Though the last few months have been many things, normal is not among them. Being stuck at home for weeks on end has been a challenge. Most of us are not accustomed to spending all our time in our homes. One bright spot has been the companionship of our pets. After sheltering in our homes due to COVID-19, many of us have resumed more normal activities. While most of us welcome a return to a more typical lifestyle, our pets may feel differently.
Dogs could suffer social anxiety when their owner returns to normal life after the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19. The impact on your pet due to your resuming normal activities could be significant. It is possible your pet developed a huge reservoir of over-dependency. This could potentially create significant stress for her. It is important to remember dogs are highly social. They love being with their families. It could be quite difficult for them to go from everyone being home all day to nobody being home. In fact, this sudden absence of human companionship could have serious consequences for pets.
The distress your pet experiences as a result of your sudden absence could manifest in several ways. Serious behavioral problems could occur. For instance, your pet might begin chewing on furniture and other objects. He could begin having accidents inside the house. His anxiety may cause him to self-harm. You may notice an increase in negative behavior such as howling, pacing, or other distress signals.
It is important to acknowledge your pet’s distress in response to your departure from the routine he became accustomed to over the past few months. Ideally, you should prepare your pet for separation. Begin slowly over a period of time. Mimic your regular routine when leaving. Grab your wallet and keys. Leave through door you will go through. Your dog will notice these cues and understand you are leaving and will anticipate your return through the same door.
When you leave home, put your dog in a safe space. This might be a crate if your dog likes it. If your dog is normally left to lie in the house where she chooses, make sure it is a comfortable and safe space. Perhaps your best choice is not a room with a view, especially if your dog barks a lot, according to Sarah Wilson, dog trainer and author of “My Smart Puppy: Fun, Effective and Easy Puppy Training“. Ms. Wilson says, “When they’re screaming out the window at everyone who’s going by, their brains are flooded with all of this confusing and upsetting brain chemistry, which doesn’t go away on its own instantly.” According to Ms. Wilson, dogs do not enjoy barking out a window hysterically. If your dog does not like a crate, perhaps a baby gate would be a better alternative to keep her in a room where she feels safe and comfortable.
If your dog has gotten accustomed to frequent walks, this will introduce another hurdle when you resume normal activities outside of your home. Perhaps you could adjust your schedule in order to come home to walk your dog. Another alternative to leaving your dog at home all day alone is doggie daycare.
Should your dog engage in troubling behavior while you are gone, do not punish him upon returning home. According to Katherine A. Houpt, professor emeritus of behavior medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, dogs forget what they did. In fact, Dr. Houpt says your dog will no longer associate any punishment with their earlier behavior.
Your dog is experiencing separation anxiety when they pace, follow you around the house, or become clingy. It is important to recognize these signs of distress. A little extra effort may be necessary to help your pup become comfortable and less anxious due to your absence.
If attempts to help your dog accept life returning to normal fail, call your veterinarian to schedule an exam to be certain nothing is physically wrong. It may be appropriate to consult a dog trainer or animal behaviorist. If this becomes necessary, make sure a you consult with professionals who are certified. Find a trainer who only engages in positive reinforcement rather than using coercion or force. Your veterinarian may recommend anti-anxiety medication if she determines your pup’s behavior is related to anxiety and your attempts to lessen his stress fails.