Easing your dog's separation anxiety when you go back to work

Are you looking forward to when the world fully reopens, but are worried about your dog when you go back to work?

Separation anxiety is at the top of the worry list these days.

"My dog cries when I step outside."

"My dog follows me around everywhere I go."

"I don't want my dog to be sad."

For many people, Covid-19 has brought dogs and dog moms into a dream reality of being home together all day. When the day comes for this dream to end, will you and your pup be ready?

Let's dive into 5 general steps for tackling separation anxiety. Get started now, because your dog needs to be eased into this.

1) Give your dog something to do.

A busy dog is a good dog. Be prepared.

Fill up a Toppl or Tux (click here if you need one or to see what it is) with irresistible things, and freeze it. Be sure to use something your dog will want to gobble up.

The better the food, the more motivated your dog will be to work at getting the food out.

Stock up on long lasting chews, grab a Quizl for the bully sticks, and fill up your food puzzles.

When you prepare to leave your dog's sight, create stations around your home of things for your dog to do. Put the frozen Toppl in the kitchen, the bully stick in the crate, 5 food puzzles scattered around the living room, or wherever you choose.

If your dog stays in a crate, put the items inside of the crate.

Make sure that everything is dog-proof. You know your pup. Don't give him anything that may become a choking hazard. If your dog eats things that shouldn't be eaten, be sure to avoid having those things around.

But, if your dog has no problem with having toys and chews left out, jump on this! Don't leave a bored dog home alone to create his own fun.

2) Separate (in the house).

Now that you have irresistible, motivating things for your dog to do, start separating for very short periods of time. Give your dog a puzzle, then leave his side.

Move around within the room, increasing the amount of space between you and your pup.

If he's good with this, leave the room.

Leave the room for as long as your dog can tolerate, but make sure to come back BEFORE the crying begins. You want the separation to be an incredibly positive experience, with your dog never feeling any anxiety about you being gone.

If you can only leave the room for 1 minute, start there. Build up to being gone for longer periods of time.

When you come back to the room, give your dog a treat, some love, and pick up the puzzles you left him. The fun stuff only comes out when it's time for you to go. That way, it's more novel and exciting!

3) Practice walking in and out of the front door.

Now that your pup is comfortable being left alone within the house, time to work on leaving the house.

Go through the motions of getting ready to go - grab your keys, put on shoes, give your dog a puzzle, then walk around the house. Take off your shoes, put the keys away, and go back to your pup. Give a treat and pick up the puzzle.

You're taking the going-out motions, and changing them from anxiety triggers signaling "wait where are you going?" to "oh okay."

If every time you grab your keys, you leave the house, the keys becomes a trigger for "no don't leave!"

If you grab your keys and sometimes you leave but sometimes you stay, then the keys spark curiosity more than panic.

After your dog is comfortable with this, build up steps to leave the house.

Walk towards the door, and come back to your pup.

Touch the door handle, and come back to your pup.

Open the door but don't leave, and come back to your pup.

Open the door and walk out, then come back to your pup.

Open the door, walk out, and close the door. Then come back in to your pup.

Work up to being able to walk in and out of the door multiple times, with your dog paying little to no attention to you.

To start, find the step that your dog is at, and work up from there.

4) Leave the house for increasing amounts of time.

Now that your dog is comfortable with being left alone in the house, have no problem with you walking in and out of the front door, and has things to keep him busy, it's time to leave.

Go for a walk down the street and back.

Go for a walk around the block and back.

Leave for short amounts of time, and build up to longer periods.

The key here is to keep it short in the beginning. Know your dog. Remember, you want this to be a positive experience for your pup, so come back home before your dog starts to get anxious.

Do it gradually with careful intention, and before you know it, you'll be able to be gone for 8 hours again! Your dog will keep busy with all his food dispensing toys and puzzles when you leave, then become so tired and nap until you get back.

It's really important to ease into this, so be sure to get started soon.

5) Ease your anxiety.

Every dog mom worries about their dog while they're apart. Separation anxiety can go both ways here!

If you do the training gradually and stay in tune to your dog's pace, your pup will be fine.

If you are still worried, set up a monitoring system so you can check in on your dog whenever you'd like.

A popular option is the Furbo. This cute tool allows you to shoot treats out of it and talk to your dog through the device. It's super fun and dogs start to definitely learn that treats and mom's voice comes out of this thing!

For more info and options on dog monitoring systems, check out this article from the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-pet-camera/.

Some final thoughts - set up your dog's space for relaxation and success.

Be sure the room is dog-proof. Don't leave anything out that your dog can get into.

Turn on a radio to drown out noises if your dog is sensitive to sounds (and because of the good vibes!)

Try an Adaptil plug in.

If your dog goes nuts at people and critters walking past the window, try some window film to block the view but still let light in.

You've got this.

Enjoy your pup and make the most of your time together. But be sure to set your furbaby up for success too. Don't put this off if your little guy struggles. It took time to adjust to working from home, and it's going to take time for your dog to adjust to you being gone again too.

Separation anxiety can be super tough, and if your dog's separation anxiety is severe, you may need support beyond these steps. Feel free to email info@piperswalk.org with questions!

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