Avoiding Separation Anxiety Flare-Ups in the Fall
by Laura Vorreyer
Ah fall, the leaves are turning colors, the days are getting cooler and you’ve spent too much money on classroom supplies for your kids. It’s that time of year again, Back to School! And whether you’re ambivalent about it or have been counting down the minutes, one thing is certain, your dog isn’t going to like it, not even one bit.
Much like our children might not embrace getting up early or doing schoolwork, our dogs aren’t going to be fond of being alone at home. This can be especially difficult for the dog that spent the entire summer with a household full of company. Your dog probably got used to your kids being there and giving them extra helpings of attention, not to mention lots of cuddles, snuggles and much-needed exercise.
While most dogs enjoy being the center of attention, suddenly, being alone everyday can be stressful for them. If your dog is stressed-out, they can experience separation anxiety which manifests itself in many ways. For instance, you may find your dog having accidents in the house, practicing destructive chewing behaviors or whining, howling and barking.
To avoid causing your dog any unnecessary stress at back to school time, use some of these tips:
First, ease your dog into it. Similar to how kids return to school with abbreviated schedules and shorter weeks, provide the same transition period for your dog. If your dog is accustomed to having the entire family around all day, every day in the summer, don’t all leave at once. If it’s possible, stagger the back to school and activity schedules so your dog isn’t all alone, all at once.
Provide transition time for your dog by leaving only for a short amount of time first and then slowly work up to the entire day. Don’t make a big deal about leaving or returning home but you can give your dog a high-value treat when you leave. There are treats and then there are “high-value” treats. You know the ones, the ones that make your dog drool every time. Give these treats to your dog when you leave, but don’t make it a big deal that you’re leaving.
When you arrive home, act completely normal. It’s fine to greet your dog, but keep in mind that this is standard behavior and your dog should accept it as a regular part of life. Remember that your dog picks up on your energy, if you’re a bundle of nerves, they’ll be a bundle of nerves. Stay calm and your dog will be calm.
Another thing to try is enrolling your dog at doggy daycare. This is a fun way for your dog to escape the back-to-school-blues and interact with other doggy friends.
Continue to regularly exercise your dog by providing walks and trips to the dog park. A fun thing I like to do with my dog, Dexter, when he seems particularly gloomy is to surprise him with a trip in the car to pick up my son at his grade school. He loves to see all of the kids and he likes to hang his head out of the window. Think of creative ways to include your dog in your day-to-day schedule and they will be happier for it.
Hide treats for your dog to find while the family is gone. Dogs and kids both love games; you can include kids in this game by having them hide treats in their rooms where the dog can find them.
If it’s just not turning around for your dog and they are particularly sad, try hiring a professional pet sitter to come over and keep them company. Have the pet sitter walk your dog or play with them in the yard. The key here is to tire your dog out to take their mind off staring at the front door and wondering when their family is going to return.
When all else fails, think about getting another dog with which your dog can play. Remember, all dogs speak the same language so if your dog is especially prone to separation anxiety, consider adopting a buddy or two to keep them company.
Another thing to do, too, if you don’t want to adopt another pet or just can’t, is to figure out a way to interact with your dog while you’re gone. There are many items on the market specifically created to ease your dog’s separation anxiety while you’re away. Try one or two of them and see what works. At the very least, leave a television or radio on when you’re gone. This can help immensely with your dog not overreacting to every sound it hears coming from the outside.
White noise is soothing and can be a welcome distraction to listening for a key in the door.
Have patience with your pet as they go through the adjustment period necessary to get used to being at home alone. Never get mad or scold your dog for doing what is natural to them, which is loving you and your family. Remember wanting to be with you isn’t a problem, it’s absolutely natural.
Laura Vorreyer pioneered the dog-walking industry in Hollywood over 15 years ago and is the author of the new book, “The Pet Sitter’s Tale.” She is the owner of the pet care company Your Dog’s Best Friend, a premier dog-walking and pet-sitting business in Los Angeles. Laura has taught pet-sitting and dog-walking classes in Los Angeles and is also a passionate advocate for animal rights. She remains dedicated to pet rescue.