When I work with clients who have problems with young dogs the issue of how to prevent separation anxiety is a regular question, so I’ve decided to put together this blog post to look at why dogs have this problem, what the symptoms might be and explore some ideas as to how to try to fix the problem.
Well, if you think about it, for the first eight weeks or so of a pup’s life it is in the litter with its mother and siblings, never left alone. It has become accustomed to constantly having company, comfort and warmth. Little wonder that when we take them home things are more than a little new and also maybe worrying. They no longer have the comfort of mum to cuddle into, no brothers and sisters to romp around with, they are faced with new people, a new place, and quite possibly periods where they are alone. Put yourself in their shoes and think about how you’d feel!
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Symptoms can vary, but you will almost certainly see some or all of the following behaviours:
- Excessive drooling/salivation and/or panting.
- Excessive howling and/or barking.
- Toileting indoors (once they have been toilet trained).
- Chewing, digging and/or scratching.
- Excessive pacing.
- Repeated attempts at escaping.
How do we fix it?
There are lots of options here and it is probably a case of trial and error to work out what works best for you and your pet. I’m going to go through a few different options and give a bit of background on how to approach each one. It will likely be the case that a combination of two or more approaches will work best together.
Crate training – take a look at the post I wrote about crate training here, as often our dogs are simply overwhelmed at being left alone with a whole load of space to ‘protect’ and confining them to a smaller space can be a lot less intimidating for them, you can also think about covering the crate with a blanket or something to make a nice cosy den where they feel safe and confident.
Building up – from the moment your first bring your pet home you should start working on getting them used to being left alone. Now, this might sound harsh, but I am talking a minute or two to begin with, associating it with something positive, like a special toy or chew that they only get when you are going to leave them. Start by simply going out of the room for a couple of minutes, don’t make a fuss when you return, remember we want leaving and return to be a non-event.
Slowly build this up so that you can leave them for up to an hour or two (no longer when they are puppies). Once they are adults they can be left for up to six hours, but probably not on too regular a basis.
Exercise – a walk before you leave your pet will undoubtedly help, as if they are tired out they are much less likely to get stressed by your leaving.
Calmness – you that is! Say your goodbyes a good while before you are actually going to leave the house. When you are ready to go don’t make a fuss, no speaking or eye contact is necessary, make it a non-event and your dog will hopefully follow suit!
Noise – simply leaving the TV or radio on low, or an audio book can be extremely comforting,
Keep them busy – a combination of tiredness and busyness often works great. Provide stuffable toys with a portion of their daily food intake or an interactive treat dispensing toy. Also take a look at the article I wrote a while back about beating boredom.
Natural treatments – there are a range of natural products available which aim to reduce anxiety and stress in our pets, you can get diffusers, drops that go on their collars, calming coats, amongst other things.
Medication – I’ve deliberately left this one until last, because as much as I know that traditional and natural medications can be very effective in treating separation anxiety (and other nervous issues) in dogs, I do prefer to exhaust all of the other methods above before going down this route.
I really do hope that this little overview is helpful in helping your dog to feel settled and happy when you cannot be there with him, I’d love to hear how you get on and if you have any questions please feel free to comment in the box below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.