Despite being descended from the fearsome wolf, most dogs are sensitive souls: especially when it comes to their relationship with us. Whether your furry friend is a Great Dane or a Chihuahua, your dog is entirely dependent on you for almost every aspect of their lives.
Over the past year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, chances are your pup has grown used to you being at home. Having their human pals at home almost 24/7 is a dream for most dogs, as you provide entertainment, food, and most importantly, socialisation.
Now, with vaccines rolling out across the world and many of us facing a return to the office, chances are your dog will soon have to get used to you not being at home all day. This will come as a bit of a shock and may take them some time to get used to.
Although dogs are quite adaptable, some may struggle with this more than others. While you might be preoccupied with the thought of heading back to work, spare a thought for your dog, whose world is about to be turned upside down.
Separation anxiety in dogs can be a real problem, no matter the breed, and even if your dog has not previously shown signs of it, they might have developed a much stronger attachment to you during your time at home.
So, what can you do to limit the impact of going back to work on your dog?
Separation anxiety in dogs
Dogs are known as man’s best friend for a reason. Having been domesticated between 14,000 and 29,000 years ago, humans have since bred them for a range of roles, from working, to hunting, to guarding the palace. Most of all, however, we bred dogs to be companions, to be at our side through thick and thin. Dogs’ worlds are much smaller than ours, and as their keepers and best friends, we are a huge part of that world. When we leave the house, whether it’s for work or just to head to the shops, your pup is missing a big chunk of everything they know. While some dogs deal with these periods just fine, others can struggle, and begin showing symptoms of separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety in dogs can manifest in different ways, usually in the form of challenging or negative behaviour.
This can include:
- Destructive behaviour, such as chewing or scratching furniture
- Vocalising (loudly), such as howling and barking
- Weeing or pooing in the house despite being fully housetrained
Less common or less obvious symptoms can include:
- Endless pacing
- Hurting themselves with biting or excessive scratching
- Repetitive behaviour
Alone again (or for the first time)
Even if you’ve had your dog for many years, and they’ve never shown signs of separation anxiety, you should still keep an eye when you go back to work.
A year is a long time in a dog’s life, and your pup might have adapted to having you close.
During the pandemic, there was a boom in pet ownership, with many people seeking companionship in the form of dogs and cats. The cost of new puppies in particular doubled between March and September in the UK when compared to 2019, according to the BBC.
If you were one of many to get a ‘pandemic puppy’ during your time at home, then you should pay extra attention to them if you’re heading back to work. Whereas older dogs might have experience in being left alone, puppies born during lockdown might struggle to even comprehend the idea of you being away.
For these young pups, it might seem like you’ll suddenly go from being at their side all the time to vanishing instantly. This could be very scary for them and possibly trigger separation anxiety.
If you’ve received notice from your workplace that you’ll be heading back into the office soon, or you’ve begun to spend a few days in the office already and have noticed separation anxiety symptoms in your dog, there are a few things you can do.
Preparing your dog for back to work
If you are still working from home, you can start preparing your dog for when you go back to work with a few small but powerful changes. For example:
- Start leaving your dog alone for short periods, such as when you go to the shops, or try going for walks without them.
- Leave your dog in another part of the house whilst you are working, with a toy or doggy puzzle to keep them distracted.
- Try not to encourage their excitement when you return from your short trips away, as this will only make your absence and return a big deal. Wait for them to calm down, then say hello.
- If your dog previously spent time in a crate when you were out, consider reintroducing it and having them nap there.
When you go back to work, it can be helpful to set up an indoor camera to keep an eye on them and make sure they aren’t barking or wreaking havoc.
If you notice that your dog is struggling with your absence, or want to reduce the risk of separation anxiety, there are a few things you can do to make their time without you easier.
- Give them a ‘special’ toy to occupy them. This should only be available when you’re not at home and present a challenge, or some kind of distraction. This might be a toy that dispenses treats, or a puzzle they must figure out. When you get home, put the toy away and spend some time with them. If the toy does dispense treats, factor them into your pup’s treat allowance to avoid overfeeding.
- Dogs are less likely to get anxious if they’re relaxed. Before heading out in the morning, take them for a walk and play with them to burn off some energy. This way, they can do their business and will be more inclined to nap, reducing the chances of destructive behaviour.
- Minimise disturbances, such as people passing by the window, by lowering blinds or putting music on to drown out outside noises. Many dogs have been bred to alert their owners to potential intruders, and might not be able to relax if they’re constantly sensing danger. They don’t know the difference between the postman and someone looking to break in!
- Don’t leave your pup too long. At most, dogs should be left alone for no more than four hours at a time. If possible, pop home at lunch, let them out to do their business, and spend some time with them. If you aren’t able to come home at lunchtime, you might want to consider hiring a pet sitter to keep them company. Alternatively, look into doggy daycares: dogs are social creatures and love spending time with other dogs. This is one of the best solutions for making sure your dog doesn’t feel alone.
If your dog reacts badly to your return to work, by messing in the house or being destructive, don’t punish them. Unless you catch them in the act, dogs won’t associate the punishment with the action. This will just serve to make their anxiety worse.
You may have considered medicinal solutions to your dog’s separation anxiety. Just like for humans, there are medications to help reduce the symptoms of dog anxiety, from both herbal and pharmaceutical sources.
If you’re concerned about the effects of dog anxiety medication, switching their food might be a better solution which you haven’t considered. Just like humans, what our dogs eat can have a massive effect on both their physical and mental well-being.
Our revolutionary Percuro next-generation blend features both chamomile and hemp seed oil, two ingredients known for their calming effects. Percuro is designed to maximise your dog’s mental health, as well as their physical health. Ensuring your dog’s food features everything they need can be a powerful tool for keeping them healthy and calm, letting you focus on getting back into the swing of things without worrying about your dog.
You can learn more about our powerful Percuro dog food blend here. Or, if you’d like to try it out, visit our shop page to find the right food for you.