Now that more of us are returning to work and other daily activities in person, we may find that our dogs have become a little too accustomed to having someone home all day. This transition period may be hard on your dog and cause them to start displaying signs of separation anxiety. These signs may include excessive barking, destructive chewing or scratching, or inappropriate eliminations in the house. Thankfully we have many tools at our disposal to help lessen the stress that your dog may be feeling and get them more comfortable and confident being left alone.
There are a number of easy things that you can do to make the process of leaving the house go more smoothly. When you are preparing to leave AND when you come home, make sure to remain calm and unemotional. It is tempting to make a big fuss over your dog when coming or going, but this can actually heighten their anxiety. It can also be helpful to use positive reinforcement training to get your dog used to your departure cues (picking up keys or your purse, putting on shoes or a jacket, etc). Performing these activities when you are not planning to leave and giving your dog high-value treats during the process can help to decrease their association of these cues with your departure.
High-value rewards that your dog only gets when you leave the house can also make for a much better experience during alone time. Puzzle and treat dispensing toys can help prolong the amount of time that they are preoccupied. Some of our favorites include peanut butter, spray cheese, and whipped cream frozen in Kongs or lick mats. If the additional calories are of concern, canned food can also be used and be included as part of their daily meals.
If behavioral therapy is not enough, over-the-counter supplements may be appropriate. Some of the things we commonly recommend include Quiet Moments melatonin supplements, Solliquin calming supplements, and Adaptil pheromone collars. Thundershirts can also be calming for some dogs.
The last option we turn to if all other avenues have been explored are pharmaceuticals. Some dogs will greatly benefit from added medication prescribed by your veterinarian. The caveat is that this will only be effective if used in conjunction with behavioral modification. If you feel your pet is suffering from severe separation anxiety, we strongly recommend getting a professional trainer involved and speaking with your veterinarian about what options will be most beneficial.