Your bags are packed, your tickets are printed, and you reserved a spot for your dog at the best boarding facility in town. But, despite being ready to go and knowing your pet is in the best possible hands, you still have a nagging feeling of guilt and anxiety about leaving your dog or cat behind while you head out on a fun trip.
Maybe it’s the first time you’re leaving your pet with a sitter overnight, or maybe you’ll be on two-week excursion—either way, you’re feeling bad about it. You wonder, ‘What if my pet thinks I abandoned him?’ and ‘She likes certain treats at certain times of day. Will this person know that?’
Fear not. We have expert tips for how to cope with the anxiety of leaving your pets in someone else’s hands.
How to Prepare for Leaving Your Pets
Let’s say you’re leaving for a long overdue on vacation on Saturday. On the Monday before, you’re already feeling weepy about having to depart without your dog. There are ways to remedy this, and ensure both you and your pet have a successful parting.
Kristen DeBlasio, the owner and manager of K9 to 5 Dog Center in Providence, Rhode Island, tells PawCulture one of the best things a pet parent can do is bring his or her animal to the facility or home where they’ll be staying while they are away.
“A week ahead of time, take the dog to their kennel or day care or the sitter’s house and acclimate them with the setting, the people, and the other dogs,” she says.
This not only gives the dog a sense of security when they are dropped off again for a longer stay, but it gives the pet parent peace of mind, too.
“It gives you confidence when you know who you are leaving your animals with,” DeBlasio points out. “You can tell a lot about a place or the people running it.”
In the days, or even weeks leading up to your departure, DeBlasio recommends keeping things “business as usual” with your pet. Overdoing it with affection or trips to the park may confuse the pet and disrupt his or her routine.
Coping With the Anxiety of Leaving a Pet
Let’s say you’ve done the pre-trip visits, but you’re still feeling guilt or nervousness about leaving your pet. First things first—remind yourself this actually makes you a good pet parent. You are concerned about the health and emotional well-being of your beloved pet.
“Emotions tell us something about our values. They tell us about what matters the most,” says Dr. Michelle Lopez, Ph.D, the assistant director of the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management in San Diego, California. “It’s kind of—in an odd way—a really good indication of the connection we have with our pet when we feel anxious or guilty. If we can remind ourselves, ‘Okay, I’m feeling these things because of how connected I am and what this pet means to me,’ it can help us to cope more effectively.”
Lopez also wants pet parents to remember that leaving a pet with a trusted sitter or a reputable daycare is taking responsibility for that pet. Although you’ll be away from your dog or cat, you are still taking steps to keep your pet healthy, fed, loved, and safe.
If your anxiety is still getting the better of you at the idea of leaving your pet, Shannon Amabile, MFTI, of Silver Lake Psychology in Los Angeles, California suggests deep breathing exercises.
“Take a moment, recognize the space you’re in, and that the anxiety is only a future worry,” Amabile says. With a breathing count of inhaling for four seconds, holding for four seconds, and exhaling for four seconds, you are “creating this rhythm in the body and occupying the mind with counting,” which helps slow down racing thoughts, she says.
Amabile also recommends helpful affirmations, particularly those that remind you of previous times in which you had to leave your pet (even if it was just a trip to the store), and how successful it was.
The Actual Separation
You’ve finally arrived at the day of your trip when you’re dropping your dog or cat at the kennel or the sitter. One of the most important things you can do, even if you’re still feeling anxious, is to not let your pet sense your unease.
DeBlasio says that when you get nervous around your dog, “It transcends right through the leash to the dog. They sense, ‘My person is nervous, why are they nervous? Something bad must be going to happen.’”
The best thing you can do when you’re dropping your pet off is to be very matter-of-fact about the situation—even if your heart is racing and you feel guilty. “Don’t do the ‘Oh my god, goodbye, I’m going to miss you!’” says DeBlasio. “Make it routine—‘I’ll be back, see you later.’ Whatever you normally do when you leave them.”
Another thing to keep in mind when your emotions take over is that dogs, by nature, are pack animals who live in the moment. It’s not that they won’t miss you, but they might actually have fun with their new friends and learn valuable socialization skills in the process.
DeBlasio also recommends not bringing your dog’s favorite toys, blankets, or beds from home as they might then spend a lot of their time “resource guarding,” meaning rather than getting used to their surroundings or engaging, they’ll protect their things from other dogs or pets in the home or boarding facility.
After you and your dog have parted ways, it’s important to enjoy your trip and your time away. This is something for you, Lopez notes, and that’s important to keep in mind. If you rest and relax and have fun, you’ll come back an even better pet parent than the one you were when you left.
“It’s really important to take care of yourself, and it also helps to reduce the risk or possibility of resenting the animal if you’re thinking, ‘I cant ever leave them,’” she adds.
If you’ve chosen a facility that does photo updates or even has a webcam, it’s best to proceed with boundaries. Same goes for checking in with your pet sitter.
Amabile warns against compulsively checking in on your pet sitter or the boarding facility. “Reaching out and checking in on [your pet] is more of a quick fix for the anxiety, but it doesn’t actually help you relax,” she says. “Once you’ve checked in, it opens up the possibility of checking in two or three more times—and then you’ve stopped helping yourself.”
Lopez suggests coming up with a plan that works for both parties. For instance, rather than obsessively checking in, have a set plan to check in once in the morning and once before bed. By doing this, you are allowing yourself to enjoy your trip, while also feeling like the already-responsible parent you are.
As Lopez points out, it’s all about finding a healthy balance and learning that leaving your pet—and all the anxiety that goes along with it—is completely normal. “It’s not unhealthy to be separated [from your pet] and it’s not unhealthy to feel anxious,” she says.
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