Curbing Separation Anxiety Before Returning to Work

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For the past few months, our dogs have absolutely loved having us home to love on them (read: wait on them) all day, every day.

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But with Chicago beginning to reopen, and more and more people heading back to work, their routine is about to change.  

For many dogs, this can trigger separation anxiety, which can take the form of barking, destructive behavior, going to the bathroom inside or escape attempts. Some dogs have mild cases, others more serious. (This article from the ASPCA is a great resource for anyone whose dog has more serious separation anxiety.)

If you’re worried about your having some separation anxiety when you go back to work, here are some things you can do to help:

While You’re Working from Home:

Gradual Separation

If you got a new puppy or dog during the shelter-in-place order (congrats!), they’ve likely not spent much time alone. Start introducing them to the concept now by gradually increasing your time apart.

We recommend putting them in their “safe space,” (e.g. their crate or your bedroom) with a treat puzzle, LickiMat with peanut butter, Kong frozen with peanut butter or a banana inside, or some other tasty treat to enjoy. These need to be very special treats they ONLY get when enjoying alone time.

Introduce Variety

While routines are important, super strict routines do more damage than good. When training puppies, make sure they experience variety in walk, play and alone time. If a dog grows up to expect something to happen at exactly the same time every day, they will be distraught when the routine inevitably varies.

Predeparture Cues

We often joke that our dogs know when we’re planning a vacation. But the truth is, they do! Over time, dogs learn our “predeparture cues,” like when we put on makeup (pre-quarantine, of course), pack a backpack, grab our keys, or get out a suitcase.[1]

For dogs with more serious separation anxiety, these cues can be triggering, as they associate these actions with their fear of being left alone.

According to the ASPCA, “one treatment approach to this ‘predeparture anxiety’ is to teach your dog that when you pick up your keys or put on your coat, it doesn’t always mean that you’re leaving. You can do this by exposing your dog to these cues in various orders several times a day—without leaving. For example, put on your boots and coat, and then just watch TV instead of leaving. Or pick up your keys, and then sit down at the kitchen table for a while.”

When You Go Back to Work:

Low Key Goodbyes

 As hard as it is, don’t make a big deal out of leaving. A big, dramatic goodbye only gives your dog more reason to worry, when instead we want them to feel that alone time is perfectly safe and normal.

Keep the Treats Flowing!

Keep a steady rotation of tasty Kongs in the freezer. (Don’t forget to leave one for your afternoon dog walker!) When you get home from work, remove the special “alone time treats” from the crate or bedroom.

Communicate with Your Dog Walker

Carine and I have been doing this for nearly 20 years, and we have lots of hands-on experience with anxious dogs. (Case in point: our own dog, Rita. Love that little weirdo.

curb separation anxiety

That said, we’re here to help! If you’re working on a specific conditioning or have a departure routine you’d like us to follow, just let us know. Our job is, quite literally, to keep your dog happy and healthy, so please don’t hesitate to reach out 😊

[1] https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety

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