One of the leading complaints among dog owners is that their pets are quite destructive or disruptive when left alone. They report that their dogs defecate, urinate, chew things, scratch doors or windows, howl, bark excessively, and dig through their belongings when left alone. Though these behaviors, in most cases, indicate that your dog should be taught house manners, they, at times, might also be symptoms of separation anxiety. This is particularly so when a dog’s disruptive behaviors are accompanied by drooling and anxiety when you are preparing to leave them.
Handling Separation Anxiety in Dogs and Puppies
Separation anxiety in dogs is triggered by various changes in its life. The common ones include the addition of a new family member like a baby, children going to school, change of the dog’s owner, and an alternation of your family’s schedule or routine. Separation anxiety might also arise from a traumatic event that the dog experienced when left alone such as a robbery, thunderstorm, or fire.
The symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs can be pointers to other issues. As such, before diagnosing your dog with separation anxiety, a vet will first rule out infections, cognitive decline, and arthritis that might also manifest with the same signs. Once an expert has established diagnosis of separation anxiety in your pet, you cannot afford to ignore it because it will only get worse.
Below are a few steps on how to handle separation anxiety in dogs and puppies.
Foster the dog’s independence
One of the reasons for separation anxiety is a dog’s discomfort when left alone. Foster your dog’s independence for it to get comfortable when left alone. The following are some tips for fostering your pet’s independence:
- Do not let the animal constantly follow you around when in the house.
- Demonstrate that you are focused on other tasks when around the dog sometimes. This also means resisting the toys and other attention-seeking items a dog might bring you.
- When your dog seeks time alone naturally, reward the behavior with praises and treats to reinforce it.
Build the dog’s tolerance for alone time
A simple approach for dealing with separation anxiety in dogs is building their tolerance for time spent alone. This means gradually increasing the time your dog spends alone. Start with keeping your dog calm then move it to another room or partially close the door when you are in a room. The dog might initially make a lot of noise, but do not let this faze you. Gradually increase the time the dog spends alone so that it learns that alone time is not so bad. Make the alone time pleasant by giving the dog a toy or a long-lasting treat.
Using a Crate to Deal with Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Dogs are den animals. Using crates as places that they can retreat when alone will help meet the needs of a safe den and calm the animal when you are away. The key to getting crate training for dogs right lies in making it a positive and wholesome experience for the dog. Here are some tips for easing a dog’s crate training:
- Furnish the crate with beddings and cozy bedding among other things that will make it comfortable.
- Leave the door open initially so that your pet associates the crate with positive feelings and does not become anxious in it.
- Consider leaving food treats inside the crate to entice your dog to use it. You can even serve your dog dinner in the crate.
- Encourage the dog to spend time in the crate even when you are around so that it does not associate it with separation.
Though beneficial in most cases, the crate can sometimes heighten your dog’s anxiety. Therefore, when crate training your pet, monitor its behavior. If you notice any signs of anxiety-like hypersalivation, escape attempts, and persistent howling, then maybe the crate is not the best choice for managing your dog’s separation anxiety. In this case, you can consider using a room where the dog can be confined behind a baby gate in place of the crate.
Change your departure cues
With time, separation anxiety in your dog will be triggered by your departure routine. Change the departure cues you have gotten used to over the years. This can mean changing the door you use to leave, placing your purse, keys, or outdoor shoes in a different location, and not leaving immediately when you wear a coat. The primary objective of changing your departure cues is the avoidance of a trigger in your pet.
Downplay your hellos and goodbyes
Emotional and drawn-out hellos or goodbyes will make your dog over-excited to have you return and anxious when you leave. Downplay the hellos and goodbyes so that you do not reinforce your absence and the animal’s fear of the same. Quietly say goodbye and do not be overly affectionate with your dog when you come back until after it has calmed down.
Exercise your dog before you leave
Dogs tend to have a lot of penned up energy which can excite separation anxiety in dogs. Tired dogs are calm and thus less likely to have separation anxiety. Exercise your dog for a few minutes before you leave so that it relaxes and focuses on rest or feeding rather than become anxious about being left alone.
Create a personal space for your dog
Most people sleep with their dogs. This makes the animals assume that there is no personal space for them. All spaces they can spend their time seem to be linked to you in one way or another. When dealing with separation anxiety, start by having a personal space for the pet. The personal space teaches your dog to enjoy time away from your space without feeling incomplete. This way, even when left alone, the dog will not feel abandoned.
Leave some background music and comfort items for the dog
Being left alone in a house previously filled with people and things to do can make even the most resilient of people feel abandoned. To make your dog feel comfortable even when alone, leave some background music on as well as some comfort items strewn in the house. The comfort item, in this instance, can include something like laundry that has your scent. This makes the animal feel like you are still around. The background music makes the house feel lively and can comfort the animal to sleep or relax.
Do not leave your dog alone for too long
While dogs can be taught to be alone for an extended period, do not leave yours alone for too long. If you are going to be away for more than 6-8 hours, consider taking the dog with you or having a sitter. Alternatively, you can structure errands such that you will be away for short but frequent periods if need be.
If you are going to be away for several days, always get someone to look after the dog. In an unpredictable situation, leave an extra key to your home somewhere safe so that you can ask your neighbor to let your dog out.
Institute predictable protocols for rewards
Most dogs with separation anxiety favor play and attention as rewards for doing something. Food, chew toys, and treats are also highly desirable.
We always leave indestructible toys for our dogs filled with treats which can keep them busy for quite some time.
The goal in separation anxiety is to reinforce your dog’s settling down, relaxation, and independence when left alone. Training should be focused on ensuring your dog stays in one place like a relaxation mat for a long time and is comfortable being alone. When the dog sits on the mat for a set time, you can introduce these rewards to reinforce the behavior. Start with short timeframes and increase them gradually to see positive results and to avoid frustrating your dog.
Consider using prescribed anti-anxiety medications
Using medications can be quite helpful more so when dealing with severe separation anxiety in your dog. Anti-anxiety drugs help the animal cope with some level of anxiety while hastening their recovery from anxiety. On some occasions, dogs with mild separation anxiety have fully recovered when given medications alone. The dog will be accustomed to separation while on the drugs then be slowly weaned off them while retaining the new conditioned behavior. The drugs for your dog should nonetheless only be prescribed by an animal behavioral specialist or veterinarian and are often the last resort for managing separation anxiety.
Most dog owners will punish or scold their pets when they come home to untidy interiors, scratched furnishings, and complaints of a noisy dog from neighbors. While understandable, these steps only further frustrate your dog and heighten its anxiety. The above steps are among the best-proven ones for effectively handling separation anxiety in dogs. They are thus guaranteed to leave you with a dog that is content being alone for some time.
Thankfully, there is also a way to keep your puppy from slipping into separation anxiety. It entails socializing your puppy before it turns sixteen weeks old. Socialization, in this case, means exposing the puppy to several positive stimuli rather than one or two people. Expose your pet to different people, shapes, colors, and designs so that it realizes there is so much more to the world than your company. This minimizes its odds of becoming anxious when you are not there.