Soothe Your Dogs Separation Anxiety In These 8 Ways
Dogs love being around their pet parents 24/7. But in a post-pandemic world, owners and pets alike will be adjusting to a new normal which could bring on separation anxiety for your dog. Heres what to look for and how to help.
No matter how much you love and cherish every member of your household , the prospect of returning to a life outside the home after months of pandemic quarantines and lockdowns is something to celebrate.
But whether youre looking forward to returning to a workplace or anyplace outside your own four walls, keep in mind that some members of your quarantine crew namely, pets may not be as thrilled about the change as you are.
For many pets, returning to a more normal routine after months of extended togetherness may feel like a drastic shift. And for pandemic puppies who have never been left alone before, that shift could be even greater. This life change may trigger separation anxiety in dogs.
Strategy : Foster Your Dogs Independence
If your dog becomes anxious when you prepare to leave home as you pick up your keys or put on your coat you will need to encourage your dog to be more independent. Here are some tips:
- Dont let your dog follow you around constantly.
- Demonstrate youre focused on other tasks, and dont react when your dog brings toys or attempts to gain your attention.
- If your dog begins to naturally seek out alone time, reward that behaviour with a treat* and some praise.
- *Treats are not for every dog. Some of the intelligent, working dog breeds can deliberately misbehave in order to gain a treat. Let your kind voice be the reward.
Why Do Dogs Get Anxious When Home Alone
Dogsâ¯are a naturally social speciesâ¯andâ¯itâs normal for them toâ¯stay close to their social group which is why they can become anxious when left alone. When a puppy is first separated fromâ¯theirâ¯mother and litter mates,â¯theirâ¯usualâ¯response will be to whine, whimper or bark while trying to get back to them.
To help prevent problems from developing, puppies need to learn to feel confident and relaxed when alone, in a very gradual and positive way.
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How To Help Your Puppy Or New Dog Get Used To Being Left Alone
Its a good idea to teach a puppy or new dog to get used to your absence for short periods of time, even if you dont intend to leave them alone for long. At some point, you will have to leave your dog at home and if they arent used to it, they may become very distressed. The idea is to teach them that being alone isnt scary at all its actually a time to relax and feel comfortable.
Firstly youll need to decide on where you are happy for your dog to be left alone. Some people prefer their dogs to be left in a utility room or kitchen due to ease of cleaning up any potential mess. There is nothing wrong with this however you dont want to make the mistake of putting your dog in this area only when you are leaving them. This is because you want them to feel as comfortable and relaxed as they possibly can, and if they only get put in this area when they are left, they may learn to only associate it with isolation.
If The Problem Is More Serious
A dog with severe anxiety won’t be distracted by even the tastiest treats. You’ll need to slowly get them used to your absence.
They may start to get nervous when they see signs you’re about to leave, like putting on your shoes or picking up your keys. So do those things, but then don’t leave. Put on your shoes and then sit down at the table. Pick up your keys and watch TV. Do this over and over many times a day.
When your dog starts to feel less anxious about that, you can slowly start to disappear. First just go on the other side of the door. Ask your dog to stay, then close an inside door between you. Reappear after a few seconds. Slowly increase the amount of time you’re gone. Put on your shoes and pick up your keys. Ask your dog to stay while you go into another room.
As they get more used to the “stay game,” increase the amount of time you’re gone. Then use an outside door, but not the same one you go out every day. Make sure your dog is relaxed before you leave.
Only you can tell if your dog is ready to be left alone for longer periods. Don’t rush things. Give them a stuffed treat when you’ve built up to 10 seconds or so apart. Always act calm when you leave and when you return.
Gradually build up the time until you can leave the house for a few minutes. Then stay away for longer and longer periods.
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Resources And Products To Help With Separation Anxiety
There are tons of great resources and products to arm yourself with when taking on separation anxiety. Interactive toys like Kongs, snuffle mats, or food puzzles can keep your dog engaged for a while. Calming aids like treats with L-Theanine and melatonin or weighted blankets can also help.
When in doubt, look to resources like the American Kennel Club, the ASPCA, and the Humane Society for trustworthy information. And be aware that while these suggestions may help, they shouldn’t be substituted for actual training or advice.
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UPDATE: Mar. 1, 2022, 12:00 p.m. EST This story has been updated to add additional context from Dodman and to reflect Carly Loyer’s complete title. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the ASPCA’s statistic 23 million dogs and cats, not just dogs, were acquired during the pandemic. This story has also been updated to correctly spell Nicholas Dodman’s name.
How To Keep Your Dog Occupied
We recommend giving your dog a bone or something they enjoy as it can help distract from the fact youre gone. A LickiMat or Kong filled with peanut butter, yogurt, or mashed banana to give your dog a yummy challenge. Repetitive licking is also helpful because it releases endorphins, which are calming hormones, into the body. Additional benefits include stimulating saliva production and removing bacteria from the tongue . Just use caution and supervision when leaving them solo with a LikiMat, as dogs can chew through them .
Our Firsthand Experience With LikiMat
We tried out the LickiMat in exchange for an honest review, and Lexie, our separation anxiety-prone King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, loves it. She licks until the mat is clean, then she falls asleep on top of it. The only downside is her long ears tend to get messy when they drag through the peanut butter. The mat washes clean, and its easy to store when not in use. Lexie seems to look forward to when we leave because she jumps when I get the LickiMat out.
Sadie C., Canine Journal
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Does Crate Training Help A Dogs Separation Anxiety
So, can crate training cure your dogs separation anxiety?
Unfortunately, the short answer to that question is no. If the dog already suffers from this behavioral disorder, simply crating him wont cure the problem. That said, with patience, positive reinforcement training methods, and proper training, a crate can be used to help to decrease separation anxiety.
Give Them Plenty Of Exercise
If you know youre going out for an extended period of time, walk your dog beforehand. Dogs that dont exercise frequently enough build up large amounts of energy. They may channel that energy by chewing or destroying household items. This heightens the anxiety your dog will experience making them restless. Plenty of physical exertion will counter this effect and make them more docile when youve finally left.
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What To Do If Your Dog Struggles With Being Left Alone
If you identify signs that your dog may be worried, talk to your vet about a referral to a behaviourist. Itâs important to contact your vet first so they can check that there are no medical problems that may be influencing your dogâs behaviour before helping you find a qualified behaviourist. As separation problems can develop for different reasons, treatment programmes need to be tailored to individual dogs. Programmes usually include a number of different elements, which might include the following aspects:
- encouraging your dog to not be too reliant on your attention when you are at home, so that they can cope better when you are not there
- gradually teaching your dog that it is ok to be alone in the house through a process called âdesensitisation and counter-conditioningâ
- changing any associations your dog may have made about the events leading up to you leaving the house
- in some cases, making sure that your dog has had sufficient exercise and mental stimulation to help them settle down when left.
If you need help with your dogâs separation anxiety, you can find out how to .
Tips To Help Dog Separation Anxiety
You come home from a long day at work to a spinning, jumping whirlwind of energy. Your dog follows you into your living room, where you find that he has chewed on your favorite pair of shoes. Your neighbor comes by to tell you that, once again, your dog has been driving the neighborhood crazy by howling and barking while you were away. Is this scenario familiar? Your dog may be suffering from dog separation anxiety.
In nature, dogs are almost never away from their pack. It is our job to help make this unnatural situation less stressful!
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No Touch No Talk No Eye Contact
Dont make a big deal when you leave for the day or when you return. This way, you are communicating to your dog that the time apart is no big deal. Its just business as usual! Depending on the severity of the dogs anxiety, you may need to practice the rule for five minutes or up to an hour before you leave and when you get back.
Other Factors That May Help
Recording dog behavior using video cameras mounted in the home can be a useful way of both diagnosing separation-related disorders and of monitoring improvement.42 Capturing dog behavior on video can reveal more subtle signs of stress and anxiety, and signs that do not leave physical evidence such as pacing, panting,43 mouth licking, body shaking, and stereotyped behavior.41
Butler et al38 found that almost all dog owners in their study provided constant companionship to their dogs as a way of making up for absences. Sherman and Mills22 report that a history of being left alone for long times or experiencing long times with the owner without being left alone are factors associated with canine separation-related problems. These findings suggest that owners should aim for moderation in the length of absences from their dogs.
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Consider Treat Dispensing Toys
If your dog has a lot of nervous energy, a treat dispensing toy could be a good idea. Try a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or a puzzle toy to give them something to do.
If your dog is a senior and they develop dog separation anxiety at night, its a good idea to book an appointment with your vet as this could be a sign of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
How To Break A Dogs Separation Anxiety
Training your dog out of anxious behavior can be complicated, but there are ways to make it easier. The most important step is creating a strong bond between you and your pup. When your dog trusts you and knows he can rely on you, hes less likely to suffer from anxiety. Here are a few ways you can make dealing with separation anxiety easier on you and your dog.
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Invest In A Calming Diffuser
Some dogs may respond well to calming diffusers. Adaptil has a diffuser and spray product which releases dog appeasing pheromones into the atmosphere. This has a comforting effect on puppies and adult dogs. It just needs to be plugged into the room where your dog spends most of their time for maximum effectiveness. They can also be ideal for use when fireworks or thunderstorms are making your dog anxious. VioVet have a great range of calming products for dogs, including scents and diffusers.
Does Having A Second Pet Reduce Anxiety
Companionship can help a dog feel less lonely. However, having a second dog doesnt necessarily solve the issue. Some dogs are inherently more shy and anxious, whereas others are more social by nature .
If youre considering getting an additional pet, try introducing your pup to the idea by sitting for a friends dog or having him stay at another dogs home. Its a safe way to test the waters and see if companionship will reduce his separation anxiety.
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Is Drug Therapy Useful
Drug therapy can be useful especially during initial departure training. Tranquilizers alone do not reduce a dog’s anxiety and may only be helpful to sedate your dog so that he is less likely to investigate and destroy. Most dogs do best with either fluoxetine or clomipramine over several months, perhaps combined with other antianxiety drugs where necessary.
“Retraining program that is needed to help your dog gain some independence and accept some time away from you.”
Although drugs may be important in reducing underlying anxiety and helping your dog cope, it is the retraining program that is needed to help your dog gain some independence and accept some time away from you. Pheromone therapy can also be useful for diminishing anxiety both while you are home and when you are away. Recently new medications have been approved for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. Contact your veterinarian to discuss if medication is appropriate for your pet.
|Contributors: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBMEdited by: VCA Inc. This article has been modified from its original text as supplied from LifeLearn and may not reflect any views of, or is certified to be accurate by, LifeLearn.|
Factors That Predispose Dogs To Separation
Researchers investigating the factors that predispose dogs to developing separation anxiety have found contradictory results. Most researchers have found that dogs with anxiety-related problems are more likely to be male,6,14,17,25,3033 but some research has not supported any sex difference in the incidence of separation-related problem behaviors.11,34
Similarly, some researchers have found that dogs are more likely to develop separation-related problems if they sleep on the owners bed or sofa,29 while others have not found the same result.6,9,35 Some researchers have found no link between the source of dog acquisition and the presence of separation-related problems,11 and they report that dogs obtained from breeders are just as likely as dogs sourced elsewhere to develop separation-related problems.29 Other researchers report that dogs obtained from animal shelters, or those that are found, are more likely to develop separation-related problems,6,29,35 and that dogs obtained from friends and family have a lower incidence of separation-related problems.17
Dogs exposed to humans outside the home, and to a wide range of experiences between the age of 510 months are less likely to develop separation-related problems.30 Some evidence exists to suggest that dogs that are separated from the litter early are more likely to develop problem behaviors, including destructive behavior and excessive vocalization,36 particularly if those dogs are sourced from pet shops.
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What Not To Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
Do NOT punish or scold your dog. This anxious behavior is because they are distressed, not done out of spite or disobedience. Your dog is scared or upset and their separation anxiety is how they are trying to cope with the situation. By punishing your dog you will only make them more upset and the problem will get even worse. Finding positive ways to redirect this behavior will result in everyone being happier in the end.
What Should Be Done Before Departures
Before any lengthy departure, provide a vigorous session of play and exercise. This not only helps to reduce some of your dogâs energy and tire her out, but also provides a period of attention. A training session can also be a productive way to further interact and âworkâ with your dog. For the final 15 to 30 minutes before departure, your dog should be ignored. It would be best if your dog were taken to her rest and relaxation area with a radio, TV, or video playing . You can then prepare for departure while your dog is out of sight and earshot. At this point, provide your dog with some new motivating toys to keep her occupied and distracted before and during your departure. The key is to avoid as many of the departure cues as possible, so that your dogâs anxiety doesnât heighten before you leave. Brushing teeth, changing into work clothes, or collecting keys, purse, briefcase or school books, are all routines that might be able to be performed out of sight of the dog. You might also consider changing clothes at work, preparing and packing a lunch the night before, or even leaving the car at a neighbor’s so your dog wouldn’t hear the car pulling out of the driveway.
“Avoid saying goodbye since this will only serve to bring attention to the departure.”
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