It’s been almost a year since Covid-19 sent most office workers home indefinitely. We fought spouses and kids for WiFi bandwidth, MacGyvered workspaces out of dusty basement corners – and eventually we got used to it.
In the meantime, our pets have also got used to the new routine. And unlike us, they didn’t have the advantage of knowing why their whole life changed overnight. Now that vaccines are on the way, many of us are expecting a return to the office – once again the dog will have no say in this matter.
Veterinarians and behaviorists fear a possible rise in separation anxiety, especially among animals that were adopted during quarantine and are therefore unfamiliar with their families’ lives prior to Covid. Some advice to ease the transition:
Let your animals practice being alone
Even if that just means running to the store without them, it’s important to leave pets alone. “Otherwise,” says Leslie Sinn, a veterinary behaviorist in Northern Virginia, “how can you calm down or be content in your own business?” Before the pandemic, Sinn took her dog on errands whenever possible. “But now,” she says, “I see it as an opportunity for him to actually practice being away from me.”
Mentally tire them
Sometimes animals play when they are alone, not because they are scared, but because they are frustrated and bored. One way to avoid this is to make sure they are ready by lunchtime when you leave. “Take your dog on a sniffari,” says Tracy Krulik, a certified separation anxiety trainer in the area. “Let your dog’s nose lead the way. Let him sniff around, go zigzag. 30 minutes of sniffing will make your dog slacker and more relaxed than two miles on foot will ever do. “
Make sure your pet has access to a “safe haven” when you are not around
This is where the animal is most comfortable, explains Carlo Siracusa, veterinary behaviorist and professor of behavioral medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Keep in mind that your pet’s preferred location may have changed during the pandemic. For example, if she’s been in the home office with you all day, she may want to stay there in your absence. If this is not possible, you should restrict access gradually. “You can’t just lock the door the day you go back to work,” says Siracusa.
Alexandra Dilley, director of behavior and training at the Humane Rescue Alliance, suggests creating a “fort-like” place for dogs that become anxious, such as dogs. B. an open box with a ceiling over it – emphasis on “open”. If you’re not properly trained in the crate and your pet voluntarily spends time doing it, the chances are that an already nervous dog could feel a lot worse.
Familiarize yourself with the old routine early on
If the morning walk moves from 10 a.m. to 7 a.m. when you return to the office, slowly increase the time so it doesn’t feel like an abrupt change. If you’ve forgotten about your usual routine before work, start over. “What is it [normally] like when you go to work When you get up, shower, get dressed, and grab your computer, do all of that, just go to your home office or get a coffee and come home, ”says Krulik. “Get your dog used to it again.”
If daycare or a dog walker is your pet’s future, remind the animal what it is like to be with other people and dogs, as their social interaction was likely as restricted as ours during the pandemic. Try detached game dates outdoors. Don’t wait back until day one to take your dog to daycare – let him do a few practice runs beforehand.
Put your pets in front of the camera
Some signs of separation anxiety cannot be overlooked: furniture that has been chewed, peed, and pooped indoors, a neighbor complaining of constant barking while you are away. However, other indicators aren’t that obvious – which is why there are quite a few pet cam options that can be viewed from your phone. “The dog could have a hard time, and the only thing he does is lie at the door all day – not to eat, not to drink – and you don’t notice because it doesn’t destroy anything,” says Siracusa. Other signs that a dog is stressed out include uninterrupted pacing, a general inability to settle down, and even constant grasping of toys. In other words, a happy dog should be able to just relax while you’re away.
If you see signs of anxiety, think about what could possibly make it worse
Aside from being missed, other stimuli around your pet can become problematic while you are away. “A lot of dogs are very vigilant when they are alone because they’re a bit apprehensive,” says Sinn. Routine noises like traffic or the arrival of the mail can sound much more frightening in your absence. Or maybe it’s stressful when strangers come by, or the postman, or even just the empty driveway your car is normally parked on. Figuring out how to cloud those images and sounds can make a world of difference.
Do not wait to get help
Contact your veterinarian immediately if your pet exhibits disruptive or unusual behavior so that you can rule out a medical cause. If everything is physically okay and you are still unable to help your pet on your own, get a professional trainer or behaviorist as soon as possible so that the behavior does not deteriorate. Your vet can also prescribe an anti-anxiety medication for you.
If your dog is upset about leaving the house, veterinary behaviorist Leslie Sinn recommends this exercise
Make a comfortable mat or bed for your dog. Start by simply throwing goodies at them to keep them interested. Practice a few minutes each day until you notice that your dog is looking for treats on the mat himself.
Now wait for your dog to look for them on the mat instead of throwing treats at them preventively and reward them for doing so by knocking them over. This is known as “sensing behavior”.
Gradually increase the requirements to earn a treat. Start by rewarding the dog for putting a paw on the mat, then work up to two paws and so on. After all, she will only get a reward for sitting on the mat.
Before leaving the house, place a long-lasting treat (such as a bat or frozen kong) on the mat for your dog to enjoy.
Your dog should develop a preference for the mat. Now work up to longer intervals between sitting and getting your reward. Wait a minute, then five, then ten, and so on. Pretty soon she will associate the mat with the feeling of being safe and satisfied.
Illustrations by Jenny Rosenberg
Animal experts recommend these products for anxious dogs
Yogasleep “Dohm Classic” machine with white noise, $ 43 on Amazon
Often times, just leaving a radio or television on is not enough to muffle outside noises that could make your dog nervous. A white noise machine can be much more effective.
Kong toys, $ 7.50 to $ 25 (depending on size) at jawy.com
Fill one of these with peanut butter, freeze it overnight, and dispense on leaving. It gives your dog something to focus on besides your departure.
Bioxo pet camera, $ 36 on Amazon
Check in your animals with cameras that are synced to your WiFi and can be monitored via an app that you download to your phone.
Static Adhesive Film, $ 18 on Home Depot
If your dog is staring out the window all day, try frosting the glass with a removable film. Unlike blinds or curtains, your pet cannot push them aside.
Adaptile Soothing Diffuser, $ 19 on Amazon
Plug it in and it releases a synthetic version of a mother dog’s breastfeeding pheromone that has been shown to have sedative effects.
PAW5 “Wooly” snuff mat, $ 40 on Amazon
Avoid boredom by hiding nibbles in the mat so your dog can sniff while you are away.
Anyone can hang up a clapboard as a trainer or behaviorist – the industry is almost completely unregulated. However, there are a few ways to differentiate the real pros.
1. Find the right accreditations
KPA, PMCT, and JD stand for widely recognized dog training programs. It is a good sign when a trainer or behaviorist has one of these by name. You should also look for CPDT, which means that a person has been certified by the Professional Dog Trainer Certification Council. CSAT is the accreditation for a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer.
Veterinary behaviorists are different from simple “behaviorists”. They are veterinarians with special training in behavioral health – essentially animal psychiatrists. You can search for one near you on dacvb.org.
2. Ask for references
Independent trainers (as opposed to the big chains) rely on word of mouth to stay in business – and tend to be more observant than national chains – so they can put you in touch with happy customers in the past.
3. Find someone who uses positive reinforcement
When dealing with an anxious dog, punitive training methods such as shock collars can worsen behavior problems or lead to new ones.
4. Talk to your veterinarian
Your veterinarian can likely refer you to a trainer and, if necessary, prescribe anxiety medication to help your pet.
Despite their bad reputation, cats can be stressed out when they are home alone. Signs of separation anxiety include increased vocalization and restlessness, aggressiveness towards their owners when trying to walk, and vomiting. As with dogs, there are tools that can help.
Try to leave your cat with a food puzzle like one of these to keep them entertained while you are away.
Catit interactive toy “Senses 2.0 Digger”, $ 15 on Amazon. Cats have to fish nibbles out of the tubes.
PetSafe “SlimCat” food distribution ball, $ 7 at jawy.com. Cats hit the ball around to make nibbles come out.
Plug it in to emit a synthetic version of a pheromone that has been shown to calm cats.
Feliway Cat Soothing Diffuser, $ 36 on Amazon.
Photos of products courtesy of retailers
This article originally appeared in the February 2021 Washingtonian issue.
Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and became a senior editor in 2014. She is responsible for reporting on real estate and home design for the magazine and writes extensive reports. She was a 2020 Livingston Award finalist for her two-part investigation into a possible unlawful conviction for a murder in rural Virginia. Kashino lives in northeast DC.