“For dogs that have been lucky to have their pet parents at home with them all the time, it’s all suddenly going to change,” she says.
Signs of stress
By nature, dogs are sociable and prefer to live in groups. It’s common for them to become distressed when left alone, and in some dogs this anxiety is more intense and can manifest in disruptive and destructive behaviour.
Chewing, barking, howling, attempts to escape the house or toileting indoors are all symptoms of underlying separation anxiety – and it’s a condition that can remain hidden until a dog spends time alone.
“Our pets can suffer from ill mental health, just as people do,” says Dr Germano. “When we start to make that connection, we can be a little more understanding and empathetic towards our pets.”
The overall aim of managing and treating separation anxiety is to help your dog feel calm and relaxed when you’re away from the house.
“Managing separation anxiety takes a holistic approach,” says Dr Germano.
“Nutritional supplements can be beneficial in mild to moderate cases of anxiety whereas pharmaceuticals may be required for the more advanced cases. There is no one sudden magic quick fix.”
Helping your dog might involve a team that includes your vet and a dog trainer or animal behaviourist.
“The key is starting to implement change as soon as possible, and slowly,” advises Dr Germano.
“A sudden overnight transition isn’t going to help our dogs. They’re creatures of habit, they like routine, and need to grow used to change little by little.”
While you’re still at home, Dr Germano recommends starting to spend more time away from your dog, in small increments. It might be that you start with an hour apart.
With severe cases of separation anxiety, it may be even smaller, says Sydney dog trainer and owner of Paws on the Run, Caroline Brown.
“You might just start with being apart from your dog within the home, before leaving the home for small durations and then longer periods,” she says.
Try to also establish a new routine that will mimic what’s going to happen once you’re back at work, adds Dr Germano.
“If you’ve been having a lunchtime walk with your dog, and that’s not going to happen anymore, swap it to morning or evening to help them transition to the new daily rhythm,” she says.
Make it positive
While you’re practicing those short absences, always try to return when your dog is calm, before any anxiety kicks in.
“If a dog gets a result from a certain behaviour – for example, if they bark and then you approach or engage with them – they will repeat that same behaviour,” says Brown.
“So, if your dog’s barking, you should wait for a break in the bark and then approach.”
Turn your absence into a positive by leaving your dog something to enjoy, says Dr Germano.
“Give them a treat toy filled with really tasty, high-value foods, something to chew on, anything that provides enrichment and distraction. There’s got to be a lot of reward in the experience.”
Keep your exit and entry calm and upbeat, she advises, to help your dog remain relaxed.
“Avoid a big hype and fuss,” says Dr Germano. “It’s a bit like dropping your kids off to daycare for the first time – just a cheery, calm hi and goodbye. Keep your posture relaxed and your tone reassuring.”
A tired dog is often a happier dog, adds Brown.
“The state of mind you leave your dog in will be the state they remain in,” she says.
“They don’t know how to bring themselves out of a play and excitement phase, so make sure you drain your dog’s energy with a lovely long power walk on the lead before you leave them alone.”
Learn more about pet supplements to help care for your anxious pet from PAW by Blackmores®.