Don’t you just LOVE the fall?!?!? I do!
Truthfully, I love with the holiday season! Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and then My Birthday!! It’s a very exciting time for most humans. However, it can be a difficult season for our pets. Between the house guests, constant travel, extra decor, and cold temperatures, there is a lot that can disrupt your pet’s routine and environment. Therefore, over the next few weeks we will be discussing travel tips, common holiday health issues, and anything else that can help you and your pet prepare for the holidays.
I am going to kick off this next few weeks by talking about separation anxiety. Specifically, I want to discuss the potential for separation anxiety to be worsened by the changes brought on by the holiday season.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is distressed behavior brought about by a dog being separated from their parents. For many dogs, this is a lifetime struggle, and their parents work very hard to help them overcome their fears and anxieties.
According to WebMD Pets, one of the “triggers” associated with separation anxiety is a significant change in routine. As mentioned above, although the additional days off work and opportunities to travel may be exciting for us, they can be anxiety triggers for many dogs.
Imagine this. Your dog is used to your Monday-Friday work schedule and is more than happy with a walk and some play time each day. However, you are home on Saturday and Sunday and always make an effort to take your dog for an adventure. Well, when the holidays come around and the temperatures drop, you spend less of your weekday time walking your pet and your weekends quickly get filled with holiday parties and activities. Sound familiar?
Although these changes may seem small and ultimately insignificant, they can be major changes to a dog who thrives on constant and consistent routine.
I am going to preface the following section by saying that separation anxiety is a spectrum. Many dogs suffer from some level of anxiety while others have their whole world turned upside down when their parents or guardians try to leave the house. If you believe your dog is on the severe end of the spectrum, I highly encourage you to work with your veterinarian and an animal behaviorist.
Sadly, dogs who suffer in the extreme have a tendency to put themselves in harms way when feeling anxious. For example, I knew an Alaskan Malamute that would try to put himself through sliding glass doors (or eat inside doors) to get to his mom. Fortunately, she was able to take him to work with her and built him a large dog run where he felt comfortable at night. For dogs who suffer so profoundly, the following suggestions may not be helpful. However, if your dog has displayed some small, but noticeable, separation anxiety symptoms in the past, these might help you make it through the holiday season.
1) Stick to Your Routine as Much as Possible: For example, if your dog usually gets a walk after work, continue to provide your dog with that walk as much as possible. Don’t forget to consider safety and potential rain. When the weather doesn’t permit a walk, continue to spend that time with your pet. You may even want to consider these indoor activities to help keep your dog occupied. A consistent routine is especially important if your dog may have separation anxiety and has only displayed minimal symptoms because a large change in routine can cause more severe separation anxiety symptoms.
2) Provide Sufficient Exercise: Many dogs will start to display signs of separation anxiety that have originated from boredom. If you know that your opportunities to exercise your dog are going to be slim through the holiday season, try to make the sessions count! Start building up your exercise routine so that you can provide more cardio exercise for your dog in a shorter amount of time. For example, if you currently walk your dog for an hour every night or morning, and you know that the short days ahead will cut that time down to 30 minutes, start incorporating running into that daily exercise. As a word of caution, please don’t try to run with your dog for 30 minutes right away. Start small, and work your way up to avoid injury.
If the weather doesn’t permit outdoor exercise, consider trying treibball or urban herding. This indoor activity will provide your dog with exercise and provide you with an opportunity to bond with your dog.
3) If You Have to Travel, Make Arrangements With Your Current Pet Sitter or Doggy Daycare Early: If your dog is comfortable staying with a pet sitter (perhaps at your house) or they love their doggy daycare and have spent time there before, please don’t change their petsitter or daycare during this hectic time. To avoid the holiday rush, I would call today (if you haven’t already) to make arrangements if you have to travel this holiday season.
Does your dog suffer from separation anxiety? Do you have any suggestions for the holidays?
For more information on how to help your dog who has separation anxiety, please visit this post from Victoria Stilwell’s blog.