For many pets, life will abruptly and dramatically change when their owners return to work and are no longer home 24/7. Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavioral problems, but there are steps that pet guardians can take now to prepare and make the transition easier.
Common signs of separation anxiety include howling, barking, inappropriate elimination, following the owner around the home, and lethargy. To help prevent separation anxiety, keep your pet mentally stimulated by providing a variety of enrichment activities both when you’re with your pet and when you leave home.
- Keep your dog’s learning pathways open by teaching new cue words/tricks and practicing them on a daily basis. Similar to humans—what you don’t use, you lose. In this YouTube video, the SF SPCA’s Shelter Behavior Manager, Aaron Teixeira, explains more about separation anxiety and demonstrates two simple training exercises that you can teach your dog: “stay” and “go to mat.”
- Take your dog on at least one daily walk where they can explore at their own pace. This means allowing your dog to sniff areas until they are done. Sniffing is very mentally stimulating for dogs, and while you may not cover as much ground your dog will be just as tired as if you walked your normal distance.
- Use food puzzle toys as a means of giving your pet their meals. This video shows a few different puzzle toy options, which are great for both mental and physical exercise as they solve how to get the food out.
- When you leave home, give your pet food puzzle toys containing low calorie treats so they can get exercise and mental stimulation while you’re gone. Alternatively, you can hide treats around the house for your pet to search and find.
- Break up the day while you are working. A couple times each week, have a dog walker or neighbor come by and take your dog out for 20-30 min. When they leave, they can refill the puzzle toys.
- Before you leave your pet at home, turn on soft music or talk radio. This will help drown out the sounds coming from outside your home, which can cause anxiety, and the soft music or soothing voices will help keep your pet calm in your absence.
- If your pet still shows signs of separation anxiety, contact the SF SPCA’s Behavior Specialty Clinic. Our behavior experts are here to help! firstname.lastname@example.org