The holiday season is here, and for most people that mean parties, good food, catching up with family and friends, and some much-needed time off work. It could even mean going on vacation, which is always a happy occurrence, right?
Unfortunately, the idea of packing up and heading out on vacation can invoke feelings of worry or even dread for people with pets. Although there are plenty of reputable pet sitters and boarding kennels that will treat your pets with loving kindness until you return, if you have a dog with separation anxiety, the problem could be more extreme.
If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, it can be a good idea to hire a dog sitter to care for your dog in your home while you’re away on vacation, rather than putting your dog in a boarding kennel. But before you do so, it is essential that your dog sitter completely understands separation anxiety in dogs and how to deal with your dog’s individual symptoms.
Before hiring a dog sitter, make sure they understand the following vital points about separation anxiety in dogs, and give yourself – and your dog – the best chance of a happy holiday season.
It’s a Serious Problem
Separation anxiety in dogs is a serious problem, one that must be treated carefully and respectfully. Just as we wouldn’t joke about anxiety in a human, separation anxiety in dogs is no laughing matter.
An anxious dog could put themselves in danger with their destructive behaviours or could potentially escape and become confused or lost. In addition to physical dangers, an anxious dog not treated in the proper way could suffer ongoing psychological harm that could affect their future quality of life.
Symptoms Can Vary
The symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs can vary considerably from one dog to another, so just because your dog isn’t displaying the same symptoms as another anxious dog, doesn’t mean they don’t have separation anxiety.
Symptoms can include destructive behaviours like chewing or attempting to escape from a crate or kennel, vocal symptoms like excessive barking or howling, and classic anxiety-related symptoms like loss of appetite, sweaty pads, shaking, trembling, drooling, and panting.
Your dog sitter needs to be aware of the separation anxiety symptoms your dog has exhibited in the past, along with more general anxiety symptoms that could develop or that you may not have noticed previously.
Pet Sitting Styles May Need to Be Adapted
While your pet sitter may be used to a once-daily visit to a client’s home to refresh food and water and clean up after the pets, they need to be prepared to adopt an entirely different style of pet sitting when caring for a dog with separation anxiety.
Anxious dogs usually can’t be left alone for long periods of time, so your pet sitter may need to be prepared to spend more time in your home than they normally do. Talk to your pet sitter and see if they would be willing to spend at least a few hours in your home every day to provide your dog with a sense of peace and calm in knowing that someone else is there in the home. Your pet sitter could set up a laptop in your home before you leave or make use of your Netflix account as an incentive to spend time in your home – and near your dog – every day.
Your Dog Has a Set of Triggers
Your anxious dog is hyper aware of signs that you’re getting ready to leave the house, and has developed a set of triggers that tell them separation is imminent. Maybe it’s the sight of you putting on your jacket and shoes or the jingle of your keys, or the way you put your phone and wallet in your bag – we all have little routines that we follow before we leave the house, and your dog is all too aware of them.
Make sure your dog sitter is fully aware of your dog’s triggers so that they can avoid making the same noises or actions when they’re around your dog. It is only by being aware of your dog’s past behaviour that a dog sitter can take the necessary precautions to ensure they don’t inadvertently trigger an anxiety attack simply by jingling their keys or picking up their bag in a certain way.
Preparation Begins Months before the Vacation
We mentioned your dog’s triggers above: the little sounds or movements you habitually make when you’re getting ready to leave the house that can trigger anxiety in your dog.
Your dog sitter needs to know that, in the month leading up to the vacation, you’ve been working with your dog to desensitise them to these triggers. If you putting on your coat can send your dog into a spin of anxiety, you’ve been calmly putting on your coat and then staying inside the house for another 20 minutes to desensitise your dog to that trigger. If it’s the sound of your car keys that light up anxiety sensors in your dog’s brain, you’ve been carrying your keys with you around the house for days on end so your dog can get used to the sound without always associating it with being left alone at home.
Your dog sitter needs to understand your dog’s triggers and that you’ve been taking deliberate action to desensitise them over the long-term, so they don’t inadvertently trigger another anxiety attack.
Stress Free Is the Key
Dogs are profoundly attuned to the stress levels of the humans around them. If your dog sitter is worried and nervous about dealing with an anxious dog, your dog will pick up on these feelings and will very likely react with a sense of heightened anxiety.
Your dog sitter needs to understand that displaying calmness and a sense of being unhurried is vital when caring for a dog with separation anxiety. If they’re going to burst in to your home and hurriedly refresh the food and water bowls and then leave in a whirl, it’s simply not going to work. You need someone who can leave their worries at home and arrive at your house calm, unhurried, and ready to spend some quality time with your dog.
The ideal dog sitter for a dog with separation anxiety is one who will take the time to understand your dog’s needs and be committed to providing the right type of care to keep your dog calm and safe while you’re away. If you have any concerns or feel that the dog sitter you’re interviewing is not taking your dog’s separation anxiety seriously, keep looking. There are plenty of wonderful people ready to do what it takes to care for your pets while you’re away.
James Woller is a long-time dog enthusiast and owner of Release the Hounds, a professional dog walking and boarding company in Vancouver, Canada. On his days off from running his company, he enjoys learning and writing about topics that are of interest to caring pet owners.