For many people, the last year has been fraught with time spent at home due to the pandemic. In fact, many folks became pet parents for the first time because they found themselves at home pretty much all of the time. While the time at home has been great for establishing a strong bond between you are your dog, the downside is that your dog may suffer from separation anxiety when you are not there. Separation anxiety in dogs is the real deal.
As we look to the future and the plans to return to work physically in some capacity, you may start to see your rescue dog exhibiting anxiety when you are not there. This is a common occurrence for many new pets, especially because they sometimes have very good reasons for why they have developed such anxiety due to conditions in their previous home or even being homeless in some cases. But some dogs may be more anxious than others for no particular reason or because of a traumatic event.
I know for our dog, Hudson, he broke his leg and was put on crate rest following his surgery which was right in the middle of his prime socialization period (16-24 weeks old)! This traumatic event has had lasting effects on Hudson’s mental health but read below to learn the tricks we used to help him manage his anxiety and live his best chonker life!
What Does Anxiety Look Like in Dogs?
Before we jump into tactics you can use to help your dog manage their anxiety, it’s important that we first talk about the signs and symptoms of anxious dogs. These symptoms may be similar to other issues such as a lack of exercise or mental stimulation, so it’s important to speak with your veterinarian to confirm whether your dog has clinical anxiety that may require specific therapies to treat such as medication.
Common symptoms of anxiety in dogs include cowering in a corner or running away, pacing when not needing to go outside, shaking or shivering, barking/howling when their family is not home, panting or pacing when it is not hot outside, destructive behavior, or excessive licking and chewing. Dogs may exhibit anxiety symptoms from their early puppy days or suddenly due to a traumatic event such as moving, loss of a family member, etc.
As the dog owner, it's important to reach out to your veterinarian to discuss this more if you think your dog exhibits any of these symptoms. In the mean time, here are 5 ways how to help your dog with anxiety.
1. Physical Contact
As we’ve mentioned before, dogs and humans have a lot in common. It’s no wonder they are man’s best friend! Dogs find physical contact to be soothing and protective – just like a baby who cries until the moment they are held or when we hug others to show that we care and support them.
If you see your dog start to exhibit signs and symptoms of anxiety, then try cuddling up next to them on the couch or pick them if your pup isn’t too much of a chonker.
Other ways to engage in physical contact are petting sessions. Get to know where your dog likes pets and scratches and indulge them! Our dog Jade loves a good belly rub and will roll over on her back any chance he can get. While our senior dog, Guinness really enjoys having his hips massaged.
Massages are a great way to help relieve muscle tension and stress in dogs that accumulate over time due to anxiety. Physical contact is a great way to show your pet your love and appreciation for them while also providing the supportive care they need, especially when they are feeling anxious.
But while we hate to admit it, sometimes we can’t always be with our dog giving them constant love and affection. We all have other responsibilities like work, school, etc. that require us to be away from our furry friends.
One way to help alleviate your dog’s stress when you have to be away from them is try leaving something behind like a t-shirt for example which smells like you that they can cuddle with until you return. Dogs have a naturally have a heightened sense of smell and so this can provide a comforting element to your dog’s environment when you are not there.
2. Exercise Your Dog
Anxiety in dogs can be caused by a lot of different things, but a common cause is due to an excess of unused energy. So sometimes, all your pup needs to help them feel more relaxed is a refreshing walk or a round of playing ball to help them relieve their symptoms.
Interacting with your pet during exercise and providing physical contact provides added stress-relieving benefits for your pup. Providing plenty of physical contact and talking to them during this time is also beneficial in providing your dog the love and support they need to thrive.
3. Music Therapy
It’s no secret that background music provides a calming benefit to humans, but also provides a calming environment for your pet too! The melodies provide a rhythm that help to distract you and your furry friends especially in high noise areas such as busy streets, storms, etc.
It’s best to choose music that has soothing or calming melodies such as classical or jazz to provide the most relaxing experience for you and your pet.
4. Daily Calm Time & Supportive Tools
Dogs need dedicated time daily just like humans need nap time when we are young to help us recharge. Setting time aside daily to allow your dog to relax will help them to learn to not be constantly seeking your attention.
So, when the inevitable time happens that you cannot provide them with the attention that they want, they know how to self soothe and relax on their own until you are ready to play with them.
However, if your dog has a tough time unwinding or learning to embrace a daily calm period, then you may find it helpful to use supplements such as CBD oil for dogs. Other alternatives include tightly worn clothing or “thunder shirts” for dogs that give your dog the sensation that they are being wrapped in a hug.
5. Modify Entry/Exit Greeting Rituals
If your dog gets anxious when you leave then try to avoid interacting with your dog when you exit and enter the house. Think of it like when you leave your child with a babysitter, and you sneak out the door to avoid a complete meltdown.
The same applies to your dog too! You may find it helpful to also avoid being overly excited when you arrive home so that your dog adjusts to being home alone more effectively.
Another option is to give your dog a special treat each time you leave them alone such as a puzzle toy stuffed with treats, frozen chicken broth, or treats. It’s important that you only provide this treat when you are gone, and you take it away when you get home – this way your dog will start to look forward to their home alone time.
If your pet has destructive chewing tendencies, then make sure to not leave their treat in something that can be easily destroyed to avoid choking or ingesting of foreign objects with your dog. Instead, try freezing peanut butter in a mini-ice cube tray and give it to them in their food dish when you leave.