In July, when we were all preparing for a second spike of COVID-19, I—like many other folks who live alone—decided I wouldn’t (couldn’t) go back into shelter-in-place alone. I had limited options, given I have no patience, space, or desire for a roommate and—no matter how funny that Match.com commercial is—ya girl refuses to spend any more time on dating apps. Enter Remy, my COVID puppy.
The first few weeks with Remy (the light of my life, the apple of my eye) were *not* smooth. He was a nine-month-old stray puppy who was emaciated, halfway to hairless, scared of virtually everything (doors, TVs, leashes, etc.), and 100% not potty-trained. It’s been a journey, but fast-forward five months and we’ve settled into each other’s lives like two peas in a pod. It’s a wonderfully successful love story on par with any of the Hallmark holiday movies that have flooded my Netflix watch list.
Unfortunately, unlike those holiday movies, the camera doesn’t slow-fade out to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas after we achieve peak happiness. Turns out, when you scoop a hungry pup off the streets, fatten him up, and give him an air-conditioned place to rest his paws, he gets pretty attached and freaks out when you leave him alone to go grocery shopping. Enter separation anxiety.
My story isn’t unique, nor is it limited to dogs. Talk to any of your toddler-parent friends and they’ll tell you epic stories of the panic-induced meltdowns their kids have every time they try to run an errand or get a minute alone.
Our pets (and children, but I don’t know anything about raising kids, so I’ll stick to dogs) are getting used to having us around 24/7. Remy doesn’t know a world where he doesn’t lounge in bed all day and pop into my video calls when he’s feeling social. He doesn’t know the drive-by hugs and the treats I throw at him throughout the day are special COVID/WFH perks that will go away as soon as SolarWinds asks me to come back into the office.
I still have hope the world will get back to normal someday, which means I needed to prepare the little angel for the eventual day I go back into the office. I’ve finally gotten Remy to a point where he doesn’t really care when I leave the house. Here’s how I did it:
- Get a camera. The first step is to see what your dog does while you’re away, and I’ve found this is most easily achieved with a camera. Does your dog stress out for five minutes then self-soothe? Does your dog bark nonstop for 30+ minutes? Does he start chewing on the door frame?
- Doggy daycare. I started sending Remy to doggy daycare once a week so he could get used to being away from me for long periods of time. He also gets to hang around dogs and learn how to be a social butterfly. Added bonus? I got a full day of guilt-free errand-running.
- Start small. Don’t go from zero to 60. Start slowly by leaving for just a few minutes, do small things such as grabbing the mail or running out to the car, then build up to longer errands.
- Be chill. Don’t make a big deal about leaving or coming back. No over the top goodbyes or hugs and kisses when you get back. The pros even recommend ignoring your dog for a bit when you first get home.
- Crate training. The crate keeps the little guy out of trouble while I’m away. Many dog trainers believe crating also helps reduce anxiety.
Other tips and tricks:
- Leave the radio or TV on to help mask outside noises, which can spike their anxiety.
- Leave a KONG toy with frozen filling and treats to keep your dog busy.
- If crate training, leave a piece of recently worn clothing in the crate with your dog. Just make sure it’s an item you’re okay with them tearing up.
- If your dog’s anxiety doesn’t seem to be making any progress, you can explore the use of CBD, melatonin treats, Rescue Remedy, calming room diffusers, etc. If you go to your local pet store, the folks there will usually be well equipped to recommend something. Pro tip: many of the gadgets you’ll find have a generous return policy if they don’t end up working for your dog.
- If you have neighbors nearby, you may want to consider using a bark control ultrasonic pet training system. As someone who lives in an apartment, I highly recommend letting your neighbors know you’re working on separation anxiety—it typically makes them much more forgiving if your dog goes on a barking spree while you’re out. Most neighbors probably wouldn’t mind a “thank-you” cookie delivery if the barking gets very bad.
Are your pets (or kids) developing separation anxiety? Are you worried about their reaction when the world gets back to normal? Do you have any tips or tricks to share?