picking up your keys (or other things you might do prior to leaving the house, such as putting on your shoes), but rather than leaving the house, ignore the dog and go about your routine. Your dog will learn that picking up the keys does not always equal you leaving the house - and hopefully no longer leads to an anxious response.
You can also use what is called counterconditioning, or teaching your pet to have a pleasant reaction to something they previously feared or disliked. For example, each time you leave the house, you could offer your dog a Kong type of toy, stuffed with delicious and healthy food, that will take them 20 or 30 minutes to consume.
One of the best ways you can help an anxious dog is to give them things to do! Giving your dog lots of exercise before you go, to tire them out and help them relax, as well as taking different routes to give your dog new sights and smells, are good techniques.
It’s also important to provide food (perhaps hidden, or in a Kong-like toy that will take them a while to eat), safe chew items to preoccupy them, and before you leave, play fun, interactive games with them like tug-of-war.
Of course, providing human or dog company for your dog is an effective way to manage anxiety as well. You might like to see if any friends or family can keep them company, if there is a reputable doggy day care in your area, or if you or someone you trust could walk them in the middle of the day.
For more information and tips on managing anxiety in dogs, visit our Knowledgebase.
This article was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers