Dogs with post-pandemic separation anxiety get pricey therapy to cope


Nicole Cueto sobbed as she locked the door of her apartment and heard her dog, Marty, crying hysterically on the other side.

“He was anxious and upset,” the Manhattan resident recalled of the incident earlier this year when she had to go out to work for the first time in months. “It was extremely traumatic for the both of us, and I could not focus on my job for days after.”

To help him cope, Cueto has invested $340 in professional pet training and counseling — a fraction of the amount many concerned owners are forking over — and Marty is becoming accustomed to being apart from his person.

The boxer mix is among millions of animals across the US who are already suffering from separation anxiety or are set to experience its painful effects after enjoying human company 24/7 since the pandemic took hold in March 2020.

Now that people are getting vaccinated, offices are re-opening and the work-from-home trend is diminishing, the critters are feeling lonely and confused.

“We’ve been inundated with inquiries from worried dog guardians,” expert animal trainer and counselor Malena DeMartini-Price told The Post. “They’re taking little trips out of the house, and their pets are shredding the carpets, and neighbors are complaining about barking.

“All the indicators show something is not well with their dogs.”

Nicole Cueto with her dog, Marty
Nicole Cueto is training her dog, Marty, to cope better with separation.
Brian Zak/NY Post

One of her clients, Jane Yates, has spent $4,800 so far to help her 18-month-old mutt, Jasper, adjust to the sad reality that she is physically returning to work in less than two weeks.

“We’re paying $800 per month — the cost of a large car repair — but it’s worth every cent,” said Yates, a lab administrator in Portland, Oregon, who enlisted the virtual services of a DeMartini-Price associate last October.

“All dogs have to learn that nobody can be truly present for them 24/7/365 and to live with their emotions and discomfort,” she added.

The pup, rescued off the streets and believed to be a Chihuahua/pit bull mix, bonded with Yates to such an extent that he once dug holes under a fence to try and follow her out.

“I returned from my walk to hear him alternating between barking and howling from a block away,” said his 55-year-old human. “If I so much as put on a mask or picked up my keys, he would jump on the door and cry.”

The solution has been a desensitization program supervised remotely by DeMartini-Price’s employee, Tiffany Lovell, which involves Jasper spending incrementally longer periods of time apart from his owner.

For example, Yates began leaving her kitchen for the garage and returning after a few seconds. Then, when Jasper eventually recognized she would always come back, she increased the minutes of absence. Over the winter, she worked in the garage for several hours using a space heater to keep warm.

Jane Yates with her dog, Jasper.
Jane Yates is determined that her pup, Jasper, will become more comfortable with the idea of separation.
courtesy of Jane Yates

She installed three cameras in her home, so she could monitor the dog’s behaviors and log them for Lovell’s review. “I’d report back on a shared Google sheet with a blow-by-blow account as if I were [primatologist] Jane Goodall watching chimps,” said Yates.

Thankfully, Jasper responded well to the training, which is a more individually tailored, hand-holding form of DeMartini-Price’s $99 “Mission Possible” online program for separation anxiety in dogs.

“My husband and I decided we would do whatever we needed to make it work,” concluded Yates, who was even prepared to give up her job if Jasper was unable to cope with the change. “We love this dog very much.”

Equally, Cueto is so determined to help Marty, she scraped together the cash to pay $85 an hour for the advice of New York City trainer and counselor Joey Hernandez.

The communications consultant and realtor for City Wide Apartments told The Post, “Marty was an abused rescue dog, and I will go to any lengths necessary to make sure he lives a very happy, fulfilled and safe life.”

Those lengths have included rewarding Marty with “high-value treats” such as pieces of chicken or hot dog when he lies in his bed; serving his meals in a dog-food puzzle toy (which challenges his brain) and outdoor “drills,” when Cueto will watch him in an enclosed space from afar before returning to him or calling him to heel.

“Marty brings me so much joy,” she said of the hound she adopted just over a year ago, two weeks into the pandemic. “He is my everything.”


Tips for easing your pet through separation anxiety

According to dog trainer and counselor Malena DeMartini-Price, one of the few silver linings of the pandemic has been the extra time people have gotten to spend with their pets. “Dogs depend on social interaction and, if they could talk and you asked them about COVID-19, they’d probably say it’s been the best year of their life,” she said.

But all good things come to an end. Here are DeMartini-Price’s top tips on easing the pain of pups as owners return to the workplace.

Dog trainer and counselor Malena DeMartini-Price cuddles a dog
Dog trainer and counselor Malena DeMartini-Price with one of her canine clients
© Dan Quiñones Pine Photo and
  1. Start preparing your pet for the separation as soon as you can. “It’s the responsibility of a good pet guardian to help them transition smoothly,” said the expert. “The more in advance you can do it, the better.”
  2. Begin by setting up cameras (use Zoom, for example) in your home to observe your dog during brief periods — five to 10 minutes at a time — when you are absent. “You need to know if your dog is resting comfortably or is whining, barking, howling or anxious in any way,” said DeMartini-Price. “If it’s any of the latter [behaviors], ask your veterinarian for advice and do your research.”
  3. Gradually expose your dog to longer durations of alone time, while always making them feel safe. “Aim to drive or walk around the block for 10 minutes and, if at eight minutes they start to whine, howl, pace or drool, return within five minutes,” she explained. “They should get to gradual exposure to the process.”

For more information, check out DeMartini-Price’s recent book: “Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Next Generation Treatment Protocols and Practices” (Dogwise Publishing).



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