As a pet-sitter, I’ve seen many signs of anxiety from dogs when they are dropped off at my house by their owners for the first time. While most dogs are fine and happy from the start, some dogs will pace, whine and pant when their owners leave. Other dogs act nervously by tucking their ears and tail or by shaking. Some will scratch at the door they saw their person leave through last. Others decide it’s time to chew their bed or bark in the middle of the night. Most of the time these behaviors go away after about an hour or two, or sometimes after the first night is over. However, for some dogs, anxiety can be a serious issue.
Stressed and anxious dogs do need to allow their people to leave town sometimes, so we have to find the right ways to ease the fears of these dogs. For highly anxious dogs, you may want to consider finding a pet-sitter who can come stay at your home with your dog instead of boarding your dog or having him stay in someone else’s home. Being able to stay in his same environment may be all a stressed dog needs to feel a little better.
Choosing a Pet-Sitter or Boarding Facility
- Make sure the pet sitter’s home or the boarding facility is clean and relatively calm and quiet (there will always be some barking and excitement, especially at drop off and pick up times!).
- See if your dog will get along with any other dogs (or cats, or children) he may be interacting with during his stay. You don’t want your dog to be scared or bullied during his stay, but you also don’t want to risk your dog biting a child or another dog out of fear. Be realistic about your own dog’s behaviors!
- Also, make sure the people caring for your dog can watch out for symptoms of anxiety and spend some extra time and energy comforting and caring for your dog.
- Click to find more information about choosing the right pet-sitter or boarding facility.
How To Prepare for Vacation Separation
- One of the first things you can do to make sure your dog is ready for your vacation separation is to start socializing your dog at a very young age so that he will feel comfortable around many different people, cats, dogs, smells, and environments. This will allow your dog to be confident throughout life when entering new situation instead of shy, scared or defensive from fear. Don’t give up if your dog is no longer a puppy! He can still be socialized effectively, it will just be a little harder. Learn more about socializing your dog here.
- Many people like to bring a blanket or bed from home for their dog while they are away. I encourage people to bring beds to my home, but there is always the risk of the bed getting chewed on! My advice is not to bring an expensive dog bed to a boarding facility, but instead an old one or a less expensive blanket or t-shirt with your home’s smell on it that your dog can have at bedtime. I also don’t encourage people to bring their dog’s favorite toys or bones because I don’t want any fights breaking out over them.
- Regular exercise while at the boarding facility or pet sitter’s home and before being dropped off will also help with anxiety. Tired dogs don’t have the energy to be stressed, and that’s a fact.
- Some dogs find a ThunderShirt to be soothing. It is a blanket that wraps tightly around your dog’s torso like a jacket and is secured in place. It makes them feel comforted and more secure in thunderstorms, during fireworks, or in other stressful situations like boarding. You can get one of these at Hollywood Feed and give it a try. If it works, you can send it with your doggy on his next boarding adventure.
What Can the Pet-Sitter Do To Help?
- When anxious dogs come to my home to stay, I try to distract them and give them something fun to do right away. Do they want to go in the backyard and play with my dogs and other doggy campers? Do they want to play a game of fetch? Do they want to get petted and cuddled and have their bellies scratched? Do they want to show me how they can sit and shake for some treats?
- Sometimes I’ll put up pet gates in my home to separate dogs into separate areas and then give them a Kong stuffed with treats, peanut butter, or yogurt (then frozen). It gives dogs something to do for a while, takes their mind off of any anxiety, and they will usually take a nap after they are done with their treat.
- Soothing music or turning on the TV for some low noise can sometimes help dogs at my house if there is a storm or loud noise outside that is bothering them. I will also talk to them in a calm soothing voice, using their name and calmly petting them.
- Some anxious dogs respond well to soothing essential oils like lavender. The oils can be dabbed on a dog’s collar or fur (in a place he won’t lick it off), or it can be in the scent of a candle burning. There are also products out there made especially for pets with essentials oils in them like lavender shampoos or spritzes.
- It is also important that your pet sitter or boarding facility be adaptable and able to read your dog’s mood. For instance, some dogs who appear to be highly anxious in a group of six dogs may be perfectly happy to hang out in the quiet dark bedroom by herself. Maybe she just prefers the calm! Other dogs who don’t like to be around rambunctious puppies may be perfectly happy hanging out with a group of older dogs who are just sniffing the yard and enjoying the sun.
Remember, your anxiety about leaving your pet is probably worse than your pet’s separation anxiety while you are away. Most dogs settle in at my house by the end of the first evening really well. And by the time they come back to my house the second time, they remember having a good time here during their first stay and they settle in even more quickly. By the third stay, they are ready to welcome and tell any new doggy campers all the rules!
How do you keep your dog calm in stressful situations?