We’ve all had that neighbor whose dog seems to bark for hours on end, day after day. It’s easy to blame the pet parent in situations like this, wondering what kind of person would let their dog spend the whole day barking without at least checking to see what’s wrong. The reality of the situation could be very different than you imagine, however.
What you may not see is a doting pet parent who spoils their dog, lavishing him with love at every opportunity. When it comes time to leave for work, however, the scene changes. A tasty treat or a new toy might provide the necessary distraction to get out the door, but when the dog realizes his best friend has disappeared the anxiety settles in.
In many cases, parents aren’t privy to what their pets do at home alone until a neighbor complains. Unfortunately, this situation is extremely common, and it often comes down to separation anxiety.
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Understanding Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety occurs when a dog becomes overly attached to one or more members of the family to the point that he becomes anxious or distressed when they are separated. It’s normal for a dog to be sad when you leave or to get into a little bit of mischief while you’re away, but if these behaviors become extreme or if your dog seems to be particularly stressed, it could be a serious condition.
Here are some of the potential signs of separation anxiety:
- Excessive barking, whining, or howling
- Destructive behavior
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
- Scratching at windows and doors
- Pacing, panting, or drooling more than usual
- Trying to escape the house or yard
If you notice your dog exhibiting these behaviors, think before you react – the worst thing you can do is punish him. Take a few days to study your dog and see if you can link certain behaviors to specific triggers. Once you understand the cause of your dog’s behavior, you will be better able to resolve it.
Dogs are prone to stress in many of the same ways people are. It’s very common for puppies and newly adopted dogs to become anxious when left alone for the first time or when moving into a new home. Changes in the family’s routine, the loss of a family member, or the addition of a new family member can all be stressful for a dog as well.
11 Ways to Handle Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety
The first step in dealing with your dog’s separation anxiety is to talk to your vet. Some of the behaviors listed above can be explained by medical problems, so you’ll want to rule out that potential first. You may also want to revisit your dog’s training, as incomplete training can lead to unwanted behaviors.
If you’ve confirmed that your dog seems to be suffering from separation anxiety, there are a few things you can try. In severe cases, however, you may want to consult a professional animal behaviorist.
Here are 11 simple things you can try to help resolve your dog’s anxiety:
- Give your dog a special treat right before you leave so he’s distracted when you walk out the door – by the time he finishes the treat, he may not even notice you’re gone.
- Keep a special toy set aside for when you leave the house. By giving your dog the toy only when you leave, you’ll be creating a positive rather than a negative association with the situation.
- Don’t make a big deal out of coming and going. Try ignoring your dog for a few minutes after you get home and don’t coddle your pet before you go, or he may learn to dread your leaving.
- Try giving your pet a clothing item that smells like you – place it on his bed or stuff one of your t-shirts for him to cuddle with while you’re gone.
- Upgrade your dog’s bed to a Calming Pet Bed. Made with vegan fur and super-soft stuffing, this bed calms your dog’s nervous system and reflects his own body heat to keep him calm and comforted in your absence.
- Talk to your veterinarian about anxiety medication or over-the-counter calming treats.
- Change up your routine when leaving the house so your dog doesn’t become anxious in anticipating your absence. Grab your keys then sit down for a minute before you leave.
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise during the day and don’t neglect to provide mental stimulation. Anxiety can get worse if your dog is bored or doesn’t have an outlet for his energy. Try to give your dog a vigorous play session about 30 minutes before you leave.
- Create a safe space for your dog to relax and teach him to settle down there before you leave. You may need to use a crate or pet gate at first, but you can gradually use positive reinforcement to make it a learned behavior.
- Be conscious of your dog’s anxiety and try not to leave him longer than you have to. If you work a full-time job, you may want to consider having a friend stop by during the day.
- Teach your dog to be comfortable by himself. Use positive reinforcement when he plays with a toy on his own or lies quietly by himself.
For severe cases of separation anxiety, it may help to bring an animal behavior specialist on board. Treats and toys may not be enough to distract your dog, so you’ll need to work with him to desensitize him to his triggers – to get him used to being alone without feeling anxious. It can take weeks or months of progressive training to resolve your dog’s anxiety, so be prepared to put in the time and effort.
Tips for Preventing Separation Anxiety
If you’re thinking about bringing a new puppy into your family, you’ve probably already done the research about socialization and potty training. While it’s important to make sure your puppy gets used to spending time with you and your family, it’s just as important for him to learn how to spend time alone and to amuse himself with his toys.
As you start introducing your puppy to other people, and as you start giving him more space to explore the house on his own, reward the behaviors you want to reinforce. Praise your puppy and offer him a treat when he plays quietly with his toys and avoid giving in to begging behaviors.
Every dog is unique, so it’s important to keep your dog’s personality and temperament in mind when dealing with separation anxiety. Some dogs respond better to distraction while others may require a long period of desensitization. Whatever the situation requires, remember that it’s all worth the effort for your dog to be happy and worry-free.