It’s been a cozy two months with your best canine buddy.
The two of you have developed a new routine since you’ve been working from the kitchen table: morning coffee on the deck, three walks per day, a Frisbee session in the afternoon and lots of extra cuddles on the couch. But now you must go back to work. How will your furry friend survive?
“Just like us, dogs are creatures of habit,” says Miguel Gonzalez, behavior programs manager at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region. “Some will be more sensitive to changing habits and some won’t care.”
Separation anxiety can be overdiagnosed, Gonzalez says. But the hallmarks of a dog who’s truly living out the diagnosis is one who does serious damage to doors, windows and any other places where he’s trying to get out to get to you. He’s refusing to eat or is licking and biting or even self-mutilating.
Dog owners whose dogs urinate or defecate inside or tear things up might think their dog has separation anxiety. And while those behaviors do have “flavors” of separation anxiety, says Gonzalez, it’s more likely frustration intolerance. It’s not so much about you being gone, but the dog being frustrated that there’s nothing to do in the house. So he goes looking for something to do.
“When they find stuff to do, it’s typically not what we want them to do,” says Gonzalez, who’s worked in the animal care and training industry for two decades. “They do it to meet a need that’s not being meet. Imagine being in quarantine lockdown and not having the internet or a newspaper to let you know about the world. It’s going to make you anxious.”
So will your pooch suddenly develop separation anxiety after spending so much quality time with you, only to have you disappear for long stretches? Probably not. Developing true separation anxiety after two months of an owner being home and returning to work would be unusual, says Glenn Pierce, National Mill Dog Rescue’s behavior and training manager.
“True separation anxiety has a physiological component to it,” Pierce says. “Anxiety that is brain chemistry. What there is a legitimate risk of is a dog used to you being around, and if the guardian goes back to work it might be disappointing or difficult for the dog.”
There is also a risk if somebody decided to adopt a dog during the last couple of months, thinking it would be a good time to finally go through the process and knowing they’d have a lot of time to spend with the dog. Therein lies the potential problem. Its owner being home is the only routine the dog knows. To have his owner suddenly disappear during the day could be tricky.
If you’re concerned about how going back to work will affect your bestie, there are ways to help him adjust. And remember, give your dog some gratitude for his presence over the last couple of months.
“They provide so much nonverbal support to us,” Gonzalez says. “Take a minute to thank your animal for being there for you. This is a hard situation for a lot of people. If they didn’t have pets, it would have been a way harder time. When you decide you’re going back to work, tell your dogs thanks.”
Contact the writer: 636-0270