How To Deal With Separation Anxiety In Dogs
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There is a saying that goes something like this: “Whenever you leave your dog, you break its heart!”
Now, that is a pretty big burden for most of us dog owners to get our heads around because many of us actually think of our dogs as much more than dogs.
For better or for worse, we constantly anthropomorphize toward our canine friend and this can be a problem when we have to go out of the homestead to actually earn a living, buy groceries or anything else that requires us popping out for a bit.
Now, before we go any further with this I would say that if you think you are going to be leaving your dog for a considerable amount of time then please think about either a dog sitter, a dog walker or indeed doggy daycare as this has huge benefits for what I am about to tell you.
It’s not a great experience for your dog to be left on their own if they have never gotten used to it.
Dog psychologists have pinned this down to essentially two things:
Fear and Worry.
Firstly for a dog that has never been left before they are fearful of the unknown. You are their world and if you leave them, then they simply do not understand why the dynamic has changed.
If you have not established yourself as pack leader before you start leaving your dog then when you do they become fearful and they worry that you won’t come back.
This is when destructive behavior can start.
Dealing With Separation Anxiety In Dogs
Now we know that all dogs are different. Some dogs will bark when they are left alone. Some dogs will pine when they are left alone and some dogs will be so nervous and worried that they will soil in the home or try to eat their way out and destroy things, furniture, toys, clothes, etc…..you get the idea.
It’s really important to try to understand what is going on here. Dogs are not spiteful and they are not doing this because they are annoyed at you.
They are doing this because they are worried. They are worried they won’t see you again and they are fearful of the situation they are in so they act in this state of anxiety that can include all of the aforementioned acts.
Thankfully there is a solution to this problem and this is the best way that I have found to cure dog separation anxiety.
How to Cure Dog Separation Anxiety- How I Did It With My Dogs
Firstly, let’s decide that we are only going out for a couple of hours maximum. As I said earlier in this article, you have to weigh up what is best for the dog in this situation and if you think you will be out for a long time and I am talking 4 or 5 hours plus, then doggy daycare is always the best option.
Doggy daycare prices vary but over here in Cornwall in the UK, I pay just £10 or around $13 US for an entire day of care at my local kennel and they really look after my boy with a lovely kennel, walks and food. It’s really the best option and it is the most responsible thing to do.
Therefore we need to adopt a strategy that is going to work for leaving our dog for a maximum of 2 hours in this example.
Build Up To It
We can’t just leave them for 2 hours if we have never left them before so this is how I do it and you can use this formula if you want and adopt it to your lifestyle etc and add bits and take bits away.
Ok, so the first time I leave my dog in the home on its own it’s only for a few minutes. Start your watch and let’s say it’s just 5 minutes.
I put the radio on whenever I leave my dog and the soothing sound of classical music is what he seems to like so over here in the UK we have a great digital channel called Classic FM, so that is put on.(my dog actually recognizes this now as a sign that I may be going out!)
I then completely ignore him and leave with as little fuss as possible. I always try to leave by the back door too so it’s out of his sight, if you can do this then this really helps.
I always leave him some water, but NEVER any food. Food is at meal times and he gets food when I give it to him. I am his pack leader and that is what he recognizes. If you need to find out more about that, you can look at my other articles on being the pack leader.
I then leave…but just for 5 minutes.
I then return and go in through the front door. Now, when my boy races up to see me, tail wagging and excited, guess what I do?
I totally ignore him!
I want him to understand that it was no big deal that I left for 5 minutes..and I am not impressed or bothered that he thinks it is!
I ignore him until he calms down and then when he has, I call him..and he gets a treat, a tidbit.
What we are doing here is getting our dog to associate me coming and going as being a perfectly normal part of his or her life whilst living with you in the home.
Now, all you have to do is keep repeating this ideally on a daily basis and gradually build up the time span. I like 5-minute increments and have found these to work best and within a fortnight, you will of easily built this up into a good couple of hours.
Location of your dog
Some people give their dogs free reign within the home and I have done this in the past, but to be honest it’s probably not the best option when trying to stop dog separation anxiety.
Dogs can easily ransack a home like no other animal if they are anxious and this is not what we want for them or indeed us when we have o replace a couch, carpet, curtains, bedding, and clothes..it soon adds up.
Therefore, I tend to relocate to an area in the home before I go out. Usually, the kitchen area where he eats. I will leave a bowl of fresh cold water, his blankets and it’s all nice, warm and comfy for him. I pop on the radio and then I can be certain that he is comfortable, not too many distractions and safe in a more controlled environment.
Another option that can be used is a dog cage that is big enough for your dog to happily stay inside of. These are great but you need to ensure that you have got the whole separation anxiety box ticked off firstly as putting an anxious dog into a cage or crate can make it more anxious.
We will look into cages in another article, but they are an option.
Exercise Before You Leave
A great way to treat dog separation anxiety is to always exercise your dog before you know you are going to leave. Therefore let us say you know you are going out at 10 am and you will be back at midday.
A decent walk for your dog well before your departure time will help tire them out a bit, thus lowering any kind of anxiety in them.
Exercise is great for humans who suffer from any kind of anxiety or depression related condition and our dogs are incredibly similar in this trait.
After exercise, set your dog up in their controlled area (kitchen, etc) and turn on the radio too. Our homes are very noisy places usually for a dog. We are there, the dog is there, maybe the TV is on, we are cooking dinner, chatting, etc.
Our dog gets used to this and accepts it and in fact, finds it reassuring because they are part of something. To simply go out and leave our dog in a silent home can be truly worrying for them.
After doing this and making sure our dog has water…we leave, quietly without any fuss.
On our return, we ignore our dog until they calm and then we call them, with a treat and tell them what a “Good Dog” they have been.
This takes time and patience but again, really works. It is a really great way to cure dog separation anxiety and I use this method all the time because it works and becomes, like all things with dog training, second nature for you and your dog.
You are well on your way to being able to cure separation anxiety dogs with this method and of course, you can tweak this to find your best fit.
If your dog really is struggling with this, it may well be worth talking to your vet who may offer some sort of medical alternative to calm and soothe your dog and I have used a diffuser that can also make the home environment much more chilled out for the dog too.
Generally though, if you build up to leaving them gradually through repetition and consistency, you will find that you and your dog’s issues will diminish and you will of found your way of being able to cure your dog’s separation anxiety.