For those that have never heard the term, separation anxiety is when your dog develops a fear of your absence. While it may seem sweet that your dog loves you so much that he gets nervous when you’re away, it can be quite dangerous for your dog. While the signs of separation anxiety are unique to each dog, some of the more common ones are: excessive barking, whining and pacing, destruction of the house, and excessive licking of oneself to the point of sores and lesions. Some cases of separation anxiety may be mild, and others may be life-threatening (in the case of the dog injuring itself), but regardless of the severity, it’s important to treat this condition, not only for your dog’s sake but for your sanity as well.
While any dog is susceptible to separation anxiety, there are some that are more likely to develop it. Rescue dogs have a higher chance of developing separation anxiety because they have been abandoned before and are afraid of it happening again. Dogs that are particularly sensitive, or needy for their owners attention are more likely to develop it. Tiny dogs are also prone to it because they spend more time being physically attached to their human than the average large dog. Some dogs suffer from separation anxiety throughout their whole life, and other dogs will develop it for a period of time. On occasion, separation anxiety can be triggered by something major happening in the home, such as a big move, or a family member passing away.
In this blog we will talk about how to prevent separation anxiety in your dog. Each dog displays separation anxiety differently, and so the treatment process will be unique for each dog. If you believe that your dog is already suffering from separation anxiety then you should speak to a professional to decide on the best treatment method for your dog. The 5 points listed below are to be used in order to prevent your dog from developing separation anxiety in the first place. It’s especially important to implement these tips if you have a young puppy, because they are moldable and will carry on this learning throughout their lives.
1. Make Entrances & Exits Uneventful
When you have long, drawn-out goodbyes and hellos at the door, you are validating your dog’s stress. The best thing to do is to say goodbye to your dog 15 minutes before leaving, and just walk out the door when the time comes. Similarly with entrances, take the time to remove your shoes before greeting your dog. Staying calm during entrances and exits will allow your dog to see that walking through the door is commonplace, and nothing to worry about. The last thing that you want to do is give them a reason to worry, which is what will happen when you oblige them with sad goodbyes, and over-joyed hellos.
2. Offer a Safe Space
While you’re away, your dog will need a safe space to retreat to in order to feel calm and comfortable. This can be a crate, an x-pen, or simply one room of your house. Giving your dog a place that is completely his, that is confined and consistent, will help him to relax while you’re away. For puppies it is especially important to not allow him free reign of the house while you’re away. This just gives him more opportunities to get into trouble. Give him a small space that he can begin to view as his own. If you decide to use a crate, you will need to crate train your dog prior to leaving him alone for long periods of time. Crate training is the process of acclimatizing your dog to the crate in order to allow him to feel comfortable in it.
3. Start with Short Absences
When you first get your dog you should only be leaving him alone for short periods of time. Gradually you will increase the length of time, until your dog is successfully alone for multiple hours. If you do not work up to long absences your dog may become anxious in your absences, whereas gradually increasing the length will allow him to see that you are indeed coming back in due time, and there is nothing to fear.
4. Make Some Noise
Some dogs feel comforted by noise, particularly dogs that come from a hectic household. The contrast in sound between humans being home, and humans being away, can be quite dramatic. You can duplicate the noise by leaving the radio or TV on while you’re away. The voices will help to soothe your dog, and make him feel less alone during your absence.
5. Provide Entertainment
Giving your dog something to do while you’re away can help to distract him away from his anxiety. It gives him a task to focus on, and an objective in his day. There are a large number of toys on the market with holes in them that you can stuff food or treats, or other similar games that forces the dog to use his mind. These games are great because it will tire your dog out physically and mentally, and with any luck he will sleep for the rest of your absence. It is important that you don’t reserve the toy for your absences. Your dog will start to associate the toy with you leaving, and it will become a negative for him. To mix things up, occasionally give the toy to your dog when you are staying home as well.