Dog Separation anxiety and prevention
We ask a lot from our dogs when we expect them to fit into our hectic lifestyles. A lot of dogs appear to adapt with ease although many it can be more difficult and stressful at times when the dog is separated from pet parent. Dogs like to be apart of a pack, and in most cases, see their pet parent as head of the pack. Separation anxiety is very traumatic for the pet and the parents.
Dogs that are more susceptible to developing separation anxiety are:
Dogs that live with stay at home parents, retired people or people who work from home
New rescue dogs, rescue dogs often suffer with separation anxiety as a result of being abandoned and often from a scary or lonely experience
Can it be treated?
Separation anxiety is often a learned behaviour so therefore can be unlearned in most cases but it takes the correct approach and it's not easy to fix so consistency is key.
Firstly, building the dogs confidence is the key to recovery. This can be done simply by being confident in yourself so the dog doesn't feel there is anything to be worried about and to take baby steps with creating separation between you and the pet for small intervals of time where you are out of sight, building up to longer periods of time and you eventually leaving the home. Change up your routine before leaving the house, the lead up to you leaving can trigger the process of the dog becoming anxious and stressed.
Signs to look out for before you leave the house to detect the early warning signs:
Sadness and worried look
Following you at your feet
Crying or whining
How can separation anxiety present itself?
Barking or crying
Chewing or scratching at Windows or doors
Attempts to escape to find you
Urination around the home even if house trained
A dog camera is a fantastic tool to monitor your dogs behaviour and can also come in extremely handy whilst trying to treat the behaviour to watch when dog calms for you to re enter home and also monitor progress of the treatment.
How to begin treatment and prevention of separation anxiety:
A pet sitter or dog walker is good for daily visits while you are away for long periods of time. It'll break up the day, if you are out for 3+ hours, it is a long time for your dog to be alone and they may need to do their toilets! Whilst in early days of training, a dog walker or pet sitter can be on board with the training so they can implement it. Doggy dare care can be an option but I personally wouldn't recommend it for the simple reason that the dog will never get used to being alone and any training you are doing will not be affective, however if it is over night then a dog boarder or pet sitter than can stay in your home is a great option.
Exersise your dog before leaving the house or get a dog walker to come relatively soon after leaving to burn off their energy
Goodbyes and coming home, try not to talk to your dog for 10-15 mins before leaving, avoid eye contact and stroking also. When arriving home, it is often very hard for pet parents to not be excited to see their pet and greet them, however try to avoid eye contact, stroking and talking to them until they have calmed down. Stay calm and confident both when leaving and arriving home.
Never punish! If your dog has been destructive or urinated in the home, it's very frustrating to come home to after a long day, but whatever has happened in your absence is just a reaction to how they are feeling when you are not there. Plus they won't understand why you are cross and will not link the wee everywhere and broken stuff to why you are shouting, it'll just make them feel more anxious and trigger a worse response the next time.
Change up your routine for when you are leaving. If you normally do everything in a set way, this can trigger the anxiety to begin. Even the music or tv you put on can be a trigger.
Provide frequent separations whilst you are at home throughout the day, start off with 5 mins and increase. Remember to ignore and do not come in till dog has calmed
Its a good idea to create a safe place for your dog, a crate is very popular, it could have your scent on their blanket, toys,teddys and Kong's to occupy their boredom. Choose a good command word such as 'safe'or 'comfy' so that they understand when to go in there. Get them to go in it when you are at home, sit by them sometimes, recognise their anxious triggers and send them in there when they become anxious or stressed so they familiarise themselves with it being somewhere they feel safe. A blanket over the top to make it feel enclosed helps too.
Leave them with stimulating toys and games to occupy them. Kong's are a very popular choice with my clients and it keeps them busy for hours!
Get a camera to monitor and even talk to them via it.
Use t.v. or radio to eliminate the silence so they don't become so anxious or external noises that'll make them anxious
Remove any dangerous objects or bins, cushions, or chewable things they'll be tempted by!
Try picking up your keys, go to the door but don't go out the door, repeat. Then work up to open the door and shut it, repeat. Try stepping out the door for a few minutes then coming back in. Slowly increase time away. Try walking to the car and open/shut car door. Repeat. Work towards starting the car then returning. Repeat. Drive off for 10 mins then return and increase time slowly. Remember to stay neutral on return.
Use all these steps consistently and get others to do so too
If any of the tips given are helpful, your feedback is great. Feel free to contact me if you require any further advise and consult your vet or a dog behaviourist if your dogs separation anxiety is severe. There are medications available to help your dog and it can also be very stressful for the pet parent so be sure to get plenty of support!