As Life Returns to Normal What About Our Pets?

The last few months have been challenging. Stuck at home for weeks on end has turned most of our lives upside down. We are not accustomed to spending all our time in our homes. Thankfully, our pets companionship has been a bright spot. After sheltering in our homes the last few months, many of us are resuming more normal activities. Though we welcome returning to a more typical lifestyle, our pets may feel differently.

Dogs may suffer social anxiety when their owner returns to normal life. The impact on your pet could be significant. Pets may develop a huge reservoir of over-dependency creating significant stress for them. Dogs are highly social. They love being with their families every minute of every day. Going from everyone being home all day to nobody being home could be quite difficult. This sudden absence of human companionship could have serious consequences for pets.

Your pet’s distress due to sudden absence could manifest in several ways. You may notice serious behavioral problems. Your pet may begin chewing on furniture and other objects. Accidents inside the house might occur. His anxiety could cause him to self-harm. Negative behavior including howling, pacing, or other distress signals may increase in frequency.

Acknowledging your pet may experience distress because the routine he has become accustomed to over the past few months is suddenly interrupted is important. If possible, prepare your pet for your absence slowly over a period of time. Begin by mimicking the steps you take when preparing to leave your home. Grab your wallet and keys. Leave and return through the same door leading to the outside. As your dog begins to notice these cues, she will understand you are leaving. She will also anticipate your return.

Place your dog in a safe space when you leave. Consider using a crate, if your dog likes it. If your dog normally lies about in the house, make sure the space is comfortable and safe. A room with a view may not be the best choice if your dog barks often. According to Sarah Wilson, dog trainer and author of “My Smart Puppy:  Fun, Effective and Easy Puppy Training”, this arrangement could create stress for your dog. Ms. Wilson says, “When they’re screaming out the window at everyone who’s going by, their brains are flooded with all of this confusing and upsetting brain chemistry, which doesn’t go away on its own instantly.” Ms. Wilson notes dogs do not enjoy barking hysterically out a window. If a crate doesn’t work, a baby gate is another alternative to keep her in a room where she feels safe and comfortable.

If you and your dog went on frequent walks during these last few months, this introduces another hurdle when resuming normal activities outside of the home. Consider adjusting your schedule to allow a return home to walk your dog. Doggie daycare may be another alternative to leaving your dog at home all day alone.

Do not punish your dog upon returning home, if he engaged in troubling behavior during your absence.  According to Katherine A. Houpt, professor emeritus of behavior medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, dogs forget what they did. Dr. Houpt says dogs do not associate punishment with earlier behavior.

When your dog paces, follows you around the house, or becomes clingy, he is experiencing separation anxiety. These may be signs of distress. A little extra effort will be necessary to help your pup become comfortable and less anxious while he adapts to your life returning to normal.

Call your veterinarian to schedule an exam to be certain nothing is physically the matter should your attempts to help your dog accept a new normal be unsuccessful. It may be necessary to consult a dog trainer or animal behaviorist. Choose professionals who are certified. Choose a trainer who uses positive reinforcement rather than using coercion or force. Anti-anxiety medication may be recommended by your veterinarian if she determines your pup’s behavior is related to anxiety and your attempts to lessen his stress fails.


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