It’s certainly true that dogs can pick up on their owners’ stress and anxiety. Research has shown that dogs’ cortisol levels will even rise in concert with their owners’.
Simply having everyone home is your dog’s first clue that something is different. If you are also stressed out about the pandemic and how it may touch your life, they will pick up on that too. However, the dog’s first priority is simply being with you. If sensing your anxiety they will likely do what they do best – stay close, follow you around, even press up against your legs.
To your dog, when they feel something is wrong, being with you is the solution. If anxiety in the household is high, your dog may feel a little uncertain and be less spontaneous than usual but a pat or word from you will be all it takes to trigger a big doggie smile and get that tail wagging.
The biggest toll on your dog is actually most likely to come when your stay-at-home orders are lifted. Your pup will have been accustomed to having your family around all the time and losing that could trigger anxiety behaviors like barking, destroying things in the home or soiling.
To help minimize the blow, try things like making sure your dog spends some time alone in the yard when you are home, or home alone when you have to go out for essential errands. If acclimated to a crate, crate your dog for periods when you are home.
If your pet does develop signs of separation anxiety when your life returns to normal, review the suggestions in this article from the ASPCA https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD