Back to work? This behaviorist's 6 tips could ease your dog's post-Christmas anxiety

Dog looking out of a window on a rainy day
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The post-holiday period can be a difficult time for our pets as they once again find themselves having to adjust to not having their humans around 24/7. After spending so much time together, it’s natural for our canine companions to wind up with a case of the ‘doggywobbles’ as we return to the office and they’re left to spend large chunks of their day alone. 

Having their parents around all day, every day is a real luxury for our pups who enjoy nothing more than lazy mornings spent chowing down on the best dog food, long afternoon walkies, and plenty of time hanging out with the people they love. 

But, unfortunately, as the world begins to return to some form of normalcy post-pandemic and many of us head back to work after the festive season, our four-pawed pals need to be able to spend time alone without experiencing bucketloads of stress or anxiety. 

If you have a dog who destroys items around the house in your absence, who howls or barks, shakes or trembles, defecates or urinates, or just generally struggles with being apart from you, we understand how distressing this can be. Separation anxiety in dogs is extremely common and thankfully there’s plenty of help available, so you don’t have to struggle alone.

Expert canine behaviorist and trainer, Adem Fehmi (opens in new tab), has come to the rescue on this topic with six tips that you can use to help support your nervous pal as you begin the post-holiday transition from your home back to the office.

1. Exercise your dog before leaving them

“Effectively exercising your dog will help drain some of your dog’s energy, and they will more likely settle and rest after when you’re out,” explains Fehmi. “Similar to the benefits exercise have on humans, exercise has a positive effect on the mental wellbeing of our dogs and helps keep them calmer.”

While Fehmi is a strong advocate for regular exercise, he’s quick to point out that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach and understanding your dog’s unique needs is the key to success.

“It’s important to remember that long walks are not suitable for all breeds or ages. In addition, a lengthy stroll might not tire a very high-energy dog if they have a lot of stamina. So, it is important to tailor your exercise sessions to your individual dog and their life stage,” he says.

“Young puppies might benefit from exploring a new area of the garden for example, whilst a high-energy adult dog may like to play fetch during their walk. An older dog may need more mental rather than physical stimulation due to aging joints and ailments such as arthritis.”

2. Give your dog something to do while they’re alone

As you probably already know, an occupied dog is a happy dog, so making sure your pup has plenty of things to amuse themselves with while you’re gone is hugely important when it comes to alleviating anxiety and soothing stress.

“The quicker your dog gets bored when left alone, the sooner they may start to feel anxious about you being away,” explains Fehmi. “Giving them an activity to do will keep their mind occupied and act as a positive reinforcer for being left alone, because they get to do something fun!

Food dispensing toys are perfect as an activity. Start with something easy so your dog’s interest builds then, once they become an expert, you can up the challenge, so it takes them longer. For the expert ‘gamer pup’, you can even freeze some moist food in some types of rubber food dispensing toys to ensure they last a little longer.”

Check out our guide to the best dog puzzle toys for some of our favorite options.

3. Create a calm environment

While it may sound silly, playing soft or classical music for your dog while you’re out and about can soothe them in much the same way that it soothes us. Music is also a great way of drowning out any external noises outside your home that your dog may find distressing.

4. Create comfortable spaces

Invest in one of the best dog beds and use this to create a particular space in the home that your pup knows is a calm and inviting place just for them. “This should be trained from a young age, that this is a safe space that is entirely theirs with all their favorite things there too,” Fehmi advises. “This is a great place to leave their toys or treats when you leave, to distract them from your departure.”

5. Be calm when you return home to your dog

“Although it’s tempting to make a huge fuss of our dogs when we return, this can make us leaving again a bigger deal than it necessarily needs to be,” explains Fehmi. “We want our dogs to learn that us coming and going throughout the day is normal and not to be looked forward to or feared.” When you return home at the end of the day, keep your entrance and greeting calm and wait for your dog to settle before properly engaging with them. 

6. Consider a dog sitter

“If you’re away consistently for long periods of the day, another consideration is to hire a dog sitter to entertain whilst you’re gone,” Fehmi suggests. “Dogs can easily become susceptible to changes in scenery, so keeping them at home where they’re comfortable with a regular sitter will calm them; rather than kennels which may cause further stress (if they’re not used to this environment!).”

Separation anxiety can be incredibly challenging, both for your dog and also for you as a pet parent, but you don’t have to struggle with this issue alone. If you try Fehmi’s tips and find your pup is still experiencing the ‘doggywobbles’ when they’re forced to be away from you, we recommend you seek the guidance of a professional dog trainer, who will be able to give you and your pup some 1:1 support. 

Enjoyed this article and looking for more great canine content? See what happened when one owner tried a 45-minute 'sniffari' to tire their dog out.

Kathryn Rosenberg

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.