Separation anxiety can be difficult. Nobody likes to see their dog upset, especially if they’re not sure how to help. These top tips should help you and your dog get used to you leaving and returning as a routine part of everyday life.
Leave a ‘special’ toy
As well as making sure that your dog has exciting things to do when you are with them, make sure you also give your dog with a mentally stimulating toy such as a stuffed ‘kong’ toy, a natural chew like a pigs ear or rabbits ear or a treat ball or cube. Make sure that this is a ‘special’ toy that they only get when you’re not there. Remember to put away this toy when you return and also to take any food treats out of your pet’s daily food allowance to avoid overfeeding.
Encourage your pet to relax during their independent time
Try to take your dog for a walk before you are due to go out so that they have the opportunity to go to the toilet and exercise. Return half an hour before you plan to leave and feed them a small meal – your dog will be much more inclined to relax! Then encourage a settle down routine before you leave.
Some dogs will bark at the sight of other people or dogs passing by their window or in response to noises outside the home. Window film is great to reduce what your dog can see outside, leaving them in a quieter room or leaving the radio on to muffle outside noise can prevent your dog from being disturbed and barking.
Get a dog sitter
We recommend that you don’t leave your dog alone for more than four hours. However, if your dog struggles with being alone they may start feeling anxious within minutes of you leaving. Using a dog sitting service means that someone can keep your dog company and take them for a walk while you’re out so that they are not left alone. This is a good way of easing the stress they may feel when you’re not there.
Avoid punishing your dog
On the occasion that your dog misbehaves whilst you’re out, it’s important that you don’t react badly. Your dog will become anxious about what you will do when you return the next time you go out making the anxiety and behaviour (like chewing and barking) worse.
Dogs who have been told off may lower their head, put their ears back and put their tail between their legs. Sadly, owners think that their dog looks guilty and tell them off because they know they have done wrong, but even if you take your dog to the ‘scene of the crime’ they won’t associate your anger with their earlier behaviour. Your dog will simply become more anxious the next time you go out. If you do come home to a mess, it’s essential not to physically punish or shout at your dog. Try to avoid even letting your dog see that you are annoyed – let them outside before cleaning up.
Make sure an anxious dog has enough to do mentally. So, think about feeding novel ways you could use a cardboard box, throw in your recycling bits and put food in there. You could scatter feed in the garden or use food for some training or something like a kong toy- the kong wobble is fab for feeding kibble out of. Also here is a link for the canine enrichment page with loads of ideas!
Also think about supporting the dog with things like calming supplements- yucalm and Dorwest herbs Valerian are good, and something like Pet Remedy plug in all of which help support calm behaviour naturally. You can get cameras that work off the wifi and link to your phone such as the Clever dog camera and these are great to help your training on this.
Working on Separation Anxiety
Try using a baby gate to help desensitise the dog to you leaving, by short breaks from you in the house. Start by encouraging your dog to go to their bed and stay there with them for a short while. Reward your dog for remaining quietly in their bed. If they get up just reset them and start again! Next, ask your dog to ‘stay’ in their bed as you move away one step, then return and reward. Do this lots, several short sessions a day and building up to a couple of steps away.
Move progressively further away and for longer (only increase one of these per repetition). The distance/time that you increase by on each occasion will depend on your dog. If your dog reacts or moves, then don’t have a row with them or reward but go back to the previous stage. Build up to being out of the room. Lots of short absences a day until it becomes ‘boring’ for your dog.
Start going out through the front door, then returning and rewarding if still calm. Then going out for longer periods of time. But stay close so if your dog gets upset you can end the exercise.
Once you reach the stage where your dog is happy to be left for up to half an hour then you should then have no problems leaving them for longer periods.
Settle down and leaving routine
Have a period of activity and then a small meal or a chew (look at natural ones like pigs ears not raw hide or dentastix) or a kong with something lickable in like squeezy cheese or peanut butter (xylitol free) and wait until your dog has settled with you there. Acknowledge you are leaving, say ‘back soon’ go out of sight and then come back- no fuss, open gate and they rejoin you. Do this lots of times a day! Then start building up time left.