Ever came home to a destroyed sofa, ripped up pee pads, scratches on the door or even complaints from neighbours about continual barking while you were away?
Dogs are social animals and can become very attached to a pet parent or a dog buddy and hence, become habituated to continual contact. When left alone, these dogs can experience what is similar to a human panic attack.
When dealing with this situation, it is important to know a few do's and don’ts as well as a few tips that can help your canine companion.
Never punish your dog for what has happened while you were out. It doesn’t matter if the curtains are destroyed or if there is pee all over your bed. Punishment only increases the chance of it happening again. It definitely won’t help and it will make an already anxiety-stricken dog even more insecure.
Change the routine and environment. A well-structured change in routine and how you leave your dog may break the cycle of anxiety if practiced carefully and consistently.
1. More exercise. Exercise your dog well before you leave. A tired dog has less energy with which to be anxious and destructive. End exercise sessions 20 to 30 minutes before you go, so they have time to settle down.
2.Sleep alone. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety and you currently sleep with your dog in your bed, stop. Feel free to have a cuddle up, but when it’s time to sleep, have your dog sleep in his own bed. This will help your dog feel more independent and over time, it will massively help him during times that he is left alone.
3. Home-coming fan fair. If you get home and your dog gets hugely excited and acts like you’ve been away for weeks, it’s time to make it boring. As heart breaking as some of us might find it, you must only deliver your greeting after your dog has calmed down. This teaches your dog that being left alone and you coming home is no big deal.
4. Stimulate your dog. When you leave, you might want to try a long lasting chew item such as a Kong with treats or peanut butter stuffed inside. This would be a “home-alone only" toy and placed within a “dog zone”. Provide a view. (If your dog doesn’t bark at passers by). You can also leave the radio on, or play relaxing music for your dog while you are away. Your dog could be suffering from a condition that is often mistaken for separation anxiety...boredom!
5. Provide a comfort item. Leave your dog with a worn article of your clothing, such as a sweaty T-shirt. Sounds gross but your dog will love it.
6. Practice frequent separations. Start with short duration and build confidence slowly. Practice "sit/wait" and "down/wait" while you leave the room for just a moment. Keep your dog on the other side of a closed door inside the home for short periods each day. (This brings us to another point, basic obedience is a very useful tool in your arsenal with any behavioural modification.)
7. Desensitisation. Dogs learn through chaining. They are a lot more clever than many give them credit for. As such, triggers such as putting on your coat, picking up a purse or briefcase, and jiggling keys can send your dog into anxiety as they know you are about to leave them. Put these activities into neutral times of the day where you are not leaving. In time, the triggers will lose their power to generate the anxiety.
8. Shorten alone time. Explore alternative situations to minimise the occasions and durations that you leave your dog alone. Consider hiring a dog walker or doggie daycare. You may be able to find a neighbour or relative who is house-bound or working from home and might appreciate some canine company.
These tips will help the majority of situations. However, behavioural issues can run deep, so do not lose hope If you continue to have trouble or if your dog has more than one of the following symptoms: sweating or wet coat, drooling, pacing, self-mutilation, trembling, incessant barking or crying, pee and poo in the house even though otherwise housetrained, chewing or scratching at windows, doors or plaster boards, attempts at escape to find you, frantic greeting although you were gone for just a short while, or persistent following. If this is the case, you should seek professional help from a positive reinforcement behavioural consultant.
I’ll leave you with this: none of this is your dog’s fault. It can be frustrating, but do not be angry, show temper or punish your dog. You have your family, friends and work to fill your life with love and enjoyment. Your dog only has you and loves you unconditionally.