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Unable to leave home without your dog destroying the place? Or maybe your neighbor calls your landlord to complain about the howling pup? If this story sounds familiar, there’s a chance your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. Let’s explore what dog separation anxiety is and how you can help your dog overcome their fears.
Post-Pandemic Separation Anxiety
During the COVID-19 outbreak, dogs may have spent more time bonding with their families. As stay at home orders come to an end and people return to work, pets may encounter separation anxiety. In preparation, we recommend easing your pup back to “normal” by taking small breaks away from one another, signaling that you will always come back to let them know it’s okay (in addition to the tips we share in this article).
When a dog with separation anxiety is left alone, he may exhibit behavioral problems. Common signs of distress include digging, scratching at doors or windows, urinating, defecating, barking, howling and chewing. Yes, some of these sound like he may not be house trained yet, but these are also signs of a different problem.
What Triggers Separation Anxiety In Dogs?
When a canine becomes upset that you (or anyone she’s attached to) are leaving she feels anxious. Being separated from her loved one is difficult for her, and she may try to escape to follow or find you. These escape attempts may result in self-injury or destroyed property (as mentioned above).
Treating separation anxiety in dogs can vary depending on the level of nervousness your pup is feeling. Every case is different. Some will respond well to the strategies discussed below, while others will require you to be more persistent.
Mild Cases Of Separation Anxiety
If your dog is experiencing a mild case of separation anxiety, we suggest trying counterconditioning. Counterconditioning is when you change an undesirable behavior to a desirable one. To accomplish this, you must associate something good (something the dog loves) with the disliked situation. For example, if your pup dislikes you going to work and being left home alone you could leave a treat or food for him. This can be done by purchasing a puzzle toy and placing your dog’s favorite food in it. This will keep him occupied for 20-30 minutes. Remember that counterconditioning will only work for mild cases. Dogs who are very nervous don’t typically eat when you aren’t home.
Moderate To Severe Cases Of Separation Anxiety
Are you unable to leave the house because your dog becomes anxious when you put your coat on and grab your keys? Teach your dog that just because you are doing these things doesn’t mean you are leaving. Do these things throughout the day without leaving. This will help reduce your dog’s stress levels, and she won’t associate it with you leaving anymore. Note that this may need to be done multiple times a day for weeks. Anxiety is not something that will disappear in a day.
Dogs who suffer from severe cases of nervousness need to be weaned into short periods of disconnection from you. These separations should not produce any anxiety, so be sure you start with a reasonable time limit. To start, try performing an out of sight stay.
- For example, teach your pup stay or sit while you go on the other side of the bathroom door. Start with a short period of time and gradually increase to longer periods.
- Next, grab your keys and put your coat on and go into the bathroom.
- Once he is comfortable, progress to training the same behavior with an exit door. If you always leave via the garage door try implementing this technique on the front door first.
- Now you can incorporate counterconditioning. Give your pup a puzzle toy before you step out the door.
- Wait until he is calm before trying another detachment session. If your dog is anxious, then he will notice this going into the next separation and will be overwhelmed.
- While you are exiting and entering the house, remain calm and quiet. This will lessen the difference between you being home and away and make it more likely that your dog will remain calm.
- Increasing detachment times is a slow process, and each dog is different. In the beginning, you may only be able to increase by a few seconds every other session. Once you have built up to 40-minute sessions, you can increase the chunks of time by larger increments. Maybe increase by 5 minutes and then see how your dog handles it. Perhaps the next time you can increase by 15 minutes. Once he has made it up to 90 minutes, he can probably last 4-8 hours. Just remember to be careful and take your time.
A crate is an excellent option for anxiety relief because it creates a cozy den for your dog. Many reports indicate that even the most anxious dog will calm down in 5-10 minutes of your leaving. A crate will be most effective if you take the time to teach your dog that their crate is a safe haven and not just where they are sent to punish bad behavior or to stay when you leave.
It is important to emphasize that the crate is a happy place. You can do this by giving treats and other positive reinforcements to encourage your dog to go in. And, don’t forget to reward them again once when they are calmly inside. Some pet parents even find the dog sleeping in their crate with the door left open since it is a safe and cozy place where no one bothers them.
How To Keep Your Pet Occupied In The Crate
We recommend giving your dog a bone or something to enjoy when you leave, as it can help distract and entertain them. You might also try a LickiMat that you can fill with peanut butter, yogurt or mashed banana to give your dog (or cat) a yummy challenge to work on while you’re gone. Repetitive licking releases cortisol, a calming hormone, into the body. Additional benefits include stimulating saliva production (aids with digestion) and removing bacteria from the tongue (improves breath).
Our Firsthand Experience
We tried out the LickiMat in exchange for an honest review and Lexie, our separation anxiety-prone King Charles Cavalier, 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 it’s 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.
Now that we’ve learned how to help our dogs with separation anxiety, let’s watch this video to see how this pup has overcome its lonely and stressful situation.
In the video, the dog was kenneled and left for about 2 1/2 minutes. This doesn’t seem like a long period of time to start with, but for dogs who suffer from severe cases of separation anxiety, it can seem like an eternity. To avoid instances like this, start with extremely short periods of unkenneled time. Obviously, this can vary by pet, but try a detachment session of 5 seconds and see how your dog does. Then go from there.
Remember that each case is different and your canine has specific needs. If you’d like help determining a plan for your pup’s condition, contact a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. If you are unable to find a behaviorist in your area, you may contact a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). Not all CPDTs are trained in mitigating separation anxiety, so be sure to ask if they are qualified.
Do you have any tips for dog separation anxiety?
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