By Beth Jeffrey, Dog Trainer
Dog separation anxiety is becoming more and more common. As people continue to lead increasing busy lives, many dogs find themselves alone more frequently. The two most common instances we see this in is either rescue dogs, or dogs that may have had someone at home with them for a significant period of time, and then the owners situation changes and the dog is now left much more frequently.
Symptoms of this disorder can range from crying/whining, excessive barking, destructive behavior, or even self inflicted wounds such as lick sores (wherein a dog will constantly lick a certain spot until it becomes red and raw). All of these are dogs way of dealing with stress. Regardless of which of these your dog is exhibiting, there are a core group of training exercises you can do to help them overcome it. In this article you’ll learn how to deal with dog separation anxiety.
Most dog lovers want to give their dogs love and attention before they leave for an extended period of time. We crouch down, cuddle them, tell them we’ll be back soon, and then walk out the door. Although this may seem like the right thing to do to us, for a dog suffering from separation anxiety, these actions act as a trigger to major insecurity. The dog is now thinking, I know I’m being left, hence the behaviors are triggered.
1) Practice leaving frequently for short periods of time
The first thing you want to do to help your dog is not make a big deal about the fact that you are leaving. Do not say goodbye to your dog. Do not give him a big cuddle. Simply pick up your keys and leave. If you don’t create a ‘big scene’ before you leave, it is a less dramatic event for your dog.
With dogs suffering from separation anxiety, this technique should be used frequently for short periods of time at first. In other words, as often as you can, pick up your keys and walk out the door. Stay outside for a few minutes, and then return. Dogs have no sense of time, so the event for them is the coming and going, not how long you have been gone.
By the constant and frequent repetition of you leaving, but always come back, your dog will learn to feel less insecure.
2) Do not make an issue of your coming and going; make it boring, not exciting for them
The second important part of helping a dog with separation anxiety is to not acknowledge them when you return home. We all love to come home and give our loyal companions a big cuddle and shower them with love, but this again makes a big deal out of the event, hence leading to more anxiety.
When you return you should also not acknowledge the dog. Come into your home, put your stuff down, do what you need to do, and then say a calm hello to your dog. Again, by doing this, you are making the event of your coming and going less of an issue.
3) Give your dog more exercise before you leave
There are also some other things a dog owner should consider if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. Firstly, if you are gone all day, make sure you give your dog a good walk in the morning before you leave. A walk will help relieve your dogs pent up energy, hence allowing them to relax more during the day.
Secondly, if you are gone long hours, you may want to look at getting either a dog walker or using a dog daycare facility. It is a long day at home for a dog, and breaking the day up for them with a nice walk will help them with some of their stress.
4) Find a safe, quiet place for your dog to stay when you are not home
Lastly, you need to ensure your dog is in a safe place. If they are destructive, you should consider confining them to a small room or a crate when you leave. Dogs can get into a lot of trouble when left alone. Even if they are not destructive, smaller spaces help dogs feel more secure. Anxious dogs typically become nervous of noises and movements around the outside of the house, so a space like a bathroom or laundry room can help them feel more secure.
Dealing with separation anxiety takes time. Your goal is to help your dog feel secure when at home, as well as feel comfortable with the idea that even though you may leave, you always return.
Beth Jeffery is a Dog Trainer and Animal Behaviorist based in San Diego, CA. She has worked with both Guide Dogs for the Blind, and Assistance Dogs for the Disabled, in addition to having run her own private training business, The Top Dog Trainer, for many years. From puppy training to aggression, Beth has dealt with all breeds, all ages, and all problems. She believes in giving owners all the tools to help them build a strong bond with their dog, which involves both love and respect. Beth is pictured here with her Labrador, Dill.