Dogs bring joy to their human companions and vice versa. As loyal dog owners, we consider them to be irreplaceable family members and want to keep them safe and happy. In return, our dogs give us their loyalty and protection. However, sometimes their pack mentality can leave them feeling abandoned and anxious when we aren’t around. They may develop separation anxiety that can impact them in various negative ways. If your dog, or a dog that you’re watching, seems to be showing signs of separation anxiety, there are ways to help them by carefully getting them adjusted to alone time.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a panic response that can manifest in your dog’s behaviors when you leave them alone. Sometimes, they will chew destructively or bark until your neighbor complains. This is the way your dog is trying to communicate its fear and confusion. It’s not clear exactly why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and some don’t. What is certain is that this type of anxiety is very scary for your dog and can cause them to deteriorate mentally and physically. Although the root cause for separation anxiety is unclear, there are some common triggers that can lead to its manifestations. A dog that has gone through multiple owners, for example, is more likely to become confused and interpret your leaving as possibly the last time they will see you. Other triggers include the loss of a family member and moving to a new environment.
How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs
How you go about treating separation anxiety and the treatment’s effectiveness will depend on your dog and the nature of your relationship with them. However, here are some general tips that tend to work well for most dog owners.
Don’t Overdo Goodbyes
Similar to how you say goodbye to a child who leans toward negative behaviors when a parent leaves, you don’t want to make a big deal with your dog before you leave the house. You may feel as if you’re giving them extra love to hold them over while you’re gone, but you’re actually signaling that something out of the ordinary is about to happen because you aren’t acting as you normally do. When it’s time for you to leave, walk away from your dog simply as if you were walking to another area of the house. This will break the association between an empty house and exaggerated affection.
Sleep with Your Dog
There is debate concerning whether or not sleeping with your dog will exacerbate the symptoms of separation anxiety. Therefore, you will need to “feel out” this tactic. In general, sleeping with your dog will reduce anxiety for both of you. Giving your dog a nice long stretch of cuddling at night may be just the thing they need to make them feel comfortable when you’re away. Whether or not you decide to allow your dog to sleep with you, don’t separate them from you altogether when bedtime rolls around. Don’t close the bedroom door on them, in other words, and let them spend the night whining outside. Provide them a comfortable bed in your bedroom so that tget don’t have to feel alone while you’re sleeping.
Connect Your Leaving with Good Things
A good way to relieve the stress of your absence is to give your dog something desirable that will divert their attention as you leave and will keep them distracted for a while after you leave. For instance, a Kong toy filled with food will give your dog something favorable to work for and provide comfort and reassurance by way of a treat. Another good way to associate your absence with something good is to pull out a comfy dog bed right before you leave. However, make sure that you put these toys and beds away when you get home so that your dog knows they are only meant for when you’re gone.
Take Long Walks, Run with Your Dog and Keep them Mentally Engaged
Generally, a tired dog equals a calm and happy dog and this can be achieved through physical exercise as well as mental effort. If your dog knows that a long walk or a quick run happens before you leave, you’ve not only given them another good thing to associate with your absence, but you’ve also given them the opportunity to blow off steam so that they can relax when you’re gone. If a walk or run isn’t possible, play fetch in the backyard for 30 minutes and daycare is always an option even if just for 1 day or a 1/2 day per week. Any form of exercise will help your dog to burn off excess energy and will induce relaxation.
Consult a Professional
If none of the above tips has helped to relieve your dog’s separation anxiety, it’s probably time to talk to a professional. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and you’re certainly not the first dog owner to seek professional advice for separation anxiety. A professional dog trainer or pet reiki practitioner may even suggest other exercises for reducing anxiety to experiment with before you commit to the expense of training.
Your dog doesn’t have to suffer through their separation anxiety, and neither do you. With some patience and troubleshooting, you can figure out what works best to make your dog feel secure and comfortable while you’re away. Most importantly, remember that you’re not alone and that you have options. Other dog owners have gone before you, and there is some excellent advice out there.