As much as our dogs love us, there's a downside to their devotion: separation anxiety. This condition is very common in dogs, leading to destructive behavior, persistent barking, and other symptoms when left alone. Understanding and addressing the anxiety that our dogs experience when we leave is vital for the wellbeing of our four-legged friends and for you as a pet parent.
UNDERSTANDING WHAT SEPARATION ANXIETY IS
Separation anxiety in dogs occurs when they become stressed and anxious in the absence of their guardians. This anxiety can manifest in various ways such as:
- Destructive behavior: chewing on furniture or shoes, scratching at doors or windows, or other frustrating and unwanted behaviors.
- Vocalization: persistent barking, howling, or whining.
- Excessive salivation: more drooling than usual.
- Pacing: walking back and forth in a specific pattern.
Understanding the signs, such as these listed above, is the first step that will allow you to address the issue surrounding separation anxiety that you may find in your dog.
CAUSES OF SEPARATION ANXIETY
There are various factors that can trigger or exacerbate separation anxiety in dogs. Understanding these causes is very important in order to help prevent the separation anxiety in the first place. Some of the common triggers for separation anxiety include:
- Change in routine: Dogs are creatures of habit. A sudden change, such as a guardian working from home then suddenly returning to the office, can be unsettling.
- New environments: Moving to a new home or even a brief stay at a boarding facility can lead to increased anxiety.
- Lack of early socialization: Dogs not exposed to varied environments, people, and other animals during their formative puppy months can develop anxiety.
- Traumatic events: Accidents or scary experiences during times of separation.
STRATEGIES TO MANAGE AND REDUCE SEPARATION ANXIETY IN DOGS
Fortunately, once you determine that your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, there are strategies to manage and alleviate these symptoms, ensuring a happier dog and a more peaceful home environment. We will walk you through several key strategies that will help you help your dog overcome any anxiety that they may be experiencing.
- GRADUAL HABITUATION
Begin with leaving your dog alone for just a few minutes and then gradually extend the duration of the time you are away. This consistent exposure of you being gone teaches your dog that departures are temporary and that you'll always come back.
- DESENSITIZATION TO DEPARTURE CUES
There are certain triggers related to you leaving that will induce separation anxiety into your dog. In order to help minimize or prevent these triggers, do things such as regularly pick up your car keys, wear your shoes indoors, or carry your bag around the house without actually leaving. Over time, these actions won't signal an impending departure to your dog, reducing their anxiety triggers.
- CREATE A SAFE SPACE
Establish a comfortable and secure space that you can place your dog, be it a designated room or a crate filled with their favorite toys or chews. This secure space will act as a sanctuary that will provide a sense of security for your dog during your absence.
- DISTRACTION THROUGH ENGAGEMENT
Items like interactive toys and things such as puzzle feeders, can divert your dog’s attention and keep them mentally stimulated. These things can be especially effective if they're only available when you're going away, making them something your dog looks forward to.
- OBEDIENCE TRAINING
Training sessions not only strengthen your bond but also instill discipline and confidence in your dog. Commands like "stay" can be incredibly helpful in reinforcing calm behavior as you depart from your dog.
- COUNTER-CONDITIONING TECHNIQUES
This involves changing your dog's emotional response to being alone. Instead of associating your departure with anxiety, they begin to associate it with positive things, like a favorite toy or their very favorite treat that they only get when you're away.
- PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE
Professional dog trainers or animal behaviorists possess the expertise to identify specific triggers and offer customized solutions tailored to your dog's unique needs. When seeking professional help, be sure to find those trainers who have professional expertise in the field of separation anxiety.
- PROJECTING CALMNESS
Your emotional state can have a big influence on your dog. If you're anxious or make a fuss when leaving, your dog will pick up on that energy. A nonchalant, calm departure and return can help in keeping your dog nice and calm.
- CONSIDERING A COMPANION
While it's not a guaranteed solution, some dogs benefit from the company of another canine companion. They provide each other with company, potentially easing the loneliness. It's essential, however, to assess if this is the right decision for your household and your current dog.
- REGULAR EXERCISE
Engage your dog in regular physical outdoor activities, especially before you plan to leave. Not only does this promote overall health, but a tired dog is often a content and relaxed dog. Incorporating vigorous play or a long walk before leaving can significantly reduce anxiety levels.
Separation anxiety can be very challenging, but with patience, understanding, and the right strategies, it can be managed. Every dog is unique; therefore, it is crucial to observe and understand their specific triggers and behaviors and put in the intentional work to help them overcome them. With time and consistency, it's entirely possible to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, the symptoms of separation anxiety in your beloved dog. This will not only be a great blessing to your dog but also to you and your household.