Do you dread walking through your door, anticipating what your dog has destroyed while you were away? If your dog barks for hours, rips up furniture or has accidents when you leave them home alone, they may be suffering from separation anxiety.
Why Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety
Rescue dogs and those who have lived in multiple homes may be more prone to separation anxiety, and there may be some correlation from those that were separated from their mother and littermates earlier than 10 weeks of age. Regardless, dogs of any gender, age, breed and size are affected. Some dogs are fine until they become older, and may even be suffering from dementia.
Anxiety is a response to stress. Your dog may feel stressed if they have a lot of pent-up energy and nothing to do other than bark and bark. Dogs don’t typically play with toys on their own, and, in a heightened state of stress, they may take to reacting at people and other animals passing by your property instead.
The problem is not the fact that your dog is barking, or that they are destroying items in your home. Behavioural issues are symptoms of the underlying problem: stress and boredom. If you can create a calming, stimulating environment for your dog, they will be less likely to panic and misbehave when you are not home.
Does Attachment Cause Separation Anxiety?
You might be wondering if your dog becomes anxious when you’re not around because you may have spoilt them or that you and your dog may have an unhealthy attachment. The good news is, recent studies have shown that separation anxiety in dogs does not correlate with hyperattachment. You do not need to ignore your dog or change your bond to teach them to be calm when you are not home.
When you pet your dog, you mutually enjoy the benefits of released endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, chemicals produced in the brain that soothe anxiety and make you feel happier. Naturally, your anxious dog calms down when you are around to calm them. The key to resolving separation anxiety is to find ways to comfort your dog without being present.
Creating A Calm Environment
Whether or not your dog is destructive, a crate can both keep your dog safe from eating rubbish and getting into household chemicals, and help reduce their anxiety. Acclimate your dog to the crate with crate training games.
Place your dog’s crate in a quiet area of your home, preferably where they won’t be able to see you leave, nor will they be able to hear or see passing pedestrians and animals. You can cover the crate with a crate cover to create a dark, calming nook in which they will simply fall asleep. Add a spritz of lavender calming spray and drown out external noises with a television or radio, preferably classical music, which has been shown in studies to be calming to animals.
It also helps if your dog is distracted while you leave. Toys that require your dog to work for their food can keep them occupied when you are away. Try a Kong toy like Kong Wobbler or a Foobler treat ball.
Desensitizing Your Dog To Separation
As with most behavioural issues, it’s best to work on separation anxiety in small steps. You can try leaving your dog alone in a closed crate with a treat toy for just five minutes. Wait in another room so you can hear your dog if they start to become distressed. If your dog can cope for five minutes without become anxious, you can try six minutes, then eight minutes, and so on, increasing the challenge each day.
This might not be practical if you must leave your dog alone for hours to go to work. You can leave your dog with a family member or hire a pet sitter until they have had more training. You can practice short periods of separation when you are home, perhaps by keeping them in another room while you are cooking or eating.
How You May Be Affecting Your Dog’s Emotions
Dogs pick up on our habits, behaviours and emotions much more acutely than we realize. Your dog probably knows that when you’re putting on your shoes and jacket, you’re about to leave them alone. They may pick up on your stress when you say goodbye to them before you leave home. They also pick up on the relief and excitement you feel when you return.
It’s best to try to slip away unnoticed when you leave. Your dog will hear the front door no matter how gently you close it, but it’s better to make a quiet getaway than to make a big show of leaving. It’s important to show your dog that your departure is a normal event. Greet your dog calmly when you return; take the time to put down your car keys, take off your jacket and sit down – and then give your dog some cuddles. Dogs don’t understand “goodbyes,” and they will not be offended if you do not say goodbye, or if you do not throw a parade when you come back.