How to help an anxious dog feel calm
Our pets have really gotten used to having their humans around this past year. Some fear that their pets will experience high levels of anxiety once we are back to our regular routines. Does your dog become anxious when left alone for a short time? Anxiety in dogs can do everything from barking, non-stop to other destructive behaviors when left alone. There are many other reasons dogs can become anxious – everything from loud noises like fireworks, sirens, the doorbell etc. to past traumatic experiences.
Your dog’s response to anxiety can also be more subtle like withdrawing from activities he normally enjoys like playing with its toys or eating. To help them deal with their anxiety, there are several things you can do to help.
The first thing you can do to help minimize separation anxiety when you eventually return to work, is to start leaving your dog home for short periods of time to build up his tolerance. Plan to run some errands or go for an extended walk. Even just driving around town for a while will work. The idea is to build up your dog’s tolerance for being left alone before your schedule dramatically changes.
My dog Harry seems to exhibit some nervousness at times and being left alone is on the list of things that make him uneasy. The way I have chosen to address this is to make sure I am doing the following to help minimize his anxiety:
- Make sure he gets regular exercise through leash-walking.
- Establish and maintain a regular routine for feeding, going outside, and going to bed.
- Get help in maintaining his schedule when I cannot be there.
- Have a designated spot he can go to relax or nap when he does not want to engage with company or contractors.
- Make sure he has a busy toy when he will be alone for a few hours. A small Kong with peanut butter does the trick.
- Leave a radio on with some light music to help mask outside noises.
Some of his daily routine includes getting up and outside at the same time each morning. You don’t need to be too extreme with wake-up times – pick a time that works for you and your dog. Gauge the time based on the last time he was outside. I try to make this time no longer than 9 hours so they can relieve themselves. Harry goes outside at 7:20am which is not too early compared to other times I have heard from clients. Feeding times should also be consistent. I generally feed Harry at 7:30am and 5:30pm but these times can be adjusted to accommodate your work schedule. Plan the walks around the times you when you need to get things done. Lastly, spend some time playing with your dog when you can or just spend some time relaxing on the couch.
By having a thought-out routine planned for your dog, they know what to expect at various times of the day and get much satisfaction interacting with you.
For more extreme cases of anxiety (separation or otherwise), you may need to enlist the help of your veterinarian or a dog behaviorist. Your veterinarian will be able to determine if there are any underlying conditions that may be triggering your dog’s anxiety or at least rule them out. They may also prescribe anti-anxiety medicine which can help.
Like many things with your pets, one size does not fit all and sometimes you have to try a few things before you find the things that work best. Start with what you can control now, like the exercise and scheduling and move onto to the other tactics. With a little time and effort, you can help your dog adjust to his new normal.