As dogs effectively live for human attention, they understandably experience anxiety when we aren't around — especially after getting accommodated to having over a year with us working from home all day, everyday. But pet parents who live in apartments or in close quarters with their neighbors simply can't have their dogs barking when they aren't home, which is why we spoke with Freshpet Expert Veterinarian, Dr. Aziza Glass, on how pet parents can manage their fur babys' separation anxiety.
"The goal in treating your pet with separation anxiety is teaching them to tolerate or enjoy being left alone," Dr. Glass tells us via email. "They should want you, but not need you."
Keep reading for more on what Dr. Glass had to say about keeping your pup calm when you aren't home.
What are the signs that my dog has separation anxiety?
Although the prospect of ditching the WFH life may be exciting to us, our pets likely feel otherwise. They've loved keeping us company through meetings, receiving belly rubs during the day, and embarking on some midday walks when you simply needed to take a stroll around the block at lunchtime. When you leave for work now, your dog may bark and whine in your absence out of separation anxiety.
"If your dog seems to worry upon you leaving your living space and exhibits destructive behavior, you may be dealing with separation anxiety," Dr. Glass says. "This is a more acute form of stress in your dog that makes them exhibit distress. There are a variety of signs to watch for, but if your dog is experiencing multiple symptoms on a daily basis, it may mean they have separation anxiety."
"These signs include pacing, whining, trembling when you’re gone or preparing to leave, excessive barking, howling, destructive behavior like chewing, and inappropriate urination or defecation in the house."
These aren't ideal for any pet parents — especially for those living in apartment buildings.
How can I make sure my dog doesn't bark when I'm not home?
Dr. Glass recommends that pet parents schedule some morning exercise before leaving for the day, and getting them used to being alone.
"A great way to [teach pets to love being alone] is to incorporate more exercise into their daily routine," she explains. "If you have to leave for work in the morning, you can take your dog out on a walk prior to leaving work to tire them out. Dogs need to release pent up energy that may cause them to be restless and lead to destructive behavior."
"Create a routine or schedule of activity, playtime and enrichment that they can consistently look forward to when you return home or before you leave."
If I'm bringing my dog to work, how to I make mitigate their social anxiety?
On the other hand, many offices understand their employees have adopted pandemic pets, and some are now allowing pets in the workplace. If your dog has social anxiety, though, this can be a problem for other pets or people in the office.
"Social anxiety comes in many forms, but for many dogs it occurs at an early age where they are not introduced to new experiences and thus become overwhelmed when making new interactions," Dr. Glass says.
"This can take the form of aggressive behavior like barking, growling or lunging toward a person or animal. They can also display nervous behavior like excessive panting, drooling, whining or cowering behind their pet parent."
Dr. Glass explains the best way to get them used to social situations is by starting small.
"It’s ideal to start small and introduce your pet to people and pets individually or in small groups," she says.
"A great way to prepare your dog for more social outings is to first get them accustomed to new people and pets in a familiar and comfortable environment. Invite friends and family over, slowly allowing them to meet your dog so that they understand that these new folks are friendly, welcomed to the space, and pose no harm. Doing this more and more will allow your dog to feel more comfortable with new people. As your dog begins to exhibit less anxiousness around others, you can then gradually change the environment and expose them to more people and pets at a slow and steady pace."
Glass also says positive reinforcement is key, by rewarding your pets with treats like Freshpet’s Dog Joy Turkey Bacon Treats or Freshpet’s Dognation Chicken Treats when they exhibit good behavior. But if your pup is territorial, she says to keep the treats away from other dogs.
"You may want to consider keeping treats away from other dogs if your pet exhibits food aggression around other dogs," she explains.
You definitely have some training ahead, but in the end, it will be totally worth it for you and your pup alike.