How to help your pet avoid separation anxiety after COVID-19

Written by Dr. Colleen Fisher  | Published on: 4/2/2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has sent many of us home. We are working remotely or have been laid off, and some are self-isolating to help flatten the curve.

While cats may not enjoy the intrusion, our dogs LOVE having us home all day. Boxers are sleeping in after the alarm goes off, golden retrievers are playing fetch all afternoon, poodles are being dressed up like princesses, and shih tsus are keeping our laps warm while we work at our computers. All is right in the canine world.

Will my dog suffer from separation anxiety when life goes back to normal?

Panic and the uncertainty of being alone are the foundation of separation anxiety in our pets. Pets may damage property or themselves, bark or cry excessively, pace frantically, or soil carpets and furniture. Prevention is the key to building confidence in the stay-at-home dog.

Pets who cause damage are NOT MAD at you for leaving them alone. We also know dogs do not feel guilt the way we do, but they are excellent readers of our body language when we walk in the door and find a mess. They miss you and are acting out their panic. Period. Punishment often makes things worse. 

While at home:

Create a safe haven space. Allow for quiet time apart during the day where you detach physically. You may crate your dog, use a mat across the room, or even sit on the opposite end of the couch.

Use your dog’s senses to promote relaxation and comfort. Set up a white noise machine or play classical, reggae, or soft rock music. Spritz her safe haven space with synthetic canine pheromones or pet-safe lavender essential oils. Offer special treats at times of the day when you would normally leave the house.

Desensitize your dog to typical departure cues at non-routine times of the day. Pick up your keys then go fold laundry. Put on your shoes and go to the bathroom. Leave through the front door and come right back through the back door. Over time, the cues become less predictable and less likely to trigger anxiety.

Incorporate independence-building games like hide and seek with favourite toys placed throughout the house. Try wrapping a toy stuffed with a favourite treat into an old towel; knot the towel loosely and see how long it takes your dog to unwrap his present. Use a snuffle mat to hide treats. Scatter a few loose treats in different rooms, so your dog has to work to sniff them out. Always monitor dogs who would rather eat toys than play with them.

Ask your dog to sit or lie down at her safe haven space. Make sure she watches you as you leave the room to set up the different toys and treats, then let her wait (as long as she can without punishing her!). Your goal is to build a little impatience here; she will WANT to leave you so that she can go and find her rewards.

Incorporate the strategies together when you get back to the real world

Dogs love routine. We need to build new routines for them when we start to leave the house again. By using the safe haven, relaxation cues, and confidence-building games, we can help increase our dog’s ability to settle into life without you 24-7.

Petsecure includes coverage for behavioural therapy

If your dog shows signs of excessive anxiety by destroying property or bringing harm to themselves, consult your veterinarian. Some dogs will need calming supplements, prescription medication, and/or individualized treatment plans to manage troubling behaviours. The sooner you address the issue, the easier it will be for your pet.

Learn what’s kind of behavioural therapies are covered by Petsecure and get a free quote today.