Separation anxiety in dogs is a common issue most dog owners have faced. It causes a normally well-behaved dog to become destructive, loud and distressed whenever its owner leaves the house. Dogs are social animals that have evolved to live alongside humans, and they see us as part of their family. When a dog’s owner isn’t present, it can be scary and upsetting for them. Although you should never leave your dog for long periods of time, you can help your dog feel more at ease when you are away.
- Excessive salivation
- Howling and/or whining
- Destructive behaviour, like chewing and scratching at furniture and doors
- Accidents inside the house
- Jumping at windows
A dog with separation anxiety will probably be overly excited to see you when you return home. It might also obsessively follow you around the house. If your dog suspects you are going to leave again, it might start to exhibit some of the distressed behaviours mentioned above. Putting on shoes, getting your coat and keys tend to trigger these actions.
There are many factors that can help your dog be more comfortable when you leave the house. A long walk or big playing session beforehand can tire your dog out, which will make it more likely to sleep whilst you are out of the house. Crates can also be a good idea. A quiet, cosy den to rest is instinctual to dogs as this is where they would live in the wild. Making your dog’s crate an enticing place to be can help them be more comfortable. You can even put a blanket over half of the crate to make it feel safer and more secluded. Dog anxiety vests, like the ThunderShirt, can be a great tool for nervous dogs. They apply firm, gentle pressure to your dog, which can help calm them. They are typically used for dogs easily startled or excited, as well as those suffering from separation anxiety.
Gradually training dogs with separation anxiety to become more relaxed when you aren’t in the same room can be very beneficial. Begin by placing a baby gate across a room and give your dog something to keep it occupied, like a toy filled with treats or a chew. Make sure your dog can still see and hear you. Once a few minutes have passed, open the gate, but don’t engage them. Your dog can then decide whether it wants to continue playing with its toy or be with you. After doing this a few times, you can then gradually increase the amount of time you wait before you open the gate. When you think your dog is becoming more relaxed, you can then move out of their view. You can leave them for up to half an hour.
Once this step has been completed, you can then start to condition your dog to be less agitated when you leave it alone. Start by giving your dog something to keep it busy, and then get yourself ready to leave (putting on shoes and coat, grabbing keys, etc), but don’t physically leave the house. Keep following your usual “leaving” routine throughout the day without going outside. This helps your dog to stop associating you leaving the house as a big, unpleasant ordeal.