A dog is a very social animal. They live and die in the wild with their pack. In your home, you are their fellow pack members and that means, when they are left alone as you go to work or run errands, they grow anxious and worried that you may not come back. However, just because a dog is anxious that you are leaving does not mean that they should react so strongly. From barking and whining to destructive behaviours like chewing, digging, and tearing, a dog with separation anxiety can be very hard to deal with.
Learn about the essential:
The Root of Anxiety
In the wild, a dog lives and dies through the pack around them. So, it is natural that they see you and your family as their pack. However, in some cases, a dog may start to panic at the thought of being left alone. They feel as though they are being abandoned, and their survival instincts go a little haywire, causing them to bark, make messes, and even tear things apart as they lose general control of their faculties. When you return home, they might be frantic and unable to control themselves. At first, it might seem like they are very loving, but the messes, destroyed property, and angry calls from neighbours can be stressful for even the most dedicated dog owner.
Avoiding Separation Anxiety
To start with, you need to rule out the possibility that your dog is just bored. A dog that doesn’t get enough attention or exercise will often behave in the same way – barking, destroying things, and overreacting when you return home. However, boredom is much easier to fix. It just requires a bit of extra attention and exercise for your dog. Give them some extra walks, a few toys, and train them with some basic tricks to avoid destruction at unwanted times.
When it comes to anxiety, your dog’s first symptoms will key in on your actions. They can tell when you’re about to leave by how you put on your shoes, grab your coat, or pick up your keys. In extreme cases, they will know you’re leaving as soon as you wake up, turning them into an utter mess before you even get to the door. To adjust for this, change your routine. Sit down randomly, put on your coat at different times, change when you feed the dog. The less regular your routines, the harder it is for the dog to associate them with leaving and the lesser that anxiety will be when you leave.
Solving Existing Anxiety Issues
For many people, anxiety is something that already exists, but it can be resolved before it becomes too destructive. Here are some important tips to help reduce or stop anxiety issues early:
- Leaving and Returning Home – When you leave and return home, it is vital that you don’t give your dog too much attention. It can be hard, especially with a new puppy, but that extra attention only highlights for them the fact that you are leaving or were gone. For moderate anxiety, simply ignoring your dog for a few minutes before you leave and after you return home will reduce their anxiety greatly. For severe cases, other steps will be needed.
- Controlling How Long You Are Gone – This is a very complex process and can be hard for anyone that has a regular job and no one else to leave at home. But, it does work well so if your dog’s case is severe enough, consider finding a way to do it. The goal here is to start by leaving your dog for very short periods of time – only 1-2 minutes or even less if your dog is extremely anxious. Your goal here should be to only go outside long enough to show your dog you will return, before their anxiety builds. Don’t give the dog attention when you return. Just keep everything quiet and wait for your dog to relax. Then, step back outside again and do it all over. Over the course of days, or even weeks, you will increase the time between these sessions, stepping outside for 5 minutes, then 10, then 20, and up to an hour or longer, until you can leave for an entire day and not worry about anxiety.
- Consistency – By far the most important thing for a dog with anxiety is to be consistent with how you handle it. If there are multiple people in the household, they all must ignore the dog when returning and leaving. You must maintain the behaviours over time to make them stick.
If things don’t click right away, it can take a little time to advance. However, if extreme cases of anxiety persist, you may want to consider talking to a behaviourist or even a vet. There are advanced solutions to this problem, but only if all training attempts are unsuccessful.