For your dog, 18 months can be (literally) a lifetime. The old adage about one human year being equal to seven dog years holds true in pandemic time too. As far as your furry family members are concerned, you've been together almost 24/7 for a decade! Now, you're heading back to work or school...and they're not.
For much of the last year and a half, many of us have been stuck in our houses. In the sea of scary headlines and the "new normal", being able to stay home with your dog has actually been a bright spot for many people. Now, as businesses and schools begin to open back up, we're all getting used to human interaction again. And our furry family members are going to have to get used to life without it.
Hello, separation anxiety.
If you adopted a "pandemic puppy" you may have prepared yourself for the "back to school" shock, but even older dogs can have a hard time adjusting back to their pre-pandemic lifestyles.
The most important thing that we ask you to keep in mind during this transition period is that your dog is NOT mad at you for leaving. If your dog has accidents, barks, or destroys things, it's because they are experiencing anxiety and fear. They don't understand what's going on or where you are or if you're okay or they're going to be okay. PLEASE don't yell at them. Knowing that you're angry or upset will just convince them even more that something is terribly wrong.
When dealing with separation anxiety, you have two goals. First, to convince your dog that everything is okay to alleviate their stress and fear. Second, to keep them (and your stuff) safe while you work on number one.
When it comes to keeping your dog safe during this process, crates are awesome. Yes, we know not everyone agrees with that, but we've worked with a lot of sighthounds and for the vast majority of them, crates can make them feel safe and protected. If you're introducing (or re-introducing) a crate to your dog, start from scratch. Make the crate their happy place. All meals should be fed in the crate and every good experience your dog has should begin and end there.
Basket muzzles are awesome, too. Hard plastic basket muzzles are used in Greyhound racing to prevent dogs from nipping at each other while running but they work for all sighthounds and come in sizes to fit any dog. They do NOT prevent your dog from opening his mouth. (PLEASE do NOT use any kind of muzzle that prevents your dog from opening their mouth or drinking water!) Basket muzzles will keep your dog from injuring themselves and may limit their ability to damage items in your house.
Our final piece of advice: don't be afraid to ask for help! Separation anxiety is complex and no two dogs are exactly the same. We've written about some tips and tricks but you may need to consult your vet or a veterinary behaviorist. They may recommend that your dog take anti-anxiety medication. That is okay. We absolutely support #BetterLivingThroughChemistry.
We know everything is weird right now and your dog's separation anxiety isn't helping your own stress. Take a deep breath and try to imagine how you'd feel if the pandemic lasted a decade. Imagine how much harder it would be to go back to your old life. That's what your dog is feeling right now.
It won't be easy, but you can get through it together.