Every pup parent knows how hard it can be to see their dog’s sad eyes watch them grab their keys and close the door. Leaving your house can be even more difficult and emotionally draining when your dog experiences separation anxiety.
If your dog has expressed separation anxiety, you’re probably well aware of the signs and symptoms: drooling, crying, trying to squeeze around your ankles and dashing to the car. There are also the destructive and inconvenient side effects, like howling until the neighbours feel the need to call, forgetting how to hold it and making a mess on the carpet, pacing, and possibly chewing and destroying furniture and toys. So how can you prevent this?
First, Why Do Dogs Experience Separation Anxiety?
There is not one correct answer as to why some dogs will develop separation anxiety, while others never seem to mind or notice when you leave the house. One theory is because dogs are pack animals, they naturally don’t go at it alone. Another relates to your dog’s upbringing and past. If your pup came from a shelter or had a troubled life before you adopted him, he may be more fearful of being left alone. So, when he’s alone he may react negatively by becoming upset, barking continuously, crying out, or having accidents in the house.
How Can You Help Your Dog Deal with and Heal from Separation Anxiety?
From the chewed up pile of fluff to non-stop barking, a dog struggling with separation anxiety can be stressful for everyone involved. But, there is a lot you can do as a dog parent to help eliminate and prevent it. Here are a few steps on how to help your dog live a happier and healthier life by dealing with their separation anxiety:
Exercise Your Dog Regularly: Your dog has a lot of built up energy stored away, and exercise is a sure-fast way to not only tire him out, but also reduce anxiety. How much exercise to give your dog depends on the breed, but a dog with separation anxiety should receive double the recommended amount of exercise while you’re trying to break the habit. Ensure your dog receives plenty of walking and mental stimulation to help her feel ready to rest when you leave. PS: PawSwap has monthly meet-ups that are sure to tire your pup out, and you'll find new friends even faster!
Don’t Make a Scene When You Leave or Return Home: We attach to certain actions, like kissing and hugging to showing we care. This isn’t something your dog understands. These actions are primarily to make us feel better, not your dog. When we perform these actions, it confuses your dog and essentially makes the problem worse. To solve this problem, don’t talk to your dog when you’re entering or leaving the house. Ignoring her is the best thing you can do before greeting her when you get home. When you leave, don’t say goodbye, your dog will associate this with being alone and ultimately lead to anxiety until you return.
Consider Adopting a Companion Dog: Sometimes, getting a second dog will help keep your bff company. If this isn’t possible, why not ask your neighbour if your dogs can hang out together while you’re gone, and you’ll do the same for them when they’re gone (hey, we may know the perfect app for that 😉).
Leave a Little Noise or Entertainment: Leave the TV or radio on before you leave the house. This not only helps with anxiety, but it also helps with excessive barking while you’re gone. The noise drowns out outside sounds and will make your dog feel more at peace. There are also tons of YouTube videos you can stream, made especially for dogs with anxiety. Leave this on while you’re out, and you’ll come back to a relaxed and happy doggy.
Practice Makes Perfect
When you begin using some of these techniques, practice leaving for a few minutes at a time, ignoring your dog when you leave and enter each time. Spread it out over 1 minute, then increase it to 2, 3, 4 and so on until you do it for a few hours at a time. Again, no saying bye, no hugging, no kissing, no high-pitched voices – ignore, ignore, ignore!
Whatever you do, don’t leave the issue alone as it will get worse. The longer you go without fixing a problem, the more habitual it will become.
Remember to be patient with your nervous pup without making a huge deal out of the situation. As with any sort of training, consistency is key. Make sure everyone in the family or any Friends and Neighbours know the steps that help your pup get over his fear. Some dogs take more time than others, but don’t worry there is a light at the end of the tunnel - we promise!
While we know it’s cute having a dog that’s super attached to you, the stress could end up shortening your best friend’s life, and no one wants that. As your dog builds confidence, and you learn what approach works best for him, he will begin to feel less anxious and happier. So, grab the leash, take your dog on a walk, remember to leave the tv on when you go to work, and get started on an anxiety-reducing, dog-friendly routine.