Dog Separation Anxiety Tips
With restrictions being lifted in some areas of the U.S., and some people being called back to work, people are occasionally beginning to leave their hibernation and go back to normal routines outside of their home. While many of us might be looking forward to getting out of the house again, it can be quite a shock to our pets who have become so used to having us around constantly for the past five or six months.
Many dogs who never previously showed signs of separation anxiety might begin experiencing them now, and for dogs that already had separation issues, they may have only grown worse during this time in quarantine. Dogs thrive on routine, so any change can often create upheaval in their lives, no matter how big or small.
Dogs love being around their people, so even if this time stuck at home has felt relentless for you, your dog probably loved having you around 24/7. When you begin to go back to your normal schedule, either for work or play, it might not be so easy for them to adjust to this change of being alone again. Even a short time away can feel like ages to your dog.
If you start to notice unwanted and unexpected chewing, using the bathroom in the house, excessive barking or drooling, or other destructive behaviors when you leave, these can all be tell-tale signs of separation anxiety in dogs.
A vet can often prescribe medication to alleviate your dog’s symptoms and help with the bad behaviors. However, there are a few easy solutions you can try out first that might help your dog naturally readjust to being on their own.
- Practice leaving.
Many dogs begin having anxiety quickly after you leave the home. Try “practicing” for your time away.
Many of us know the story of Pavlov’s dogs. Dogs begin to recognize certain behaviors and associate them with other things. For example, seeing you pick up the keys might trigger them into thinking you are leaving. You can utilize this to retrain your dog so they don’t associate certain habits with being gone.
When using this training technique, be sure to complete all of your normal leaving habits, like putting on shoes, grabbing your purse, keys, etc. so it is believable to your dog. See how your dog reacts. This will help you gauge which habits they associate with you getting ready to go, and will give you an idea of your dog’s specific triggers. If your dog associates you grabbing the keys as the indicator you will be gone, grab the keys as you leave. Practice leaving by going on a very short walk or drive, then immediately returning home. Leave for only very short increments of time, around 5 minutes to start, and come right back.
Consistency is key with dogs, so you will need to repeat these leaving behaviors day after day, until your dog is comfortable. If you stop the practice too soon, you might end up having to begin again from square one, so keep it consistent for as long as it takes.
Depending on the dog, it might take anywhere from a few days to a couple of months to get your dog comfortable with you leaving. It can help to do this practice multiple times a day at first. After your dog becomes comfortable with your 5 minutes away, you can slowly work up to more time; 10 minutes away, then 15 minutes, and so on, until you are able to be gone for an hour or more with no problems.
Since many dogs begin to panic within the first few minutes of you leaving, this repeated practice shows them that you always return, and will help alleviate their fears of being alone.
- Leave them with a reminder of you.
If your dog is crate-trained, or even if they aren’t, it can be helpful to leave an item of yours behind with them when you’re away. Wear an old tee shirt for a day, then instead of washing it, leave it with your dog on their bed or crate when you leave.
Leaving behind a personal item is especially comforting for dogs that are crate-trained, because your lingering smell on the item makes them feel as if you are still around. They are able to cuddle up to the item throughout the day and feel at ease. Your scent can be of comfort to your dog when they are by themselves and missing you.
- Distract them with toys.
Some dogs have their initial anxiety meltdown as you are leaving. Oftentimes, if you can prevent them from this initial episode, they will forget you are gone and relax. Utilize a puzzle toy that includes some type of treat to distract your dog as you leave.
Fill a KONG®, or a similar-style puzzle toy, with a small amount of their favorite treat, like peanut butter or cheese (be sure not to use anything that might negatively affect their health). When you are ready to leave, show your dog the toy with the special filling inside. Give them the toy somewhere away from the door, so they won’t notice you leaving. Quickly sneak out the door while they are enjoying their treat.
By distracting your dog for a few minutes while you leave, it should allow you time to get out the door without triggering their anxiety. By the time they are done, you will be gone, and they will most likely not even realize that they should be worried.
Keep an eye on them.
Thanks to technology, it’s now pretty easy to keep an eye on your dog even when you’re away from home. This tip won’t necessarily cure your dog’s anxiety, but it can sometimes help prevent their bad behaviors. You can use a camera with voice capabilities to watch your dog while you’re gone and let them know when you see them doing something wrong. Many brands of camera like the Furbo even allow you to dispense treats for your pup. You can fill it with your dog’s favorite PetScy chews to give them their daily dose and have some fun at the same time!
If you see your dog acting out, you can speak to them through the camera to say “no”. Dogs will often stop the bad behavior if they realize they can be seen. Hearing your voice can help your dog feel like you are there and they are not actually alone. Plus, it can also boost your mood when you check in and see your dog’s face throughout the day.
Separation anxiety and its associated behaviors don’t have to be permanent. By working with your dog and being consistent, you can safely reacquaint them with you being away.