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Quarantine With Pets: How to Prevent Separation Anxiety

04/02/2020 by Stacy Painter
April 2nd, 2020 by Stacy Painter

For pet parents, one of the biggest blessings of being quarantined and working from home is getting to spend more time with our pets. Though you and your pet should soak up the extra snuggle time, it’s important to note the potential ramifications of “too much” time together and set appropriate boundaries to prevent it from becoming a problem when you do go back to the office.

Since it has now been a few weeks for many of us, you may have noticed a slight change in your pet’s behavior since you’ve been working from home full time. Personally, my dog seems to have gotten more clingy, choosing to sit against my leg or on my feet rather than in her bed, and she whines more often.

Dr. Jim Ha, certified applied animal behaviorist and University of Washington professor, expressed concern for a potential crisis with dogs in households where their pet parents are working from home full-time during the COVID-19 quarantine.

In a video recently posted to YouTube, Dr. Ha says that from a young age, many dogs have gotten used to their pet parents leaving the house every day to go to work. However, now that work from home eligible pet parents are spending much more time at home, our cats and especially dogs are going to get very used to having their people around all the time. When we reached out to him directly, Dr. Ha said “It can take as long as a couple of days for them to get used to having you home all of the time.”

Eventually, people will begin to go back to work, which has the potential for a significant separation anxiety crisis among dogs. In the video, Dr. Ha provides a few suggestions on how to prevent your dog from getting too used to this new lifestyle.

How to prevent future separation anxiety

  • Take “No attention” breaks: Cuddles and playtime are highly welcome (and encouraged!) but it’s important to set boundaries with your pet. Designate chunks of “no attention” time throughout the day during which you ignore your pet.
  • Stick to your “leaving for work” routine: If you would typically crate your dog, continue to do so. If you leave a special treat or feed them just before leaving, follow that same routine, and then leave for a while.
  • Leave the house: You don’t have to be gone for eight hours, but Dr. Ha recommends that you are absent for a little while. Some suggestions are to go for a drive, sit in your car and read a book, or go for a bike ride.
  • Separate yourself: During a few of your working hours, consider going into a bedroom or office without your pet and closing the door. They’ll know you’re on the other side of the door, but this gives them a sense of being home alone.

We asked Dr. Ha how long it might take for pets to get used to their pet parents returning to the office. “It can take weeks or never for them to get used to you being gone again. That’s my concern: this situation, if not handled well, and in some cases even if they do, is going to cause some long-term severe behavior issues in some dogs.”