By Wag! Staff
Published: 03/09/2023, edited: 03/10/2023
Separation anxiety in dogs is a hard thing to tackle as a pet parent, much less as a pet sitter. More than likely, you got into the pet-sitting business because you love animals, so the last thing you want is to see them in emotional pain. However, a little knowledge and some extra attention can help you tackle this pet issue.
Whether you're a first-timer or seasoned pet sitter, check out our tips to help you deal with this heart-breaking doggy trait and get back to the snuggles and fun!
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 or general sadness.
Destructive tendencies go hand-in-hand with separation anxiety, and it's not uncommon for dogs to shred their bed or destroy furniture from pent-up energy. Separation anxiety could also cause self-harming behaviors, like scratches and broken bones from escape attempts or hair loss and skin irritation from obsessive licking or overgrooming.
Getting ready for your dog-sitting experience can be a little nerve-wracking, especially if your furry client has separation anxiety. More than likely you got into the pet-sitting business because you love animals, so the last thing you want is to see them in emotional pain. The following tips can help you reduce and relieve symptoms of separation anxiety in your furry clients.
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. Understanding the root cause can help quell your frustration and instead use empathy when the pup misbehaves due to anxiety.
Also be sure to tell 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 the parents can help 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.
Keep some treats in your pocket for when you meet your furry client for the first time, but be sure to check with the parents for any allergies or sensitivities. Or find out what their favorite snacks are. With the right snacks, you'll be fast friends. Spend time with the pup 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.
Down-playing greetings and departures is an excellent way to counter-condition a pup and, over time, decrease or even eliminate separation anxiety symptoms. It's tempting to wind your dog up when you come home after a long day and they're excited to see you, but this won't help matters. 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 the pup a quick pat on the head when coming or going. You can even practice this without leaving the house. Simply say, "bye," pat them 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 longer until symptoms resolve.
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, such as feeding, dog walking, sleeping, potty breaks, medication, etc., and try to keep your furry clients on the same regimen that their parents do.
Dogs with separation anxiety are notoriously destructive. Avoid pet-sitting mishaps by keeping an eye on the pup at all times. If you have to walk away for more than a couple of minutes, crate them if they've been trained. Alternatively, you can lock them in a room where they sleep and have food and water, or put up a baby gate to keep them in a space. This preventative measure can keep woofers safe from tearing things up and ingesting something they shouldn't in the process.
When the goodbyes are over and the parents finally leave, spend some quality time with the pup. Cuddle and pet your furry client. Gently brush them if that's something they enjoy. You could even try your hand at a relaxing K9 massage! Your gentle touch will release serotonin in their brain and help calm their nerves.
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. If the dog has not been prescribed any anti-anxiety meds and their anxiety seems severe, it may be worth a conversation with the pet-parent.
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. Try adding games to a dog walk for some extra variety!
Familiar smells are calming for some dogs with separation anxiety. Ask the pet parents to leave behind a used blanket, a worn shirt or even their pillowcase that they don't care about getting dirty. You might see the pup sniffing or laying on it because it comforts them.
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 they can often calm adult dogs too. Studies show that pheromone therapy is highly effective against separation anxiety in canines. Dog-appeasing pheromone (or DAP) is also available in diffusers, wipes, collar clips and disposable dog collars. Always ask the pet parents before using this method.
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