Pet owners returning to work deal with separation anxiety

Many people who went from going to work to working remotely from home during the coronavirus pandemic adopted new pets. But with some people returning to the workplace, their companion animals may become anxious from the prolonged isolation at home.

Joe Bandel (left) of Brainerd sits on a bench Tuesday, June 29, 2021, at Buster Park with his 5-month-old dog Valentine, a Catahoula Leopard dog, at his feet as Pam Danielson (center) of Nisswa and her granddaughter Charlotte Krone watch Danielson's 1-year-old German shepherd, Piper. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Pam Danielson was excited to return to work. Her new dog Piper? Not so much.

The 52-year-old from Nisswa adopted the 1-year-old German shepherd from The Babinski Foundation in Pequot Lakes during the coronavirus pandemic when Minnesota eateries like the Side Track Bar & Restaurant were temporarily closed.

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“We tried to leave her home last night for a little while and she cried,” said Danielson, who works as a server at the establishment off Highway 371 north of Brainerd, which is now open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Joe Bandel was recently at the Brainerd-based Buster Park, a playground for dogs, with his 5-month-old dog Valentine, a Catahoula leopard dog the 64-year-old retiree from Brainerd adopted from Northern Lakes Rescue in Pequot Lakes.


Bandel, too, noticed his dog has a harder time being away from him but he said he isn’t too worried about it.

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Joe Bandel of Brainerd relaxes Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Buster Park with his 5-month-old dog Valentine, a Catahoula Leopard dog he adopted from Northern Lakes Rescue in Pequot Lakes. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“She has some separation anxiety but every dog does, to begin with,” Bandel said Tuesday, June 29, as Danielson and her 8-year-old granddaughter Charlotte Krone were also at the dog park. “It’s normal for them to have some kind of separation anxiety.”

Close to 1 in 5 households acquired a cat or dog since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which would account for about 23 million American households based on the 2019 U.S. Census.

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“I got her during COVID, right when COVID started in May, so I was able to stay home with her for the whole summer,” Danielson said Tuesday. “We slept with her when she was a puppy, so she didn’t have any separation anxiety then.”

But as people begin to head back into the office, dogs and cats that have adjusted to their owners’ presence for the last year will have their own set of adjustments to make, according to University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine officials.


Pam Danielson (left) of Nisswa looks on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, at Piper, a dog she adopted from The Babinski Foundation in Pequot Lakes during the coronavirus pandemic when she was home more, while her granddaughter Charlotte Krone plays nearby in Buster Park in Brainerd. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“On the other hand, if you have a pandemic puppy that has never been home alone for extended periods, you may have to do all these activities and more to help them adjust,” Dana Emerson, a veterinarian technician, stated in a university news release.

The vast majority of households that adopted during the pandemic still have that pet in the home — 90% for dogs, 85% for cats — and are not considering rehoming their pet in the future, according to an American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals poll.

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“I work weekends and my boyfriend works during the week, so she’s never had to be left alone,” Danielson said of her dog. “Now, I bring her to day care on the one day we both work … and she really likes that. But otherwise, she’s never been left alone — she cries — and you feel awful.”

Kristi Flynn, a veterinarian and an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, suggested previously work-from-home dog owners practice leaving the room and staying out of sight for increasingly greater amounts of time.

Pam Danielson of Nisswa plays with Piper, an adopted German shepherd, on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Buster Park, a dog park in Brainerd, while Valentine, a Catahoula Leopard dog, joins in the playing. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

“Within like two minutes, she knew we were leaving, so she jumps in the window and cries at you … so you go back and you get her and bring her with you,” Danielson said of her dog. “Now, all I can think is just do it for a short amount of time if you have to and just build up.”


Dog owners returning to the workplace should also start extending the time between letting their dog outside to go to the bathroom, according to Flynn, so that the dogs will become trained to expect longer absences.

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“This incredibly stressful period motivated many people to foster and adopt animals, as well as further cherish the pets already in their lives,” ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker stated in a news release about pet adoptions during the pandemic.

Emerson stated people who need to leave their dogs kenneled while they are gone should work at getting the animals comfortable in the kennel by rewarding them with a treat or something they enjoy every time they go into the kennel or have them go into the kennel to eat meals.

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“Some people use a kennel, but I do not. I leave her at home, but I leave for an hour at a time, every other day, and trust that the house is going to be OK when I come back and so far it has been,” Bandel said of his dog.

Anxious pets may soil in the house or engage in destructive behavior, particularly of items that smell strongly of the owner, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“When coming home, politely ignore your dog until they have calmed down … but if you need to let them outside, do this with as little contact and interaction as possible. Once they are back in the house with you and are relaxed, feel free to interact with them,” Emerson recommended.

How to deal with separation anxiety in pets

1. Try to keep your pet’s daily routine as consistent as possible even while you are currently home by keeping walks and meals around the same time each day. Try to mimic what your pet’s schedule will look like on a typical work or school day, each day.


2. Make sure you give your pet “practice” with shorter periods of alone time every day. Gradually increase the duration you’re away from home as much as possible to prepare for longer stretches of time.

3. Your pet may be used to midday play sessions or walks. Ramping down that exercise and interaction due to schedule changes could leave your pet with pent-up energy. Scheduling times for play that fit your new schedule can help your pal adjust.

4. Rotate your dog or cat’s toys to help to keep them novel and provide enrichment for your pets. Interactive toys or healthy chews can help keep your dog or cat active and engaged while you are gone.

5. Leave on soothing music or TV for auditory or visual stimulation that can help keep your pet engaged when you’re not at home. Cats, in particular, really enjoy watching TV shows that feature animals.

6. While the family is away for longer periods of time during the day, you will want to have your pets feeling safe and secure at home. Be sure to look out for signs of anxiety such as nervous pacing and panting, vocalizing or trying to leave with you as you prepare to depart.

7. To address your pet’s stress, you can also consider contacting a certified applied animal behaviorist, veterinary behaviorist or certified professional dog trainer, many of whom are offering services virtually during this time.

Source: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .


I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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