Written in collaboration with our friends at Snooza.
Just like us, dogs can experience stress and anxiety in handling life’s everyday events. With so much uncertainty in our lives that we need to adapt to, it’s common for our routines to suddenly alter, which can prove very unsettling for our much-loved companions. With some pet parents returning to the workplace either partially or full time, or suddenly finding ourselves having to head back into isolation, it’s important to be set up for success to help our pets handle these changes with confidence, too.
7 tips to help your dog adjust to new and changing routines
1. Create a space they feel safe in
Animal Behaviourist Laura V recommends you provide your dog with access to a safe place which is just for them. “This needs to be somewhere they choose to go to and rest. If they have access to this space, they are more likely to relax when you are not at their side.” This can include their crate, blankets, bed and toys and should be a space they can retreat to when they might be feeling, stressed, agitated or tired. Dr. Andrew McKay, ZamiPet’s Head Veterinarian, suggests pet parents add one of their old jumpers to your dog’s bed or crate. “This will provide a familiar smell, which will be comforting for your dog if you’re absent.”
To assist your pet in adapting to the ‘new normal’, it’s worth investing in some high-quality, comfort accessories, such as Snooza’s range of premium soothing and calming products. The Australian made Snooza Calming Cuddler bed features super-soft, plush, vegan faux-fur with soft raised walls and a deep sleeping area to provide the ultimate retreat for anxious pets. The Snooza Calming Cuddler Blanket also uses the same calming, faux-fur plush for soothing your pet, giving them a cosy place to be no matter where you go, keeping your dog cuddled and comforted. You can use the blanket as a calming cover to drape over their bed, your bed or sofa, in the car, or any other place where your dog likes to rest.
2. Preparing your dog for spending time at home alone
With many of us having spent more time working from home during the pandemic, it’s important we now prepare our pets for changes to this routine. The process of slowly getting your dog used to your absence from the home is known as ‘desensitisation’, explains Dr. McKay. “It’s a technique of slowly exposing your pet to a situation that would normally cause an adverse response – such as anxiety from being home alone – and gradually working up to the point where your pet becomes less reactive.”
As a starting point, practice short times away from home and your pet. Laura V says leaving your dog for half an hour at a time may even prove too distressing at first. “Start with just a few seconds out the door and work your way up from there.” Working in a different room from your pet can also be a good initial step, especially if your dog has become a friendly lap-companion during Zoom calls! You can also try extending your time apart by doing some errands out of the house for a little longer than usual and gradually increase the time spent away.
3. Affection is not a solution
Even when you’re home, it’s important to let your dog have their independence from you. Laura V recommends you do not encourage your dog's clinginess. “Whilst we may love their cuddles and company, allowing them to depend on it constantly is not fair on their mental health.” Instead, Laura V has devised a strategy of three ‘C’ words to help your pet build confidence and reduce anxiety. “Reward your dog only when they are calm, cooperating with you or controlling their impulses.”
Similarly, when you arrive home, Dr. McKay recommends you allow your dog time to calm down before paying them attention. “Responding to your pet whilst they’re in a hyper-excitable state will simply further encourage this behaviour.”
4. Routine is key for keeping calm
Dogs require predictability. As best you can, keep to routine times for meals, exercise and bedtime, making this consistent with what will happen on the days you’ll be absent and spending time at home.
When you leave the house can also be a potential trigger for separation anxiety in dogs. Creating lots of excitement during farewells can be a sign you’re about to leave for the day. Laura V recommends you make your departure both specific and predictable. “Dogs need to know what to expect in their day, especially if they are unsure how to control it. Keep it calm, positive and for very short stints to start with.”
Dr. McKay advises you keep both your departure and arrival as normal and low-key as possible. “Stay calm when leaving the house and arriving home, as making a fuss can further exacerbate your dog’s anxiety.” Another great tip is to be mindful of stimuli that may signal your departure. “There will be triggers for your dog like the jingling of keys that alerts them you’re heading out. Leave your keys in a place that enables you to slip out quietly”, says Dr. McKay.
5. Physical exercise for dogs each day
Make time to fit in some gentle exercise with your dog before you commence work for the day, whether you’re working from home or if you’re heading into the workplace. The endorphins from exercise can help put your pet in a happier mental state and work off some excess energy that may impact their wellbeing, especially if they’re home alone. Striking the right balance is key here: avoid any activity that’s likely to get your pet too excited just as you’re departing the house or heading to your home desk.
6. Mental stimulation to combat boredom
Boredom can trigger anxiety in dogs, so you may find it helpful to provide them with some toys specially designed to help combat separation anxiety and keep them occupied while you’re working. This can include interactive toys or games, such as special food-dispensing toys which are excellent boredom-busters and also keep your pet occupied whilst you’re departing the home. Dr. McKay says a cheap and easy method is to fill a Kong toy with dry dog kibble mixed in with some peanut butter (not the diet variety). “This method makes it difficult for your dog to get the food out and will keep them well occupied.” Interactive feeding matts that can also be filled with ‘hidden’ kibble are great for intellectual stimulation and keeping your dog engaged. Another great tip is to hide some ZamiPet HappiTreats® in the garden for your dog to find while you’re away, which provides another perfect distraction!
7. Supplements may help
Laura V suggests making a daily supplement part of your dog’s routine. “Compared to a decade ago, there is now plenty of research in canine wellbeing and how supplements can assist in the health and happiness of our dogs.” ZamiPet's Relax & Calm supplement with Tryptophan, Valerian Root, Chamomile and L-Theanine helps to support a healthy nervous system in dogs which can help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Still concerned? Speak to your trusted vet
If your dog’s behaviour is still providing cause for concern, a trip to the vet might be the best course of action. Your trusted vet can help identify the possible causes and triggers of your dog’s anxiety, rule-out any possible medical conditions, and formulate the best treatment plan. This may be a combination of behavioural training (including desensitising and counter conditioning), pre-emptive strategies, supplements, and for more serious cases, medication.
The information in this article was checked by ZamiPet Veterinarian and General Manager Dr Andrew McKay, BVSc, University of Melbourne, 2000. Vet Registration No: V3985
Disclaimer: This information is general advice only. Before starting any treatment or supplement with your pet, please consult your vet first for the best approach to getting your pet back to their best health.