|7 Tips to Help Your Dog Deal With Separation Anxiety|
The pillows have been ripped. The carpets have been soiled. There's a pair of big, guilty eyes peering around the edge of the couch.
If this is a familiar scene for you, your dog might have separation anxiety. It can affect all ages, breeds, and dispositions, so it isn't a reflection on you as a pet owner. It's just a thing that can happen.
Unfortunately, there's no quick fix. The good news? There are various tips and tricks that you can try for soothing your dog’s anxiety and saving your furniture. Let's get started!
1. Practice leaving and coming back
This is especially important if you've been home for a while during a vacation or quarantine. Your dog has become used to having you around, so rather than upsetting their "new normal" by suddenly going back to work full time, it's best to ease them into longer and longer periods of separation.
Here are a few suggestions for doing this the right way:
In short, take small steps before you try running!
2. Provide distractions while you're gone
Dogs can get bored just like humans. In fact, you could argue that some needy or high-energy breeds are more susceptible to boredom.
Give your pup something else to focus on besides your absence. It could be a beloved blanket, a favorite chew toy, or an interactive treat dispenser with a puzzle or problem-solving component.
Note that quality is better than quantity here. You want to avoid a situation where you scatter a zillion toys on the floor only to have your dog ignore them all and eat the curtains instead. Give them 3 - 5 good ones to offer variety without excess.
3. Don't reward bad behavior
When you come home to an upset armful of a wiggly, whiny puppy, it's natural to want to soothe them. However, you could be doing more harm than good by reinforcing their anxious reactions. They'll learn that acting out gets results.
To combat this, make sure that you aren't responding to attention-seeking behavior. If your dog is scratching at the closed door, don't open it until they've stopped. If they whine or howl from the kennel when you first get home, don't acknowledge them until they're quiet.
4. Re-establish your rules and routines
In the same vein as above, you'll want to replace the bad behavior with good behavior.
According to Bethany Wilson, the head trainer at Ruff Beginnings Rehab, a lot of the naughtiness that happens during separation anxiety is actually a result of poor impulse control. Your dog is feeling a cocktail of emotions like fear, stress, and anxiety that overwhelm whatever training you've instilled. Hence, they act on impulse and become destructive.
The trick to handling this is to re-establish your training. You need to make it clear that the rules still apply even if you aren't home. You can be gentle about it, but your dog has to understand that feeling scared isn't an excuse to chew on table legs or pee on mommy's shoes.
5. Get in their head
Why is your dog upset when you leave? It might be more complicated than just "they miss you."
Here are a few possibilities to consider:
You might be able to fix some of their separation anxiety by directly addressing the causes. For example, if they're in the "easily scared by loud noises" category, you can drown out the sounds of the outside world by leaving the TV on when you're away.
6. Tire them out before you go
This is an age-old trick for separation anxiety. A sleeping dog can't rip into couch cushions or leave puddles all over the floor! In fact, if you take them for a walk right before you leave, you can empty their bladder for the long hours ahead.
Another option is playing with them before you go. You can strengthen your bond by spending some quality time together, and provide both physical and emotional stimulation to keep them from feeling bored, restless, or neglected all day.
Try rearranging your schedule a bit. Go for morning walks instead of evening walks, or squeeze in a few games of tug-of-war and find-the-treat while you're getting ready for work. See if it makes a difference with your dog's separation anxiety.
7. Don't make a big deal about leaving
Last but not least, try not to make a big production out of leaving the house every day. You'll only reinforce the idea that it's a big, scary thing and something outside of the norm. Your dog will see it as a break from your routine instead of your routine itself.
Instead, be calm about your departure. Treat it like the everyday activity that it is. Resist the urge to give them extra snuggles!
The message that you want to send is that leaving the house for a while is no big deal. You always come back. They'll be fine.
These are just a few tips for helping your dog with separation anxiety. It might require a lot of time, effort, and patience, but you can do it. Good luck!
Author Bio: Will Blunt is the founder of Sidekick Digital, a publishing business that launches, manages, and grows dog brands with content marketing. He is also the host of the popular podcast The Dog Show.