Separation anxiety is one of the biggest issues dogs face. It’s also one of the main reasons that people surrender their pets to shelters. Our lives are busier, so our dogs are forced to spend more time on their own, which can result in separation anxiety. Additionally, dogs adopted from shelters suffer more frequently from separation anxiety.
Dogs evolved to run in packs. From being part of a litter to running with the rest of the pack throughout their wild adulthood, being alone is not a normal state for them. They are made to socialize with other dogs and their beloved people.
While the behavioral problems caused by separation anxiety create a lot of stress for you and your dog, it doesn’t have to be the end of a wonderful relationship. There are a number of things that you can do to reduce or eliminate this particular problem, but it will require effort from both you and your dog.
Does your dog have separation anxiety?
The first thing you have to do is figure out if your dog actually has separation anxiety. There are a number of symptoms that you can look for. If your dog exhibits a number of these, there is a good chance that they might need a little help in this area.
- Is your dog getting enough exercise?
- Are you spending enough time with him?
- Have there been major changes lately?
All of these can affect your dog’s stress level.
What is separation anxiety?
Dogs, just like people, worry about things. Dogs don’t really understand time–a minute or an hour–it is about the same to your dog. Just the simple fact that you are not there is enough to cause anxiety.
When your dog worries too much while you are gone, they can develop a number of bad habits, which can range from mild to severe. Dogs like stability and routine, so if you move, add a new member (either human or canine) to the household or lose a member, change your work schedule, etc., it can affect your dog.
Mild cases of anxiety might take care of themselves over a short period of time, but severe cases will take a long time and a lot of work to overcome. With mild anxiety, sometimes just moving things that they are likely to chew out of their reach or hiding a few treats around the house before you leave will be enough to solve the problem. But if they are constantly barking while you are gone or chewing up everything in sight, you will have to start working with them before the behavior becomes permanent.
What should you look for?
Some of the most common signs are:
- Acting overly excited
- Being destructive
- Going to the bathroom in the house
- Licking their lips
- Losing their appetite
- Running out the door
- Yawning frequently
So, if your dog exhibits several of these as you are getting ready to leave, you will probably have to look for ways to reduce their anxiety.
How to keep your dog happy while you are away
Many owners wonder and worry about what their dogs are up to while they’re home alone. However, you can ease your stress and your dog’s with these techniques:
1. Provide plenty of water and leave your dog well-fed before you do anything else. Make sure that your dog will be comfortable while you are away.
Feeding your dog just before you leave or giving them a safe, long-lasting chew treat can distract your dog when you leave. The chewing will also help your dog’s body to release endorphins which naturally calm them.
2. Ensure your dog remains at a comfortable temperature–not too hot or not too cold.
3. If your dog sleeps in a crate, giving them constant access to their crate can give them a sense of comfort and security that may reduce the negative behavior. Remember to not force them into the crate because they will come to see it as a form of punishment.
4. Leave the TV or radio on when you go. The sounds and voices can be very comforting to some dogs.
5. You can also hide treats around the house. This will distract them and keep them busy while you are away. Frequently, they are so engaged with the search they hardly realize that you have gone.
Modify your dog’s behavior
While setting your home up for your absence can make a world of difference for most dogs, others need a bit more support to overcome or manage their anxiety. To slowly help your dog adjust their behavior you can begin with some basic techniques…
When you walk, make sure that your dog walks by your side or behind you–never in front of you, constantly tugging on the leash. This will force your dog to focus on you, causing them to burn physical and mental energy.
Before you leave
Don’t do anything special during the last five to ten minutes before you leave the house. Once you start doing things that you think might ease their stress, you are actually telling them that you are getting ready to leave and increasing their anxiety.
When you arrive home
When you return, your dog will be overjoyed, but go about your business and ignore them as best you can, so your dog will begin to realize that your coming and going is no big deal. Try to avoid punishing your dog in these situations because they will have a difficult time connecting the punishment with the behavior and praising them might just reinforce it.
During your downtime or during a Rover’s Recess visit
Taking your dog for a walk or an energetic play session provides an outlet for excess nervous energy. A bit of quality time provides your dog with some attention, keeps them fit, and gives them a release of endorphins. When dogs don’t have a healthy outlet for their energy, they are more likely to be destructive or have too much pent-up energy while you’re away.
You can try channeling their excess energy:
- Leave some of their favorite toys out
- Hide some tasty treats around the house
- Stuff toy or bone with peanut butter and kibble
All of these can help keep your dog’s mind off of your absence.
During your dog’s training sessions
You can also try to get your dog accustomed to your leaving. Start by just leaving for a few seconds, then a few minutes, ten to fifteen minutes, and continue until you can be gone for an hour or more without your dog showing signs of separation anxiety.
Over-the-counter solutions for dogs with anxiety
You can find a number of possible solutions at your local pet store and online. There are pheromones sprays that can help, as well as collars that have pheromones incorporated in them which will help calm your dog.
You can also try treats and oils that are designed to do the same things. Some people have found that compression vests work also.
Talking to your vet about your dog’s condition
Your vet will be a great source to help with your dog’s behavior. In addition to discussing behavior modification and over-the-counter solutions, your vet can prescribe meds that may calm them.
Separating Your Dog from Their Anxiety
The main thing to remember is that you have a variety of ways to reduce your dog’s anxiety, and you should not give up until you have exhausted them. If you think that your dog would benefit from the company of a dog walker and the extra exercise from added walks, give us a call or contact us at Rover’s Recess. We will schedule a meet and greet with you and your dog, then be happy to take your dog for walks while you are out of the house. Give us a call!