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As many return to offices, here's how to help your dog adjust to post-pandemic life

Experts share tips on minimizing separation anxiety and making the transition easier for pandemic pups.

September sees many Vancouverites returning to work and school for the first time in months, leaving their pandemic housebound routines behind and let's face it - change is always hard.

And it’s not just people that feel the shift. Our dogs are extremely sensitive to change and are prone to separation distress.

It’s well-documented that our furry friends, used to having their parents around 24/7, can show signs of anxiety being left home alone for the first time in what must seem like, well, dog years.

This is especially common for “pandemic pups” that were adopted recently, and don’t know another reality.

“Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavioural concerns experienced by pet parents and can be triggered from an abrupt change in schedule, family dynamic or residence,” says Dr. Karley Little of Yaletown Pet Hospital.

Both a survey and the SPCA have reported increases in separation anxiety in dogs, as people ease into some sort of new-normal. But there are tell-tale signs to watch out for and tricks to make your dog feel more in a quieter home.

Tell-tail signs your dog isn’t adjusting to a new routine

Every dog is different, and so are the signals that tell you he doesn’t want you to go back to work.

“They will often begin to show anxiety as their family prepares to leave,” Dr. Little says. “Which will progress to distress behaviours, such as excessive vocalization, inappropriate chewing or destruction, pacing or shaking, and heavy panting or salivation.”

Also look out for outward appearances, such as dilated pupils, a sheepish look with ears turned down, or lack of eye contact altogether.

Perhaps the biggest sign of anxiety is a dog leaving you unwanted “presents” around the house. Anxiety can feel pretty crappy to a pet.

Keep it gradual

Dr. Alexandra Protopopova, an assistant professor at the animal welfare program at UBC’s faculty of land and food systems, and a BC SPCA industrial research chair, suggests planning ahead, imagining your “back to normal” life, and working backwards from that.

“This could mean leaving your dog at home when you go shopping or on errands with the ultimate goal of gradually increasing the periods of separation,” says Dr. Protopopova in a release. “This could also mean gradually adjusting the number of walks your dog takes in a day to match the schedule you will have when you’ve fully returned to the office.”

Subtly is very important here. Be sure to not make a show of your exit. Even the sound of car keys can trigger a dog. When possible, put on your shoes outside and try not to coddle your dog or apologize for leaving. For a while it might feel like you are sneaking out of your own home after a secret affair - but this trick works for many dogs!

Rewarding your dog, as in all scenarios, is a good idea. Treats and toys can keep the pup busy while you are gone, especially chew items that will keep any teeth off of the furniture.

Think ahead: Leave some toys for pandemic pups to entertain themselves

“One of my favourite tricks is to fill a Kong or food puzzle with some high value treats and seal it with peanut butter or apple sauce before popping it in the freezer overnight,” Dr. Little tells OhMyDog! We can reward them with the food puzzle when they are having some alone time, which will provide some mental stimulation, help relieve boredom and positively reinforce their independence.”

Dr. Protopopova adds, “If you have already fully returned to the office and are unable to plan ahead, you may consider looking to see if you have a neighbour who is still working from home or hire a dog walker to support you.”

None of this will likely happen overnight, but with consistency and patience, your dog will come to accept your working life. And he might even grow to enjoy the house to himself without mom and dad hanging around.

If none of these tricks seem to be calming your dog’s anxiety, it’s always a good idea to talk to a professional.

“Don’t wait to chat with your veterinarian if you have concerns,” says Dr. Little. “You are not in this alone and we are here to help you and your furry family!”


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