One of the most common problems that the average pet owner has is dog separation anxiety. At the low end, anxiety can be annoying, causing your dog to bark when you leave the house. However, if it is allowed to advance, your dog might start destroying your home, making messes, or barking incessantly for hours when you leave.
The Sources of Dog Separation Anxiety
Dogs are pack animals. They feel a direct attachment to their masters and when you leave the house, they will grow agitated. However, most of the anxiety they feel is due to the attachment of specific actions you take to your absence. While a dog does not like when you leave, there is no direct reason they should grow so agitated.
It happens because you give them attention before and after you leave or you go through the same routine every morning. Their behaviours are reinforced on a daily basis and the result is a dog that cannot control his anxious feelings when you leave the house.
Reducing Dog Separation Anxiety
There are many ways to reduce the anxiety your dog feels when you leave the house. Here are a few of the easiest methods.
Change Your Routine – Start by changing your morning routine. If your dog starts acting strange the second your alarm clock goes off, they have tagged that sound to the process of you leaving the house. Get up at different times, get dressed earlier, take your keys down before you leave and wait for a while. Little variations will reduce pre-leaving anxiety.
Don’t Reinforce It – When you pet your dog before you leave or lavish them with attention when you get home, you’re only reinforcing the behaviour. The easiest way to reduce dog separation anxiety is to remove the association between you’re comings and goings and their attention. Ignore your dog for 10-15 minutes when you get home, don’t pet them when you leave and stop giving in when they make sad noises. This can be practiced with crate training or putting them in a separate room in your house then leaving and coming back in intervals.
Building Up to Longer Times – If your dog grows anxious the second you walk out the door, start working on leaving the house for shorter periods of time. Leave for a few seconds and then come back. Dog separation anxiety can be treated by changing the dog’s expectations for how long you’ll be gone and when you’ll return. If they see you are coming back each time, you can stretch out how long you are able to leave each time.
You’re Not Being Mean
Many people feel that the solutions to anxiety are cruel to the dog. In reality, you are helping your dog to relax and know that you are not only coming home but that you are in charge of the domain and there is no reason for them to feel that anxiety. Reduced dog separation anxiety is good for their health – both physical and mental.
If your dog has prolonged, severe anxiety problems, it is important to address it right away. Even if your dog merely gets upset and doesn’t destroy anything when you leave, you can greatly reduce their feelings of abandonment if you teach them not to associate your comings and goings with the pack order and their survival.