After months of shelter in place and/or work from home, you may be contemplating a return back to the office. The question is: how do we make this change without adversely affecting our pets, some of whom experience separation anxiety? It’s an issue more severe than loneliness (which we will address in a future blog) and to understand it better, we talked with Jessica Char, founder of Canine Engineering and Feline Engineering.
Do pets experience separation anxiety?
Our pets can feel negative emotions like stress, fear, and panic like we can. Put simply, pets with separation anxiety don’t feel safe when they are alone. It's important to understand that this is an anxiety disorder, not a training or leadership problem.
How can I tell if my pet has separation anxiety?
Many dog guardians are familiar with the common signs of separation anxiety in dogs —vocalizing (barking, whining, howling), destruction (chewing or digging, especially around doors), and eliminating in the house. There may be other signs, like refusing to eat, pacing, heavy panting or drooling, and more dramatic signs, like injuring themselves or escaping. Importantly, these signs only appear when the dog is alone. A young dog who isn't fully house-trained and is teething might have accidents and chew the coffee table, but it isn’t specifically tied to being alone.
I highly recommend setting up a camera to watch your pet when you leave the house. You don’t need fancy equipment; you can set up a laptop or tablet and use a free video conferencing tool (we’re all much more familiar with them now!) to watch from your smartphone. If you are unsure or concerned about how they will behave, stay close by and be ready to return quickly.
As we plan for a return to the office, what can we do to help acclimate our pets?
If your pet was previously left alone without issues, but hasn’t been alone in a few months, start doing some practice runs. Pretend you’re going to work, go through your routine, and then leave for a short time. Again, this is a good time to watch your pet to check for signs of stress. Even if you only stay away for 10 to 20 minutes, it’s good practice. If all goes well, make sure you leave your pet alone for at least a little while a few times a week.
If your pet is new to your family and has never been alone, do the same thing, but start small. Leave for only a few minutes at first and see how your pet handles that. If there are no issues, build up to longer periods of time as practice.
Finally, if your pet has a history of being stressed when alone or if you discover they are having issues when you start trying your practice sessions, now is the time to work on it. Resolving separation anxiety can be a long, slow process; in most cases, it’s best to reach out to a professional who can help. Your vet may recommend medications to help your pet feel safe when alone. A Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (like myself) can guide you through the process of desensitizing your pet to being alone.
Jessica Char is a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer and founder of Feline Engineering and Canine Engineering. She provides training and education and is an instructor for SVPP classes/webinars, including "More than Surviving, Thriving - Practical Advice for Living the Best Life with Your Pet." The next session will be conducted on September 9, 2020.