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man and dog

Ready to return to work? Eager for the kids to go back to school? The answer is most probably a resounding yes, but spare a thought for your four-legged friends who have spent months in your company 24/7 - with many only knowing life in lockdown. Now life is returning to normal, it’s time to manage your pet’s separation anxiety. Dr Sam Kovac, owner of Southern Cross Vet in Sydney, has an easy five-step plan to transition your pet to the new normal.

1. Start spending time away from your pets. If you have a multi-room home, spend the first 30 minutes and the last 30 of the day alone without engaging with your pet. Firstly, give your pet a new interactive toy that they will enjoy or something that keeps them busy for a period of time to chew on or lick. They will then start to associate their ‘alone time’ with good feelings and a dopamine surge to counter any imminent loneliness. If your pet gets distressed, try reducing this ‘alone time’ to just 5-10 minutes to start with. It’s important that once you return after being separated, you don’t shower your pet with affection. Rather, act calmly and when they are calm, slowly start to dish out the praises. If you live in a studio, invest in some baby gates where you can physically distance from your pet for the beginning and end of the day or even go for a quick walk on your own without your pet.

2. Go to “work”. Pets are creatures of habit and routine is important. Our work days in the office are going to start slowly over the next few months, so while most of us are still working from home, we need to simulate the peak time-of-anxiety for most of our pets – leaving for work. By starting a ‘go to work’ ritual now, we can get our pets used to this frightening time of perceived abandonment. At or around your normal ‘get ready for work’ time, start doing the things you do normally. It might be jangling car keys, getting dressed, picking up your bag and leaving through the garage or front door. Whatever the things are that you do – do it briskly and don’t dawdle. Ensure that you don’t make a big deal about it. This is part of life now, this is their ‘new normal’. If you can, start with only leaving for 10 minutes and gradually build it up to be 15 minutes with an end goal of 45 minutes. The ideal situation is that when you arrive home, they’ll be sleeping soundly in their bed or at least chilling somewhere safe and calm. Getting to this point is important and much more of a challenge than you think.

3. Coming home from work. It’s important you don’t stimulate your pets when you return home. As counter-intuitive as it seems, just leave the pets alone after calmly acknowledging them. Resist the urge to praise them for being a ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’ while you are away. Doing that will increase their anxiety levels. Once they are calm and collected and acting normal, it’s time for gentle, calming pats and a soft, praising voice. Keep the big hellos until a sense of calm has been reached in the home.

4. Randomise the days. The final step to cement the ‘learned calmness’ is to randomise which days you choose to ‘go to work’. By not having any reason to the day you pick to practice the ‘go to work’ ritual, your pet will get used to you leaving on any day of the week.

5. Keep up the Activity. When you do actually return to work, it is very important you keep up your pet’s activity levels (both physical energy and mental stimulation). Remember to walk them as you did in lockdown. If physical activity is dropped, your dog will become anxious.

Dr Sam Kovac, a Sydney-based general practice vet, believes in extending the lifespan of animals through ground-breaking treatments. He founded Southern Cross Vet, with clinics in St Peters, Bellevue Hill and Surry Hills. More info:



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