Canine separation anxiety and working from home
April 23, 2020 1:37 PM   Subscribe

So I am working from home and always thought I would love it. But I’m finding it challenging in unexpected ways. One of the things I most looked forward to, is the opportunity to hang out with my dog all the time. About 75% of the time it’s awesome. But the other 25% is driving me crazy. How do I create a more manageable routine? Help!

Bobby is a 3yo English Springer Spaniel. He gets two walks a day, a.m. and p.m., each 30-60min with plenty of off-lead sniffing and running time, and regular adventures by car to different parks and walking spots. Sometimes a 3rd quick walk or outing in the middle of the day. On about half of his walks he encounters and has a play with other dogs. In my Pre-COVID Life, each weekday he was put out in the backyard from 9am-5.30pm with a stuffed Kong while we head off to work. All the signs are that he was coping well with this routine (no digging, destruction, or escape attempts, and neighbours said they don’t hear him bark). On the odd occasion that I popped home from work during the day I would usually find him sleeping. When we’re home he has the run of the house and backyard. He quite happily sleeps all night in his designated bed in the kitchen without disturbance or trying to come into our bedroom.

I have now been at home with him 24/7 for only 1 month, and he has already become incredibly clingy during the day. He follows me everywhere, tries to curl up literally underneath my office chair, and becomes distressed if I leave home without him for a run or a shopping trip (the other day I could hear him crying and howling as I ran down the street, which was heartbreaking). In the mornings at home he is very calm and settled, and basically snoozes the hours away in various spots around the house. But from about 2.30 to 4.30 daily, like clockwork, he begs for attention continually and it’s very hard to get any work done. Even if he has literally just gone for a lunchtime walk! I have tried putting him outside with a Kong at that time, but he knows I’m inside and bangs on the back door incessantly and cries. I have tried to ignore this as much as possible but I’m afraid I may not have always been 100% consistent. If I make him lie on his bed in my office during this afternoon time, he will obey, but with an ongoing soundtrack of soft, piteous whining that makes me feel like a monster. I have tried rearranging my working day so I work 8.30-12, 1-2.30, 4-6.30, with walking breaks in between, but I feel slightly resentful about doing this because essentially I am organising my day around him and it’s not always convenient. If I’m on a video call at this time he will literally jump up on the keyboard to get my attention and it’s hard to manage as I don’t want my colleagues to hear me rousing on my dog!

My husband is an essential worker and away from the house 9am-7.30pm most days. He is alarmed by how clingy Bobby has become already, and feels I am setting him up for massive separation anxiety when I inevitably go back to the office (being in Australia, that will likely happen in about 2-3 months time). He thinks I need to start leaving him outside again every day. But this feels cruel and sad, when our dog loves to be near me. I am prone to loneliness and have an anxiety disorder, and it is a great comfort to me to have a (mostly) sleeping puppy nearby during the day. Plus, when he’s outside I have to tiptoe around the house and not go where he can see me (like the kitchen - super inconvenient) as he will then realise I’m home, and start banging to be let inside.

I think part of the problem is me and Bobby now see very little of anyone except each other. Thus we are both hyper-focused on the other. I find it hard to give any sort of discipline, as I worry about making him unhappy, but I feel resentful that my whole day is organised around trying to keep him calm and happy. I almost feel there is an unhealthy co-dependence developing...? This feels really weird to say about a dog, and please be the voices of reason here. I am aware I could really use some rational perspectives right now and I just can’t seem to think them up on my own. The fact that I have written such a long question about this probably demonstrates my thinking is not that balanced right now. I am not sure if all of this is even a real problem, or just my anxiety manifesting itself. Thank you for any advice you can give.

* What is a kind, balanced and reasonable way to manage your dog’s routine while WFH?
* If you have experienced this “afternoon crazy time”, how do you manage it without making your whole afternoon revolve around your dog?
* What should I start doing now to help prevent separation anxiety down the track?
posted by Weng to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, this is a real problem and not weird at all. I’m assuming from your post that Bobby is not crate-trained. Now would be a most excellent time to embark on that project. It will give him an important life skill and be a good way to work on separation skills at a time when you have the luxury of doing it incrementally. Really, this is a perfect time! You can start with the crate right next to you and gradually move it farther away, and also build up duration. Once he’s got that, you can put the crate in your car or in the garage or another room to give him some real separation from you.
posted by HotToddy at 2:45 PM on April 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh, and your other questions: my dog’s routine is he hangs out with me in the mornings when he’s mellow. In the afternoons when he starts to get crazy, I crate him and he is perfectly happy to take a nap instead of ricocheting around barking his head off. So every day he practices being away from me and sometimes I leave him in there while I go for a little walk, just to keep him used to the idea that sometimes I leave.
posted by HotToddy at 2:51 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I was going to ask about crate training as well. For my 10 month old puppy it's the difference between bouncing off the walls and ceiling (which is okay sometimes) and taking a quiet nap.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:59 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I would really avoid crate training if you can. I know a lot of people claim their dogs love to be crated, but not all dogs are suited for crates, and there are safety issues as well. I, personally, could never be comfortable knowing my dog was trapped in a small, enclosed space when I was away from home. Instead I think a very strict adherence to your former routine would clear things up pretty quickly. It sounds a bit like your dog is overstimulated, never knowing when the next delightful outing or treat may come, so is anxiously awaiting all the new good stuff all the time. I suggest you go back to the old routine tomorrow. Put the dog out in the yard at the normal time. If you used to to drive to work every day, drive your car somewhere (around the block or something) for a short time. When you get home, leave your dog outside (even if he barks, don't give in). He must stay outside for your work day. Avoid letting him see you through the window if you can. At 5:30 (or whatever time you used to get home) let him back in and take him for his walk. Do this and don't give in if he whines or barks, for a couple days and I bet the problem will be solved.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:59 PM on April 23, 2020 [7 favorites]

There's going to be an epidemic of separation anxiety when people go back to work. It's not just you!

I am prone to loneliness and have an anxiety disorder, and it is a great comfort to me to have a (mostly) sleeping puppy nearby during the day.

This is part of the issue, you realize that? You are happy when with the dog and you are anxious when he cries or is anxious, and you act shady when he's outside and he senses that and it makes him anxious. Your husband is correct that you need to set boundaries with your dog. He'll be fine being outside for a set amount of time in the afternoons. In fact it'll be good for him to have routine, more stimulus and to remember that he can be alone and have fun on his own. I would set up a schedule where you stay together in the morning then after lunch, give him a Kong put him outside and close the door and ignore him till you are done with work. Don't hide, act normal and relaxed like everything is great and happy and he'll pick up on that.

As for the whining, that is just him having learned he can get what he wants by bugging you. Tell him quiet and if he keeps doing it spray him then go back to your work, second offense move his bed further away, third offense close the door. Basically he only gets to stay in your office if he's quiet and well behaved. He sounds smart, he'll figure this out quickly.

Dogs are very good at making you feel guilty, the little furry jerks.
posted by fshgrl at 6:17 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Plus, when he’s outside I have to tiptoe around the house and not go where he can see me (like the kitchen - super inconvenient)

Can you set up some curtains or block his view in another way?
posted by trig at 6:47 PM on April 23, 2020

I would second crate training. There are some really good resources on Youtube, and for paid videos, I've heard really great things about Susan Garrett's Crate Games.

Also in response to WalkerWestridge, I disagree that crate training is a bad idea - it's actually a very important life skill. Sometimes life happens and your dog needs to be sent to the vet or a kennel and it's better to get them used to being in a crate now during calm times, rather than being caged up during an emergency and then panicking. It's harmless for short periods of time (unless your dog gets extreme anxiety and hurts itself while trying to escape, but that's exactly what we're trying to prevent with crate training!)
posted by vespertinism at 6:43 AM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

This doesn't hit questions 1 or 3, but for short-term management: have you tried giving him something to do during that afternoon crazy time, like a frozen kong (in the house) or a stuffed animal to rip up or a food-dispensing toy (containing his normal meal) or whatever it is that he enjoys?

Another thought - it doesn't sound like he has a lot of practice being alone inside the house, which would be a useful skill for him to have - if not a crate (which, in my experience, works well for some dogs and not as well for others), what about working with him on calm alone time in a different room from you?
posted by mosst at 9:47 AM on April 24, 2020

Vox article with some interesting information (though perhaps not a cure):
Why your pet is acting like a weirdo during quarantine, explained by animal behaviorists
posted by Glinn at 1:19 PM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

« Older Best online venue for taking a free or cheep...   |   Where can I find this puzzle box? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.