Anxious About Anxiety? You’re Not Alone. Acclimatizing to Post-Pandemic Life with Your Pup
There is a sea of information out there surrounding separation anxiety, which can make this troublesome topic feel all the more overwhelming.
Our aim is to gather everything you need to know about how to handle this situation in your own home. Building your understanding of how to reassure your pup that they are safe and secure no matter if you’re home or not.
All The Feels
A patchwork quilt of puppy pads, gut-wrenching guilt, and that feeling of dread about what you’ll find when you get home. Does it all sound too familiar?
According to the ASPCA, dogs that urinate, defecate, bark, howl, chew, dig and try to escape when left alone are showing just some of the common distress signals that pet parents often use to identify issues with separation anxiety. Other symptoms can include excessive drooling, destructiveness, and self-trauma resulting from escape attempts.
Separation anxiety typically occurs when a dog is left alone, separated from their attached family, or has experienced the loss of important people in their life. However, these behaviors can also be triggered by changes in environment, routine, or ownership. It is also important to rule out both medical and behavioral problems that could easily be missed.
What starts off as nuisance behavior, like barking whenever the doorbell rings or reacting when people say hello and goodbye, can soon become more concerning. This was sadly the case for one of our customers and their adopted miniature Dachshund, Orlando. With time his behavior worsened, and he would vomit, have accidents and rip things apart (mostly boxes of tissues) in their absence. Leaving Orlando behind always meant a full clean-up operation on their return and became quite limiting and upsetting to deal with. They later realized that these signs were the early indicators of his blindness, prior to a very sudden decline that meant he lost his sight almost completely. Understandably, making him more anxious when they were not home, with the scary prospect of being lost or feeling alone. The real giveaway was when he started bumping into things and displaying anxious behavior even when his owners were still in the house but had left the room he was in.
Barbara L. Sherman reveals that ‘17% of dogs that receive regular veterinary care exhibit clinical signs consistent with separation anxiety.’ While 20-40% of dogs submitted to specialty behavior clinics are also diagnosed with the disorder.
Our world today is unrecognizable compared with how it looked just one year ago. Everything we believed to be certain in our lives has been disrupted due to the ongoing global pandemic. We find ourselves in a unique moment in time where our home lives have never been so intense. For some, it has been incredibly lonely and isolating, while for others it’s been crowded and overwhelming. These extremes have become our new normal. Rooms that were once filled with family and laughter have been vacant and void. Spaces meant for relaxation and retreat have become a multi-functional mess. In the middle of the madness, are our pets.
Can you imagine this experience through their eyes?
Just as coronavirus has tested our own limits and coping mechanisms, it’s safe to assume our most loyal companions have been plunged into the deep end emotionally as well.
Dogs once used to their independence have suddenly experienced constant companionship and endless attention. Puppies have entered a world where everyone is home, all day, every day – doing everything together. Moods have been unpredictable, and atmospheres intensified. Maybe children are climbing all over them and they can’t escape or find a quiet space. Perhaps they’ve been forgotten while we juggle a myriad of responsibilities or they’re spoilt with more “walkies” than ever. Every situation faces its own challenges.
Whatever your story might look like, the details of our lives have certainly altered. So how do we support our canines through coronavirus?
Coping With Change
As a starting point dog trainer and behaviorist, Tracy Krulik, inspires pet owners to consider, ‘“If we were to go back to what our old normal was, what are all the things that I want my puppy to be able to be comfortable with?”’ This approach cleverly encompasses the individual needs of your pet and tailors them to your family dynamic. You start by thinking of what should be addressed to make everyone happier long term.
Managing emotions and expectations can be tricky at the best of times, check out our core ideas on creating a calm environment for your dog to thrive in…
- Consider counterconditioning: turn negative reactions into positive ones by associating the feared situation with something your dog loves I.E. delicious raw treats!
- Short and sweet: gradually acclimatize your dog to being alone by slowly increasing how long you are separated for over a number of weeks
- Enriching exercise: energize your dog with physical and mental stimulation to decrease stress levels and keep them entertained
- Crate carefully: establish whether your pet feels safer left alone in their crate, or if they appear more willing to be confined to one room using a baby gate
- Ask the experts: design a desensitization plan with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB), or Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) who knows their stuff
Alternative treatments such as calming clothing and collars, comfort beds, music therapy, massage, and dreamy doggy plug-in pheromones all add into the mix of short-term solutions. The ultimate goal being to resolve your dog’s underlying anxiety by teaching them to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone, as recommended by the ASPCA.
Everything may feel uncertain and in a permanent state of flux right now, however, there is hope on the horizon.
Despite this, separation anxiety still fuels significant fear for pet owners over what, yet another drastic lifestyle change may mean for their four-legged friends. These seismic shifts in our day-to-day lives have a huge impact on our pets, and the world starts to move in a new direction once again. Veterinary Practice News highlights, ‘Animals that never experienced separation anxiety in the past could suddenly be coping with the perception of abandonment.’
Finding some routine and regularity is the start of structuring a more positive future for everyone. The truth of it is our lives will always be filled with all kinds of change. Consider what you can prepare for and relax knowing that other life events will catch you totally by surprise. Accept that this is the moment the magic happens when you can tap into all of the tools available to you.
Most importantly be kind to yourself and know that love and understanding are all that matters when it comes to your adoring pets.