Regina George once famously uttered in the movie Mean Girls, “Why are you so obsessed with me?” This phrase summed up my relationship with our first rescue dog, Denver. He was my shadow. If I sat down on the couch, he would jump up next to me. If I stood up, he stood up. If I went to the bathroom, he was waiting outside the door. It was cute at first but then he started barking and growling anytime he perceived someone to be a threat to me. This ranged from someone giving me a high five, patting my back, or even hugging me.
Your dog might not feel this level of obsession but they have probably grown more attached to you since the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been a year since people started working from home more than ever before. During the start of the pandemic, people adopted dogs because they had more time to care for them since they didn’t have to commute. But with vaccinations on the rise, a return to the office is on the horizon. Your dog has gotten used to having people around all day, every day.
Separation anxiety is a very real thing for all dogs, not just rescue dogs. Domesticated dogs were bred to want to be around humans, so it’s only natural for them to feel anxious when we are not around.
We’ve had our rescue dogs cry/bark/whine for hours while we were gone, chew things, stress eliminate (aka pee inside the house) due to separation anxiety. Here are some tips with how we helped our dogs manage their separation anxiety:
- Create boundaries. All our dogs are allowed on the furniture, but Denver would practically try to sit on your lap. At 55lbs, he is not exactly a lap dog. When he is on the couch, he cannot sit on the person or crowd their personal space.
- Nip compulsive behaviors. Denver would repeatedly lick and lick and lick us until his tongue was basically sandpaper.
- Teach them the “Place” command. If I so much as shifted in my seat, Denver would start to get up thinking I was about to do the same. This made him very twitchy and he could never just settle down. “Place” means they have to stay in that spot without getting up until they are released.
- Crate training. I’ve said it a million times, crate training teaches your dog that their crate is their safe space. It helps with a variety of behavioral issues that stem from separation anxiety.
- Practice. When we first got Denver, he would howl at the door from the time we left until we got back home. The first time we crated him, he ate a blanket. Try leaving for short spurts at first. We would stand outside for 15 minutes (or you can just be out of sight, but the sound of the door closing always triggered Denver). Make sure they get a chance to drink some water and use the bathroom if you’re going to try for a longer stretch. The more they get used to this new routine, the easier it will be for you to leave them.