When you come home from a trip after leaving your dog at home, do you wonder whether your house might look more like a disaster zone? Does your normally well-behaved canine companion act out when left alone? If these kinds of behaviors crop up again and again whenever you leave your dog behind at home, your pup isn’t just misbehaving, he may be suffering from separation anxiety.
How can you be sure?
There are a few indicators that can help you decide whether it’s time to seek out a professional:
When left alone, whether for long or short periods of time, does your dog…
- dig or scratch at doors, windows, or other outlets?
- pace back and forth, pant, or exhibit other signs of distress?
- howl, bark, or whine excessively?
- destroy off-limits items with chewing or scratching?
- have “accidents” even though he’s housetrained?
If you can answer “yes” to most of these questions, there is a good chance your dog may have a separation anxiety problem.
While the causes of this problem are still somewhat unclear, it has been observed that certain situations can trigger this type of behavioral pattern. Some common examples are:
- A dog used to constant human companion gets left alone for the first time
- The occurrence of a traumatic event such as a move to a different home
- Changes in the household schedule or routine
- The loss of a family member or other pet
However, it’s also important to understand what your dog’s behavior is not. It’s not a punishment for you leaving him alone, and it’s not just a stage he’s going through: it’s a panic response that, with help, can be managed.
What You Can Do
To start, it’s important to recognize behaviors that you maybe previously attributed to your dog’s affectionate or excitable personality. If your dog can barely contain himself with frantic excitement when you come home, or follows you around from room to room, these may also be signs of the early stages separation anxiety.
With some awareness, and a few tips, you can be on your way towards building a happier and healthier relationship between you and your dog.
- Keep it cool. Keep hellos and goodbyes low-key. Ignore your dog 10 minutes before you leave and 10 minutes after you’ve returned. If you keep calm, your dog will pick up on that.
- Develop a “safety cue.” Establish a word, phrase, or gesture to use every time you leave that reassures your dog you’ll be coming back. “I’ll be back”, “Be good while I’m gone”, or “I’ll see you when I get home” are good phrases to use. Remember to keep it nonchalant.
- Leave a comfort object. This item is something that reminds your dog of you. For example: an old t-shirt or a pillow case with your scent on it.
- Engage their brain. Give your dog a Kong-like food puzzle right before you leave. You can fill this with your dog’s favorite food and treats. When you return home, be sure to pick up the food puzzle for later use. Giving your dog constant access to the food puzzle devalues it and can leave your dog uninterested.
- Educate yourself. Patricia McConnell is a well respected dog trainer who has a book that might help you – I’ll be Home Soon: How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety.
What Not To Do
- Punish your dog. This isn’t disobedience. Punishing your dog for his destructive behaviors is likely to confuse him and only increase his anxiety.
- Confine your dog. Putting your dog in a crate or other small space will only mean he will express the same behaviors, just in a smaller space where he can possibly injure himself by trying to escape. Confining can be helpful, but consult a professional before you do this.
- Get another pet. Getting another pet for companionship most likely will not help your dog’s anxiety: he’s anxious when you’re gone, not just because he’s alone.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, you should consult a professional, and DogBoy’s Dog Ranch can help. Our Certified Professional Dog Trainers are highly skilled in treating multiple forms of anxiety, including separation anxiety, and we would be happy to help you and your dog. Let us know what other problems you need help with in the comments below, or how you have dealt with separation anxiety with your dog.