Separation anxiety can be a genuine concern for dog owners, but it’s probably not as prevalent as you might think.
Many actions that get lumped in with separation anxiety are actually boredom and bad behavior.
True separation anxiety is different than just being bad and will occasionally be seen in other behaviors:
- Dogs will often demonstrate anxiety by jumping up whenever they think you’re leaving or following you from room to room.
- They’ll often start pacing, barking, or whining the moment they think you’ve left, even if you’ve only gone into another room or outside for a few moments.
Boredom and naughtiness can include many of the same behaviors that an anxiety-ridden pooch might display like chewing, scratching, barking, or howling. But in the bored dog, it happens after they’ve been alone for a while. Dog’s with separation anxiety will start losing it almost immediately when they think you’ve gone.
If you think your dog might be suffering from some separation anxiety issues, talk to your vet and maybe a behaviorist. If the situation is really bad there are medications that some have found really helpful. But medicating away difficult behavior should always be a last resort.
Here are a couple tips that will frequently help deal with your anxious pup.
1. Lower the drama of leaving and returning
Don’t make a big thing out of going away or coming home. Your dog needs to get to the place where they see periods of separation as a normal part of every day life.
When you have to leave, simply leave. When you get home, don’t make big, dramatic entrance with lots of loud, animated discussion aimed at your dog. This only makes your dog think that you’ve been as anxious as they’ve been.
2. Change your leaving rituals
Part of lowering the drama is eliminating some of the regular behaviors your dog associates with you leaving. Look at the things you do and see if you can change them to cut down on your dog’s anxiety.
Do they associate grabbing your keys with getting ready to go? Try keeping your keys somewhere else where it’s not so obvious, or occasionally grab your keys when you’re not leaving.
Do you run the blow dryer as part of your morning ritual? Does you pup see the blow dryer as the first ritual that tells them you’re leaving? Try occasionally running it throughout the day until they associate it less with preparation for being alone.
If you can, occasionally leave through different doors.
These aren’t behaviors you need to take part in all the time, but long enough that they quit seeing them as signals that they’re about to be abandoned.
3. Leave distractions for your dog
A Kong full of Kong Stuff’N Puppy Paste is a wonderful distraction for a dog and can keep them busy for quite a while. You can also train your pup to look for treats you’ve hidden while you’re away.
We had some friends who would hide treats in safe places for their dog with separation anxiety to find when they were away. It was fun to eventually see Charlie get excited when they were leaving because it meant the game was afoot!
4. Tire them out
There is so much pent-up energy that is released when your dog is anxious. Planning walks or play time before you have to leave is a helpful way to redirect some of that energy.
Get up a half hour earlier and take your dog on a walk/run. You’ll both benefit!
5. Have a crate available
While we might think of a crate as a terrible enclosed space, we need to think about things from a pooch’s perspective. Dogs have a natural instinct to be in a den and can find a crate to be a comforting place. In fact, many dogs will be much more secure in a crate than they will in a wide open house while you’re away.
Getting your dog comfortable with a crate when they’re young can help a lot when they’re older. Once they’ve discovered that secure place that’s all theirs, all you need to do is leave the crate open in the the room when you leave. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
Remember, punishment for anxious behavior is only going to exacerbate the problem. One of the best things you can do (and this is in any situation with your dog) is demonstrate cool, strong, and assertive leadership.
They’re looking to you as their pack leader and the energy you give them is going to return to you in their behavior.
And once again, if all else fails, make sure to talk to your vet or a behaviorist. They’re going to be able to give you some helpful advice tailor-made for your beloved pet!