First-time Pet Sitter? Tips to Deal With Your Pet's Separation Anxiety

Published: 1/29/2021
Separation anxiety in dogs is a hard thing to tackle as a pet parent, much less as a pet sitter. These tips will help both first-time and seasoned pet sitters deal with this heart-breaking doggy trait.

What is separation anxiety in dogs?

Separation anxiety is precisely what it sounds like: stress due to separation from a dog's parents. Separation anxiety can manifest in a number of ways, from using the bathroom where they shouldn't go to constant whimpering.

Destructive tendencies go hand-in-hand with separation anxiety, and it's not uncommon for dogs to shred their bed or destroy furniture from the pent-up energy. Separation anxiety may cause self-harming behaviors, like scratches and broken bones from escape attempts or hair loss and skin irritation from obsessive overgrooming. 

How to deal with separation anxiety as a first-time dog sitter

Building up to your dog-sitting experience is always nerve-wracking, especially if your furry client has separation anxiety. These tips can help you reduce and relieve symptoms of separation anxiety in your furry clients.

Get the facts

It's essential to understand a dog's separation anxiety before you attempt to treat it. Do some online research on separation anxiety to better understand the disorder as a whole. 

Ask the pet parents about their dog's separation anxiety symptoms. Are they chewers, howlers, or escape artists? It's important to know the symptoms so you can treat them before they get out-of-hand. Talk with the pet parents about how they deal with their dog's separation anxiety when they're away. What works for them? Digest this information and try to implement their strategies as well. 

Earn Fido's trust with treats

Keep some treats in your pocket for when you meet your furry client for the first time. Spend time with Fido while their parents are still there to gain their trust. Earning your furry client's trust is crucial for keeping separation anxiety at bay. The more they are comfortable with you, the less severe their separation anxiety symptoms will hopefully be.

Don't make a big deal out of hellos and goodbyes

Down-playing greetings and departures is an excellent way to counter-condition a pup and, over time, decrease or even eliminate separation anxiety symptoms. Keeping hellos and goodbyes short and sweet prevents an exaggerated emotional response from dogs by reducing their triggers.

Walk in and out of the house like it's no big deal. Give Fido a quick pat on the head when coming or going. You can even practice this without leaving the house. Simply say, "bye," pat Fido on the head, and walk out the door. Stand outside for a minute and come back inside. Say, "hey" in a normal tone and pat them on the head. Repeat this 5 times daily for a few days or weeks until symptoms resolve.

Keep the same routine they're used to

Keeping a routine is essential for dealing with separation anxiety in dogs. Just like children, dogs feel more secure in their day-to-day life with a consistent routine. Have the pet parent go over their everyday practices (feeding, dog walking, sleeping, potty breaks, medication, etc.). Try to keep your furry clients on the same regimen that their parents do.

Try your best to comfort them

When the goodbyes are over and the parents finally leave, spend some quality time with Fido. Cuddle and pet your furry client. Your gentle touch will release serotonin in their brain and help calm their nerves.

Keep your eyes on them 24/7

Dogs with separation anxiety are notoriously destructive. Avoid pet sitting mishaps by keeping eyes on the pup at all times. If you have to walk away for more than a couple of minutes, crate them. Crating may sound extreme, but this preventative measure can keep woofers safe from tearing things up and ingesting something they shouldn't in the process.

Keep Fido entertained

Like Cesar Milan says, "A tired dog is a good dog." Beat those doggy blues with fun, interactive activities like puzzles, dog walks, tug-of-war, and fetch. Keeping a dog's mind and body busy is a tried and true way to control anxiety symptoms.

Give the pet their meds if they require them

Some vets prescribe anti-anxiety medications for dogs with severe separation anxiety. You must give these medications in accordance with the medication directions. If prescribed as needed, administer the medicine upon symptom onset.

Have the parents leave a shirt or blanket that smells like them.

Familiar smells are calming for some dogs with separation anxiety. Ask the pet parents to leave behind a used blanket or worn shirt that they don't care about getting dirty. You might see the pup sniffing or laying on it because it comforts them.

Use dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) sprays

Dog-appeasing hormone sprays are a fantastic tool for calming dogs with separation anxiety. These sprays mimic the smell mother dogs put off when breastfeeding their young and often calms adult dogs too. Studies show pheromone therapy is highly effective against separation anxiety in canines. Dog-appeasing pheromone (or DAP) is also available in diffusers, collar clips, and disposable dog collars. Always ask the pet parents before using this method.