Remember how I said separation anxiety was common and many people work through it with their dogs? Another one of our technicians, Jen, has also had to work through some separation anxiety with her dog so she has put together some extra pointers to help all of you work through it too.
Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety are more likely to follow the owners from room to room when they are home, not letting them out of their sight. At the first signs the family is preparing to leave (with Tiffy this was packing of the bags), the dog starts to get anxious – they may start salivating and pant excessively.
Once the family leaves, dogs with separation anxiety perform distress behaviours such as vocalizing, destruction, and house soiling when separated from their family. This anxiety and destruction usually happens within the first 20 minutes of leaving your dog. For my dog Bailey, if we leave unexpectedly he will pee on the side of a dresser. We can return 5 minutes later and it has already happened! When the separation anxiety is severe, your dog may try to escape or cause significant destruction to your house and themselves.
Here are some tips to get your pet more relaxed when you have to leave them for short times:
For puppies, it is important to take these tips into account right when you bring your them home in order to prevent separation anxiety. Crate training can also be very helpful for this.
[Right: Diesal at 10 years old still loves sleeping in his comfy bed in his crate.]
For adult dogs you can teach them a relaxed down stay on a mat or in a crate that they find comfy and safe. This will help you kick start your dog’s independence since the bed will quickly become very reinforcing and a place to look for treats and attention.
Once your dog learns that being on their bed is a good place to earn reinforcement, progress it to a down stay for longer periods of time, and eventually to you leaving the room while they stay on their bed. Here is a video to help you get started teaching your dog a down stay and adding in their triggers: https://youtu.be/uBNi6PjO1lE
Once they do well and stay relaxed while you leave the room, you can start mock departures where you pretend to leave but then come back in the house. Or you get your coat and keys, then sit on the couch to watch TV. Changing these ‘triggers’ that tell your dog you are leaving will make it easier for you to get out the door while your dog stays calm on their mat.
Having a safe place with your dog’s bed, a bowl of water, and appropriate toys (nothing they can ingest, choke on or tear apart) are for when you leave is important. This may be a crate, or a room in the house that is safe for your dog. Your dog should then know to go lay in this room when you stop interacting with them before you leave and settle down to rest while you are gone. Bailey has a room in our home that he stays in when we leave so that he can be comfortable, but also stay safe while we are away.
[Left: Bailey relaxing in his bed.]
Remember if you have a dog who has abruptly developed some of the symptoms that fit separation anxiety such as house soiling, your dog should be checked by a vet to rule out any medical conditions.
These tips are very helpful for puppies and dogs with mild separation anxiety, but like with Tiffy, some dogs need more help. If you need more help with your dog’s behaviours when you leave them alone, ask your veterinarian for further suggestions.
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Egan Fife Animal Hospital