How to ease your pet’s Separation distress?


Varsha Verma
& Rocky
While it is always hard to say ‘bye’ to your pooch when you are going out, it has become quite difficult in pandemic times. With the family huddled together in the house during lockdown and with work-from-home option thereafter, our four-legged friends just don’t want to let us go anywhere. Here’s how to handle separation anxiety during pandemic.

When lockdown was imposed last year in March, Rocky, my five-year-old Pomeranian, was the happiest. With everybody at home, he was having a gala time… spending quality time with all three of us. He used to be awake with us while we binge watched web series, get up late in the morning and just followed us in the house.

One year later, when offices started opening up, my husband started going to work, which became a stress factor for him. He used to cling to me or my son whenever he went for work, clearly showing signs of anxiety. When three of us went out together for our vaccination, leaving him at home, it was a nightmare for him. He scratched the door and barked until we were back. Earlier, he was quite comfortable when we left him for 4-5 hours at a stretch. He was suffering from separation anxiety.

Most pet parents would be going through the similar problem. Let’s see how can we manage separation distress in our pets.

Separation distress…
Separation anxiety or separation distress simply means that your pet gets anxious or panics when he is not with the people he wants. Most common symptoms include vocalising, salivation, destructive behaviour on doors and windows, urinating in unwanted places, not eating or drinking water when alone, licking, etc.

Sometimes, pets start showing anxiety while you are getting ready to leave – picking up your wallet or car keys, wearing shoes, etc. Rocky somehow knows which clothes we wear at home and which ones we wear while going out. As soon as he sees someone dressed to go out, he starts following him around the house and looking at him, without even batting an eyelid.

Make a routine…
It is very important to make a regular routine for your pet. He should have at least two walks a day, giving him good amount of exercise. Proper diet and nutrition are also very important for a healthy mind. Moreover, make him rack his brains too…mentally stimulate him to play some games, a Kong toy with hidden treats, solving dog puzzles, etc. Also, make him interact with other people in the family and neighbourhood. Groom him well and also let him sleep or rest whenever he wants. Dogs can sleep 12-14 hours a day, so, do not disturb them while sleeping.

Teaching pet to be on his own…
This goes a long way in having a happy pet. It helps them to cope up when you are not around and they are alone. This is called Independence Training and it teaches the pet to be comfortable when the pet parent is away.

Set a time and place where you want your dog to be alone. Give him a treat or a toy at that place and just move away. If your pet shows sign of stress, remain there and then slowly move away. Gradually increase the time your pet stays there and also the distance between you and him. This becomes the ‘Downtime’ for your dog and the place becomes the ‘Go to Place’ where you teach your dog to move away from you and settle there.

Practice short separation sessions…
Once you have designated a place where you want your pet to be while you are away, give them a few treats and move away to see their reaction. Once they are comfortable, move out for a short duration. Gradually, increase the time.

Make departure cues look normal…
Since your dog knows when you’re going out through your departure cues, play with their minds. Pick up your car keys during the day, wear your shoes even if you are not going out. Instead go on with your normal household activities.

Be calm at all times and do not give excessive attention to your dog while going out. Also, keep calm when you are back. Don’t let him jump on you and don’t go overboard with treats and patting. Settle down first and then hug him.

Seek help from a professional…
If nothing helps, seek a vet, who can prescribe some medications and other behaviour modifications. You can also take help from a dog trainer.