If you leave your beloved pooch alone do they whine and cry like a baby? Does it break your heart to hear them do this even when you go into another room? If you leave them home alone do they ransack the house and chew your precious personal possessions?
This is Separation Anxiety -but the good news is that you can take steps to reduce this in your dog, so that they are able to accept you leaving them when you need to go to work or other occasions where it’s not possible to take them with you.
Some dogs will bark and howl like crazy for a long time, which can be annoying and put a strain on good neighbor relations. Others will salivate excessively and leave a mess all over your sofa. Sometimes there is damage to your furniture and other items in your home, as they literally try to scratch their way out and escape the “prison” that you have left them in, with the simple aim of reuniting with you.
If any of these things describe what your pooch does when you leave them alone, then it is time for you to take action.
It’s probably worth mentioning that there are other crafty canines that will simulate separation anxiety. In this situation the dog knows that if they behave badly they will receive the much wanted attention that they crave. There is no stress for the dog in this situation and is just “acting up”. You can easily change this behavior through proper exercise, obedience training and by being a strong leader.
What causes Separation Anxiety in dogs?
As dog owners we can blame ourselves for creating most separation anxiety in our dogs because of the fuss that we make when we are going to leave our dogs alone for a while. We make the same fuss when we return home to them.
As a good dog owner, you probably went everywhere with your pooch when they were a puppy and they became very attached to you because you gave them security and confidence. Taking your dog everywhere with you will do a lot for their socialization but it can make leaving them alone very difficult.
Dogs like a stable routine and if this is changed then they can definitely suffer from separation anxiety. If they are not receiving the correct amount of exercise then they can spend their pent-up energy by chewing up and destroying your living room when you leave them alone.
But let’s not forget that they aren’t doing it because they are naughty, they are doing it because they love and miss you.
How you can you prevent your dog from experiencing Separation Anxiety?
If the problem is really bad then a lot of dog owners will consult their vet first. The vet may well provide you with a prescription for medication that has the aim of calming your pooch down. But drugs are NOT a permanent answer to the problem. The only way to stop separation anxiety is to get to the root cause and treat it.
Most dog owners reward their pets when they cry. If you leave them alone for just a minute and they start crying then you rush back into the room to comfort them. You have to learn to only give a reward when their behavior is correct and what you are trying to achieve.
With young pups, you need to train them to settle down and be quiet for ever increasing periods of time. When they achieve this calmness and improve their patience then this is the time to reward them.
When you are out with your dog do you feel the need to interact with them all of the time? If you do then perhaps try to vary playtime activities, so your pal learns how to keep themselves entertained with things that are around them such as toys and balls.
You can overcome separation anxiety with good obedience trainingand, as always, based on positive reinforcement. You need to let your dog know what you expect from them and then reward the good behavior consistently so that they develop this as a habit. Your dog will learn the difference between good and bad behavior.
Train your pet to lay down while you leave them alone for ever increasing amounts of time. Do this in small steps but be consistent here. If your dog starts to cry or whine when you leave them then do not reward them for this. Reward them for being calm and waiting patiently for you to return.
Chewed shoes are common signs of separation anxiety – but maybe that’s because your furry friend associates those with the last thing you do before leaving them. Incorporate this into the training by putting on your jacket and shoes but DON’T LEAVE the house; just walk around the doing your usual chores or just sit on the settee relaxing – this will help break the association in their minds.
Can Crate Training help prevent Separation Anxiety?
I would personally prefer not to keep a dog in a locked crate for any length of time, but I do recognize that for some particularly stressed dogs, these can be a good way of helping overcome separation anxiety, as it provides an environment where they feel safe and secure.
Introduce your dog to the crate and get them to spend more and more time in it starting with short time periods. Make it cozy with their favorite blanket, give them their favorite food while they are in the crate and encourage them to relieve their stress in the crate with a chewable toy or a bone.
The crate should be the place where your pooch feels the most secure and has the most fun if you are with them or not. Make sure that the crate is large enough for your pet to stand up in and lie down comfortably in.
Practice leaving your dog when they are in the crate. Do this quietly and do not make any fuss. You can do things like opening the front door and starting your car. Go back into the room where your dog is and pay them no attention. You can smile and wave at your pooch if they are being quiet. If they are causing a commotion then ignore them.
Once they are used to the crate, you can actually start to leave the gate open and they will still use it, but they also have the freedom to walk around or sleep on the sofa (if allowed!).
At the end of the day it is important that you set the expectations of your pooch so that they accept that they do not have to be part of everything that you do. Always be consistent with your actions and make sure that other family members do the same.
Eventually they will come to understand that you love them and will always return to them.
Helen Broadley & The FidoActive Team