Understanding & Managing Separation Anxiety
Why your dog freaks out when you're gone!
Dogs are social animals who love to be with their people. So when they are left alone, it is understandable that some will develop anxiety. Separation anxiety can manifest itself in many ways: excessive barking, destruction of objects, digging, extreme drooling, whining, pacing, and even hiding. These issues can be dangerous for your dog, unsettling for dog owners and a disruption for your neighbors.
Don’t give up right away – there are ways to help your pooch feel safe and comfortable while you’re not home!
The first step is recognizing whether your dog actually has separation anxiety and at what level. For those that have recently adopted a dog, you may experience signs of separation anxiety, but it doesn't necessarily mean they suffer from it. Dogs entering a new environment, especially after having spent time in a shelter or boarding facility, or just switching from one home to the next, often experience symptoms of separation anxiety but will overcome these issues once they become comfortable in their new setting. If the anxiety issue is severe, it is recommended you contact a vet, trainer or veterinary behaviorist.
Here are some tips to help your dog to overcome separation anxiety:
Exercise: Provide exercise for your dog before you leave the house. Take your dog for a brisk walk about 30-45 minutes before you leave or work on tire him out mentally by working on basic training commands. Reward your dog with food and water. If your dog is in a calm and rested state before you leave, they are more likely to remain calm as you leave the house and while you are gone. A dog that is anxious before you leave will remain anxious.
Crating: If your dog has been crate trained, the crate can be viewed by your dog as a safe haven, a place of peace and solitude. If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, make sure you provide a sturdy crate. Don't leave any objects in the crate that can be destroyed, chewed up, or swallowed. If your dog is likely to chew apart a blanket, do not leave a blanket in the crate. Provide strong toys for you dog to chew on. While you are away, your dog will spend about 90 percent of the time asleep. Make sure they have something to stimulate them mentally for that other 10 percent.
Schedules: A consistent schedule will help your dog to cope with times in which you are away. This is especially important for those that work a fixed work or school schedule. The same routine you practice during work or school, should be provided on days off as well.
Conditioning: For dogs that have symptoms of separation anxiety, you may want to leave the home for short periods first. This is a good way to crate train as well. When you go out to get the mail, or grab something from your car, or if you just need to go out and get some air, place your dog in the crate. You can start out with very short amounts of time, just a few minutes at a time, and then start lengthening the amount of time you are away. You can also practice desensitizing your dog to watching you leave by going through the routine of picking up your keys, gathering your belongings, and then just sitting on the couch so the dog sees that there’s nothing to be anxious about.
Comforting: Leave some background noise for your dog. Music or the television can be helpful. The type of music does not matter, but you may want to avoid anything that'll increase too much excitement. Try leaving one of your t-shits with him in his crate, much like a puppy would do with his mom, the smell of your clothing will bring comfort; just don’t get upset if your t-shirt gets chewed! There are also pheromone diffusers available at most pet stores. These are devices that plug into an outlet and release an odorless chemical that naturally relaxes the dog.
It is important for you to not draw excess attention when you come and go from your home. It is understandable that you want to say hello and become excited when you first see your dog. It is also understandable that you feel bad when you are leaving them. However, while your dog is suffering from anxiety when you leave, or anxiety and excitement when you arrive, you will only be adding to these issues when you draw attention to them. When you leave, just leave! When you arrive, make sure you go about your normal business; put your briefcase or backpack away, check your phone messages, change your clothes, and when your dog is in a calmer state, say hello.
Remember - like most training, consistency and understanding are key. Don’t give up too quickly!
DISCLAIMER OF LIABILITY: Any advice provided by Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia ("CNKP") is for informational purposes only. The Community Help Desk is managed by volunteers of CNKP and does not necessarily represent the views of CNKP. Behavior and training advice and suggestions provided through its Help Desk are not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a professional animal trainer or qualified animal behaviorist. Any and all advice from CNKP regarding housing assistance, surrender prevention, or veterinary referrals is to be used for informational purposes only and does not substitute for the advice of a professional. CNKP expressly disclaims any and all liability, expressed or implied, with respect to the service and advice received via its Help Desk. Your reliance on the advice provided and/or content of CNKP's website or Help Desk communications is solely at your own risk.