When you return to work after the pandemic, will your dog suffer separation anxiety?

separation anxiety dogs
Photo via Paul David/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

Pets were the unexpected victors of quarantine after owners were forced to spend months working from home during the pandemic. All that quality time may come at a cost, however, as pet care workers warn of an impending wave of separation anxiety among dogs. 

Soon after lockdowns began last March, pet adoptions saw a surge as lonely people sought company in new four-legged friends. These new pets, along with any old animal companions, soon became accustomed to the constant company as people adjusted to hunkering down at home. Rising vaccinations are finally allowing people to return to their offices for work, which will leave their clingy pets alone for hours at a time. 

The adjustment back to a normal work schedule likely won’t be easy on your pets, but there are some steps you can take to make it easier. 

Help your dogs adjust to the new schedule to avoid separation anxiety

Dogs—our perpetually loving, loyal companions—are going to feel the separation anxiety worse than any other animals. Your cat may even be happy to see you go. Dog owners will likely see a shift in the coming weeks, however, as their dogs begin acting out in response to the sudden change. 

If you can, experts advise beginning independence training before you head back to the office. Teach your dog that alone time can be a good thing by establishing a comfortable, safe space for them to enjoy. Crate training is a great option, but providing an individual space for them somewhere else can be just as effective. Just make sure they have plenty of stimulation to create a good association with the space.

You can also leech some of the anxiety from behaviors typically associated with you leaving—like grabbing your keys, putting on shoes, or applying makeup—by normalizing these actions on days off. Just rattle those keys once or twice without leaving or toss some shoes on for a short walk to show your dog there’s nothing to stress about.

If you can, providing an occasional companion for your furry friend will also go a long way. That companion can be human or canine, any kind of stimulation will help your dog avoid separation anxiety.

You’ll also want to ensure that your dog is getting plenty of exercise. If your dog has a lot of restless energy when you head off for an eight-hour shift, you’ll likely come home to a stressed-out pet. Regular walks and playtime should help wear them out and reduce the anxiety they feel at your absence. 

Poynter also recommends establishing a routine. Your dog will find comfort in a schedule, and if you introduce them to the idea early by leaving on gradually longer trips, rather than diving straight into an eight-hour workday—it will help with the adjustment. 

It’s also important to remember that your dog isn’t misbehaving out of spite. If you notice your dog acting out, it is most likely a symptom of separation anxiety. Try not to react out of anger if you get home to a well-chewed pair of shoes or an unwelcome gift on the carpet, and instead, try to employ some of these coping mechanisms to ease your pet into the transition. 

Sources: Poynter, Guardian, VCA Hospitals

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