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How to Help Your Dog Cope with Post-COVID Back to School Separation Anxiety

helping your dog cope with separation anxiety
As summer winds down, it’s time to head back to school and back to work. On top of that, in a post-COVID world, going from working at home every day to heading back into the office has caused quite a dramatic lifestyle shift for pet parents and their adored pups. Combined with social calendars that are now full, many dogs that were taken home during the pandemic are now experiencing high levels of separation anxiety.

What is a Pandemic Puppy?

According to a survey conducted by ASPCA, approximately 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic. While the goal behind this was to provide companionship during a lonely time and give shelter pets a loving home, this also resulted in a large number of dogs experiencing a different day-to-day life after their parents have returned to work in the office.
Puppies that were adopted during the pandemic became used to their owners being home all day, every day. After lockdown restrictions were lifted, parents returned to the office and social lives resumed outside the home. Many young pups are now left at home alone for extended periods of time for what could be the first time in their lives. This is where the term “pandemic puppy” started.
A pandemic puppy usually experiences a high level of separation anxiety along with the subsequent negative behavior that results from it. Chewed-up pieces of furniture, accidents in the house, bottled-up energy and aggression with other dogs due to no socialization are all common identifiers.

Are Certain Dog Breeds More Prone to Separation Anxiety?

Dogs are social creatures, which can make them more prone to separation anxiety than other types of pets. While it is true that any dog can suffer from separation anxiety, especially when their living conditions change as drastically as they have after the pandemic, there are some dog breeds that are more prone to separation anxiety than others.
These breeds can include:
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Border Collies
  • German Shepherds
  • Chihuahuas
  • Great Danes
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
Some of these breeds are very dedicated and bonded with their families, which can cause them additional anxiety when they’re separated from their loved ones.

5 Tips for Treating Your Pup’s Post-COVID Separation Anxiety

Fortunately, separation anxiety is treatable for dogs. As you prepare to head back to school and work, here are some tips on how to help your dog cope. And remember — it’s a process that will take some time! Patience is key.

1. Desensitize Your Dog to Cues That You Are Leaving

Your dog can tell when you’re leaving. When you grab your wallet or purse, jingle your keys and put your shoes on, you’re giving your dog cues. Dogs are smart and can quickly learn that these behaviors mean you’re leaving. This can cause separation anxiety-induced responses that can include pacing, panting, whining and more.
In order to avoid this correlation in your dog’s mind, you can try to break the association and desensitize them to these behaviors. You can do this by putting on your shoes when you’re not going anywhere, staying home and wearing them around the house. You can also pick up your keys periodically throughout the day and make noise with them when you’re not going anywhere.
After routinely doing these behaviors, your dog may start to disassociate them with you leaving for a significant amount of time. This can help reduce the anxious response they have to these behaviors.

2. No-Fuss Arrivals and Departures

To make leaving seem like less of an anxiety-inducing ordeal, you can indicate to your dog that it isn’t a big deal. This means not making a big show of leaving the house and not having an over-dramatized reunion party when you come back home. Sad, we know — but it could be for the better!
Act in a calm, relaxed manner when leaving your home. This means you don’t act sad or give your dog lots of extra attention while apologizing right before you walk out the door. Similarly, you’ll also want to come home in a calm manner just like when you left. You can still be happy to come home and reunite with your dog, but try not to treat it like an overly exciting and emotional event. This will only further increase your dog’s separation anxiety.

3. Give Your Dog Ample Exercise

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “A tired dog is a good dog.” This also applies to separation anxiety. Before leaving for an extended period of time, make sure your dog has received sufficient exercise for the day. This means they will have less energy for destructive behaviors when you’re gone. Whether it’s chewing on furniture or pacing the house back and forth, a dog that is tired and happy will be more inclined to sleep and relax while you are gone than a dog that is full of energy.
Taking your dog to the park, playing fetch, or going on a hike before leaving for an extended period of time will help tire your dog, leaving little room for anxiety-induced behaviors while you’re gone.

4. Practice Leaving

To help give you an idea of how your dog will behave when you’re gone, you can conduct “practice leaves” for both short and long periods of time. This will help establish a leaving protocol that keeps your dog’s anxiety at bay while also helping you get your own behavior down.
To start, toss a handful of treats at your dog and say something calmly like, “I’ll be back later.” Then walk out the door without fanfare. You can see how your dog reacts for a short period of time, and then you can slowly work your way up to more and more time as they get comfortable with each level of separation.
Pet monitoring systems can also be a great way for you to see how your dog is reacting when you leave the home. Are they howling, destroying furniture or pacing around? These are behaviors that you might not notice after you’ve left and driven away. Monitoring their behavior with some type of video system will help you see how their separation anxiety is affecting them. After you’ve gotten your routines down, you will hopefully see their behavior start to improve.

5. Discuss Anti-Anxiety Medications with Your Trusted Veterinarian

Have an open discussion with your trusted veterinarian about the separation anxiety symptoms your pet is experiencing. In addition to offering behavioral changes around your home that can help ease their anxiety, your veterinarian may also consider prescribing anti-anxiety medication if your pet needs it.
One of our top-dispensed and widely used anti-anxiety medications is Reconcile®, a once-a-day, FDA-approved flavored tablet used to treat separation anxiety in dogs. Reconcile® helps achieve a calmer frame of mind in dogs, reducing detrimental behaviors and making them more receptive to training.
Results of clinical trials showed that, after eight weeks, 73% of dogs receiving Reconcile® and behavior modification training combined had significant behavioral improvement. When prescribed by your veterinarian, it’s clinically proven to be a safe and effective treatment for separation anxiety in dogs that reduces stress for both dogs and their parents alike.

Mixlab: Your Trusted Partner for Your Pet’s Prescription Needs

No matter which choices your trusted veterinarian makes for you and your dog, Mixlab is here to help with free next-day delivery on all new orders. Top that off with our exceptional, five-star customer service. Not only will you receive the medication your dog needs quickly and efficiently, we’ll also be by your side, with a smile on our face, to make sure your dog feels their best!
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