Post COVID-19 and Pet Separation Anxiety
We, as a nation, are facing the isolation that COVID-19 has brought by
the companionship of pets. Many animal shelters have been able to say
that since their opening, they have no pets to adopt. People have been
coming out in record numbers to claim a forever friend of their own. I
wish to congratulate each one of you. But the day will come when
social separation is lifted, and we all will go about our
post-COVID-19 lives. Whatever that brings. But one thing is for sure
is the business will resume, and we shall all return to our jobs. Some
of us shall stay at home to work in this post COVID world, but the
remainder shall walk out the door at your regular time of day for your
8, 10, or 12-hour shift. Are you leaving that dog alone without
checking to see how your new best friend will do alone suddenly?
Anxiety is a severe behavior issue that cannot be left alone. Consider
it a type of panic attack your dog suffers. It is truly extreme stress
from when you go to the time you return. So, the good news is for
those who adopted a puppy; you can lay the groundwork for a
well-balanced, well-adjusted dog. For those who chose a grown dog,
spend the needed time, and you will be putting that groundwork for
your own admirably adapted dog.
Some common symptoms of Separation Anxiety are urinating and
defecating in the house when the guardian is not there, barking and
howling when separated from his guardian, chewing door frames,
furniture, window sills, digging at doorways, and destroying household
objects. These actions may also be at the self-injury of the dog as in
broken teeth, cuts, or damaged nails and scraped paws. A dog with
Separation Anxiety may even attempt to escape from the area he is
confined, whether the dog is crated or confined in a room. He may also
try to go through doors or windows. Usually, with separation anxiety,
these behaviors do not occur in the guardian’s presence.
Why does it happen is not always clear. The trauma of a loss or
separation from a person or persons may be a critical factor for the
fact that far more dogs adopted from shelters exhibit this behavior.
Being abandoned and surrendered to a shelter then given to a new
guardian can be a trigger, but often less traumatic changes can be the
cause of SA.
A change in a normal schedule for the dog can be a cause. Consider if
a dog has adapted to being alone so many hours. The guardian
employment changes and the dog must spend another four hours alone can
increase the stress, so SA develops.
A change of residence can cause SA or the absence of a family member
can trigger SA.
What’s the next step? Make sure that the incontinence is not a medical
issue. Is the dog old with a weak bladder, urinary tract infection,
kidney disease, spay surgery, bladder stones, diabetes, etc? Also, is
the dog on any medication which would increase urine output? Talk
with the veterinarian would be in order.
Also, you must ask yourself if the dog is properly obedience trained?
Is the urinating and defecation SA or a medical issue? Is the chewing
and destroying the behavior that many young pups engage in? Some dogs
bark and howl to unfamiliar sights and sounds which happens when the
guardian is home.
What can you do if your dog has Separation Anxiety? If it is a mild
case of SA, counterconditioning may be the answer. The idea is to
change your dog’s fearful and anxious state to a more relaxed state.
It’s done by what associating what the distressed the dog to something
that the dog loves like food. Whenever the dog is left alone, give the
dog a puzzle toy filled with treats, which will take him at least
twenty minutes to clean up. For example, try a Kong dog toy and fill
with cream cheese, spray cheese, low-fat peanut butter, a frozen
banana, and cottage cheese, or canned food and dry food mixed. The
Kong toy can be frozen with the food, so it takes even longer for the
dog to finish. Make sure you remove the toy as it should only be out
when he is alone. Keep in mind this will only work in a mild case as
dogs will not eat in more severe cases.
For a more severe case of SA, you should consult a board-certified
veterinary behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. If
you cannot find one in your area, consult a Certified Professional Dog
Trainer. More than likely program of desensitization would be in
order. This program requires many short separations that do not induce
anxiety and over time, extending the time the dog is left alone. This
is tricky because the training must progress according to the reaction
of the dog. Fear must be avoided, and the dog’s responses and
behaviors must be interpreted correctly, so a professional is needed.
Some dogs feel anxious when the guardian prepares to leave. You may
see the dog pacing, whining, and panting as you are preparing to leave
as the guardian is applying make-up, putting on shoes, getting your
coat. One thing you can try is to get your keys, put on your coat, and
sit on the couch and watch TV. Over time and repetition, you may start
to desensitize the behavior.
If your dog is not as anxious about you leaving, but still shows
anxiety on your departure, you may need to start leaving the dog in a
room as you have him sit and stay. Leave the room just long enough to
avoid anxiety and, through repetition, lengthen the
out-of-sight-stays. Start at the bathroom or bedroom door. Then
progress to the back-door, then the front door, all the while avoiding
the anxiety level. You may have to start with the out-of-sight-stays
that only last seconds and lengthen it out slowly. Be aware you must
act calmly. Maintain a calm manner upon leaving and a calm manner when
you arrive. Once the dog can build up to forty minutes alone, you can
start increasing the blocks of time that he is alone by five minutes
increments, then building up to fifteen minutes at a time. Once the
dog makes it to ninety minutes without anxiety or distress, he can
probably last eight hours alone. But do yourself a favor and get
Should you use a crate? It is a great place of security, a safe place
to go. Other dogs experience a large amount of stress and anxiety. If
unsure, watch the reaction of your pet to the crate. If the dog
becomes stressed while you are there, you will want to avoid the
container. You may need to put the dog in a room with a baby gate at
Providing physical and mental stimulation is imperative for correcting
many behavioral problems. Try to give your dog at least thirty minutes
of aerobic activity (walking, running, swimming) daily. Try to
exercise with your dog right before you leave the dog by himself.
Exercising may reduce anxiety.
We already covered the puzzle toys. Filling them with food will give
the dog a challenge that will occupy the dog. Puzzle and chew toys
that promote chewing and licking have proven to calm dogs. Be sure to
leave them out for your dog when you leave and pick up when you
Always consult your vet with any behavioral issues. Some behavior
issues can be treated with medication. Some dogs are so distressed by
any separation that medication must be used. It’s not unusual that a
combination of medication and behavior modification is used for
Whatever you do, do not scold or punish the dog. Anxious behaviors are
not a result of disobedience or spite, but a response of great stress.
If the dog is punished, the behavior could get worse. Love your dog, show you are there and it’s ok!