Pets were the real MVPs of 2020. They kept us sane while we worked from the couch and adjusted to that 24/7 homebody lifestyle with ease. But big changes are happening in the human world. As life returns to normal, how do we ensure our COVID companions aren’t given the cold shoulder?
I'm Wen Tze Ng, Figo's resident dog trainer and the owner of Back to Basics Training. In the article below, I'll provide guidance that can help you reduce unwanted behaviors related to separation anxiety to help you and your pet feel happy and confident when you're apart.
In this article, you’ll learn how to:
Build small habits that increase your pet’s confidence in being away from you.
Create distance without leaving your pet completely alone.
Leave your pet home alone.
Bonus tips for helping your pet cope with separation anxiety.
Build small habits
Reduce attention-seeking behaviors at home and help your pup get used to you leaving the room. It can be helpful to ignore attention-seeking behavior if your pet regularly protests with a whine, bark, or scratch. Training during mealtime by heading into another room for 10 – 15 minutes while they eat is a great way to create distance during a normal part of their routine.
Make sure to invest in mentally stimulating tools like Nylabones, rawhides, kongs, bully sticks, or puzzle toys, and set one out while you create some space. This helps to reward them and reinforce independent behavior while you’re out of sight.
It also never hurts to practice your sit and stay commands periodically throughout the day. Build up the distance and duration a little each day. Fellow dog trainer (and Figo policyholder!) Nicole Ellis demonstrates how puzzle toys can help keep your dog occupied while you practice creating some distance in the video below.
Create a little distance.
Let’s get our pups comfy with being away from us for a few hours without leaving them completely alone. Daycare is an excellent way to help your furry friend get used to being left for a few hours, with friends and fun to keep them distracted. If possible, enroll and drop your pup off at doggy daycare 1-2 times a week. In fact, if you’re a current Figo policyholder, you can use your Pet Cloud app to find a doggy daycare near you! If daycare isn’t in the cards for you, try taking them to a friend’s house instead. Just a few hours at a time, while you buy groceries or run errands, can make all the difference. If you can do this once or twice a week for a few weeks, this can help pups get very comfortable being away from you for a few hours. Ask your friends or family to keep them occupied with games, play dates with their own dogs, cuddle time, etc.
Leaving your pet home alone
Start small. It’s important to practice gradual desensitization and set them up for success. Don’t leave your pet riding solo for hours at a time if it is their first time being left alone. Start with 15 - 30-minute increments and keep building from there. Try tiring them out with exercise and playtime, so they’re more likely to settle down quickly and nap while you’re out.
High-value, long-lasting chew or puzzle toys are also a great way to keep pets occupied. Before you leave, give them a bully stick, antler, frozen treat-filled Kong, or puzzle toy. Keep an eye on them. Set up a camera or a video call with your laptop and phone so you can watch and hear what they’re doing after you leave. Track how long they whine or cry before settling down. Nicole demonstrates this tactic in detail in the video below
Don’t make a scene when you leave. Give your pup a kiss and cuddle, hand them their favorite chew toy, then calmly leave. Excitedly saying “goodbye,” “I’ll see you soon,” or “be a good pup,” will only get them excited and then confused when you close the door behind them because now their attention is on you and the action of you leaving. And as always, don’t forget to puppy-proof your home if you’re leaving them outside a crate. You don’t want them getting into anything dangerous while you’re gone.
Help your pet get more comfortable being alone
Change up your routine. Practice going out at different times of the day so your pup can learn to be more adaptable and flexible, and not anticipate your departure too much. Turn on a little music (or TV!). A little background noise is ideal, so it is not completely quiet at home when you leave. Classical music can be really calming for dogs, and some love watching Animal Planet on TV! Adaptil diffusers are also a great tool to soothe your pet while you’re gone – as it mimics the pheromone produced by a mother dog to help calm puppies.
We hope you find these tips helpful. At Figo, we care about your pet’s health. That’s why we offer a broad array of pet health insurance packages, to suit every pet and every budget. Get your custom quote and learn how Figo can help protect your pet from the unexpected.
Wen Tze is the owner of Back to Basics Training and Figo's Resident Dog Trainer
Figo provides this information solely for educational and informational purposes. No advice, treatment suggestions, or results received in connection with this article can be guaranteed, and nothing contained herein shall constitute veterinary or other professional medical advice. If you suspect your pet has a medical issue, or you have questions about your pet’s behavior, please contact your veterinarian. Figo’s information and other materials are provided “As Is”, without any representations, warranties, or guarantees.