How you can help your dog with separation anxiety.
Pets bring incredible joy to their owners and are often considered valuable and irreplaceable members of the family. And, to their credit, pets return that love tenfold. This is perhaps especially true of dogs, who bond strongly with their humans and adopt them into their own “pack”. This enthusiasm and love, however, can sometimes create problems for dogs and their humans alike. Separation anxiety is a very real issue that impacts many dogs. Let’s take a look at separation anxiety and what you can do to help
your pet adjust to time alone.
What is separation anxiety in dogs?
Separation anxiety displays as a panic behavior in dogs that manifests when their owners leave them alone. If you’ve ever left for work in the morning and come back to find your home utterly destroyed and your dog acting as though they haven’t seen you in 10 years, you might already be familiar with the behavior. The same is also true if you’ve been informed that your dog howls and barks the entire time you’re gone from the house. This is an annoyance for your neighbors, of course, but your pet is just trying to express his confusion and fear.
Do all dogs suffer from separation anxiety?
Not all dogs experience separation anxiety, and it’s currently not known for sure exactly why some pets suffer from it while others don’t. What is known for certain, however, is that the disorder can cause your pet an incredible amount of stress every time you leave the house. And it’s not as though you did anything to cause this – many animals develop the concern seemingly out of nowhere.
With that said, there are a few triggers known to lead to the manifestation of separation anxiety. Dogs that have been passed from owner to owner, for example, will often exhibit separation anxiety. The cause is fairly clear in this case – they’re scared that you really won’t be coming back, because former members of their “pack” have left and never returned. Moving is another known trigger, as is the loss of a long-term household member.
Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs
We know what separation anxiety is and a few of the triggers that are known to cause it, but how do you go about treating an animal with the disorder? While the most effective solution depends heavily upon the dog in question and your relationship with them, there are a few general tips that seem to work well for most people.
Don’t Make Goodbyes a Big Deal
Some people like to give their pets a lot of love just before they walk out of the door. This is especially true with animals with separation anxiety. Many owners want to try and curb bad behavior by somehow making the dog feel loved before they leave. Unfortunately, this only signals that something is out of the ordinary to your dog. Giving so much attention to your actions already puts your dog on edge, in other words, because you’re not acting as you normally would. Instead of taking a lot of time right before you leave to tell your pet goodbye, give your pup love earlier in the day. When it’s time for you to actually leave the house, do so like you’re just walking to another room. Don’t ignore your dog, necessarily, but don’t give them attention, either. You want them to feel like this is just another ordinary moment in
their day. Doing this also breaks the association they might have with your leaving routine and the empty house.
Associate Your Absence with Good Things
Right now, all your dog has to think about is how lonely they’ll be when you’re gone. At some point, their frustration and anxiety start to make sense. Instead of having your absence tied to panic and worry, try to give them something to look forward to. If you don’t already have a comfortable dog bed, consider investing in a nice one and pulling it out before you leave in the morning. If that doesn’t work, remember that most dogs are heavily food-motivated. Use this to your advantage!
Before you leave the house, try giving your dog a special treat. Consider using a Kong toy that has holes on either end where your pet has to concentrate their attention in order to get the food out. Not only does this help take their attention away from your absence, but it also begins to give them something positive to look forward to when you leave the house. Remember to pick the toy back up immediately once you get home – those treats are something your pet only gets to enjoy while you aren’t there. This part is important! If the treats are something that they get all of the time, then they won’t command as much attention.
Take Your Pup for a Walk
A tired dog is often a calm dog. You might want to try taking your pet for a lengthy walk before you leave the house. If that isn’t possible, try to play with them for at least 30 minutes in some way, shape, or form. The goal isn’t necessarily to exhaust your dog but rather to burn off excess energy and induce a sense of peacefulness in them. Exercise often accomplishes both of these goals, and when combined with the other tips in this post, they can often help your pup relax quite a bit while you’re away from home.
Talk to a Professional If you’ve tried all of the above and nothing has helped, then it might be time to speak with a professional. I know that the prospect might be a little uncomfortable, but keep in mind that you didn’t do anything wrong here. You’re probably a great owner – there isn’t really any fault to be had, in other words, so don’t worry about being judged. Professionals just want to help your dog feel better and help make your days easier.
Consider speaking with your vet about the struggles you’re facing and ask them for recommendations if they don’t offer treatment for separation anxiety themselves. They’ll often be able to give you the name of someone who can help.
Keep calm (even if your dog can’t) and don’t worry – you can work through pet separation anxiety.