Separation anxiety is a serious problem in dogs for two main reasons. Firstly, it is very hard to treat it because anxious behaviour takes place when you are not nearby. Secondly, it happens because your dog just wants to be near you, they are not doing it on purpose and we can’t punish them for wanting to be with you.
How To Handle Separation Anxiety In Dogs?
So, how can you handle separation anxiety in dogs without exacerbating the problem? Let’s find out.
1. What Makes Them Anxious?
You may not realise this but there are some things you do every day when you are about to leave for work. It can be anything from picking your keys or taking your bag or even getting dressed up. Your dog knows that when you do these things you are about to leave.
The best way to reduce anxiety in these situations is to break the schedule and change the rules. So, if your dog starts whining when you get dressed. Sometimes, just get dressed and don’t leave the house. Just go into the kitchen and start to cook. Grab your keys but sit in front of the tv or start talking to a friend on the phone. This will help them realise that you may not always leave the house when you get dressed or grab your car keys.
Do this as frequently as you can during the weekends or whenever you are home. Eventually, you will make them feel less anxious when you do these things.
2. Do You Have A Specific Order?
Apart from dressing up, picking your keys, we are sure you do things in a specific order. Like you first dress up, then eat, then take the car keys and so on.
Some pet owners feed their dogs right before they leave. This may not be the best option for a dog with separation anxiety. They start associating eating as you leaving the house. Hence they may stop eating altogether or, they may only eat when you are in the house.
So, the best way to stop this routine induced anxiety is to break it. Instead of feeding them right before you leave, feed them half an hour to an hour prior to leaving. This will help them understand that food does not always mean you are leaving. They can eat safely.
Another way to break the rule is to purposely challenge each rule you have subconsciously placed for yourself. So instead of taking your bag, your keys and leaving. Take your bag and sit for two minutes. Take your car keys and head back inside and then leave. You can break the routine any way you want but make sure you help them understand that your bag and keys do not always mean you are leaving your house.
3. No Greetings And Goodbyes
For dogs with anxiety goodbye and hellos feed their anxiety. Your goodbyes make them really anxious because they know they are going to be alone. They are looking forward to your ‘hello’, so, in a way, your hello also makes them anxious.
The best way to resolve this problem is to reduce interactions to a bare minimum a few minutes before leaving and after coming back to the house. Only interact with them once they have calmed down. It will encourage a calmer behaviour.
4. Home Alone Goodies
Remember that a very anxious dog cannot enjoy treats and toys but that’s where training comes along. Introduce those treats to them when you get ready or when you take your bag or car keys etc and don’t leave the house.
You can do it on a weekend when you take the car keys and instead of leaving the house you sit in front of the TV or start reading a book. Give them the treat as you grab your keys. This will help them understand that every time you grab your keys, or get dressed, something good will happen to them.
Once they start to calm down with the toy, leave for a few seconds at a time and come back take the toy, praise them when they are calm.
For this step to work, the treat needs to be irresistible. You must select your treats according to your dog’s age and weight because sometimes, too many treats may lead to obesity in dogs. An example of a good, low-calorie dog treat would be a chicken broth popsicle. To keep them interested, you can add a few pieces of boiled chicken in their popsicle as well.
Remember that these goodies should only be given when they are left alone.
5. Play Time
Last but definitely not the least, exercise and play is perhaps the best way to reduce anxiety and their tendency to destroy things.
Make sure they have pooped and peed to reduce accidents in the house but also make sure they have had enough time exercising and interacting with you before you leave. Exercise should always be age-appropriate and most suited for health conditions. If a long walk is enough to get them tired then a long walk it is!
Younger dogs and puppies may need a little more than just walks. Running and a good game of fetch should be enough to get them tired. When they are tired they are less likely to have the energy to lick walls and break tables. Also when they are tired and sleepy, they are less likely to feel anxious about you leaving the house.
Other Things About Separation Anxiety In Dogs
Though some breeds are predisposed to separation anxiety, it can happen to any dog. Sometimes past experiences dictate separation anxiety in dogs. So, if you have adopted a dog who was left alone for long hours every day they are very likely to have social anxiety. But then again, even a healthy puppy can get it as they grow older.
1. Train Them Early
Perhaps the biggest mistake that many pet parents do is wait for the anxiety behaviours to pop in before they start to do something about it. Sometimes when you wait for the anxiety to become serious, it is too late to reverse the behaviour.
So, our suggestion would be to train them with the above steps even if your puppy doesn’t have anxiety. This will reduce the chances of separation anxiety and make sure that you have a healthy canine.
2. Not All Separation Behaviour Is Social Anxiety
Your dog may have accidents when you leave the house or they may ruin furniture but it does not always mean they have separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a severe emotional trauma that they face when you leave the house.
Accidents and ruining furniture may imply that they aren’t getting enough exercise throughout the day, or they aren’t taken outside to relieve themselves. Start by increasing playtime. If you are out for long hours every day, ask someone to help you walk them once in between so that they can relieve themselves.
If the increased playtime and walk time solves all their problems, it means that they never had separation anxiety in the first place. They just needed to spend more time with you.
3. Talk To Your Doctor
Lastly, if you suspect they have separation anxiety, or if they are inconsolable when you are not at home, it is okay to take them to the doctor. Doctors may suggest mild medication to soothe their anxiety while you are away.
This will usually calm them and help them get through every hour while you are away.
Here are some ways to handle separation anxiety in dogs. Does your dog have separation anxiety? How do you handle it? Let us know in the comment section below.