Author: Dylan Dove
Does your dog seem restless every time you leave, even if it’s just to go to the bathroom? If your furry friend wants to be glued to your side 24/7, then they may be suffering from separation anxiety. During the pandemic, separation anxiety in pets seemed to skyrocket. Stay at home workers dishing out pats, cuddles and scratches eventually went back to work, leaving dejected pets at home, wondering where they’d gone and when they planned to return. It’s not just a pandemic thing, though. Separation anxiety is seen in dogs adopted from animal shelters and even pets who have come from perfectly good backgrounds. Separation anxiety stems from a change in schedule or normality, and it can be hard for the average pooch to “just adjust.”
What Separation Anxiety Feels Like
Separation anxiety is not all that hard for the average human to understand. We’ve all felt the need to belong and yearned for someone at some point in our lives. Think of the first time you were separated from your child for the day, the last time your partner went on a really long business trip, or when you broke up with someone you loved. Separation anxiety is something that we as humans experience too.
When your pet has separation anxiety, the best course of action is to focus on providing your dog with a healthy, active, and balanced life. That means on all levels, by the way; physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Does My Pooch Have Separation Anxiety?
If your dog is behaving unusually, but you can’t quite put your finger on it, you may wonder if your pet has separation anxiety. There are a few tell-tale signs of separation anxiety, with restlessness being the biggest red flag. But it doesn’t stop there. According to Calming Dog, many behaviors may be seen as ‘acting out’ or ‘attention seeking’ when in fact, they’re just the result of a double dose of “where is my mom and when will she be home?” nerves.
A few more of the signs include:
1. Urinating and Defecating
When left alone, your dog may urinate or defecate in areas they know are off-limits, like the living room rug or your bed.
2. Barking and Howling
A classic way to get someone’s attention is to bark at them. With separation anxiety, your dog might go into overdrive, barking loudly and persistently when left alone. Better yet, if no attention is given, a good few hours of howling will do; at least your dog thinks so! Rest assured that your dog isn’t “naughty” when your neighbor tells you that your dog was howling all day. Your pet is that distressed by the idea (and reality) of being alone and without you.
3. Chewing, Digging, and General Destruction
Has your dog chewed your slipper again? Has your kitchen door been redecorated with some deep-grooved scratches? Is the new living room rug looking a little shredded? Chewing and destructive behaviors are a clear sign that your dog is struggling to cope with the anxiety that’s running rampant within them. You can buy yourself a new pair of slippers, repair the doors, and fix the rug, sure, but your pup can be seriously injured during a bout of destructive behavior.
Dogs with separation anxiety can become great escape artists. They can bite, claw, and burrow their way to freedom when they’re feeling anxious that you’re away.
Top 5 Tips to Ease Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety
1. Start small!
Don’t throw your pet into the deep end by leaving for hours on end. Begin with leaving your pet alone for just a short time, even if it means simply leaving the room or house for five minutes. Work your way up to leaving your dog alone for longer and longer periods minus the intense emotional distress. When you return to the room, reward your dog with a cuddle or a treat! This teaches them that you will return for them, and they are still very much loved.
2. Stay calm
Dogs can become easily overwhelmed, so you must keep a level head and respond appropriately. Remember that they don’t know how to garner your attention or express themselves without barking or howling. Try to exercise patience; keep a kind tone, and refrain from shouting and scolding if you come home to absolute pandemonium. Instead, use the opportunity to be calm and firm. If you yell, shout, and become aggressive, your dog will be more excited or scared. Both of which don’t bode well for a healthy relationship.
3. Don’t make a fuss
Sometimes your pet’s anxiety can stem from actually seeing you leave. If you think your dog can handle it, consider leaving without letting them know. Try to leave quietly, don’t say goodbye or make a big show of gathering your things and putting your shoes on. They may not even notice you’re gone! If your dog becomes more frantic if you leave without prior notice, say goodbye well before you exit the house. Leaving and returning without much fuss teaches your dog that the time spent apart is not a big deal. After all, dogs can’t read clocks!
4. Tire your pet out!
The logic here is that if your dog is tired, they won’t have the energy to fixate on your absence. So take your dog on a long walk, give them lots of little ‘jobs’ to do. The ‘jobs’ can range from solving enrichment puzzles to searching for treats around the house and backyard. Before leaving, give them a good meal and lots of water. After being well-fed and hydrated, and with all of their excess energy dissipated, your dog will be eager to rest.
5. Provide distractions
Much like how toddlers can be distracted with shiny toys and upbeat tunes and television shows, dogs too can be easily distracted. So make sure that there is “something” for your pet to do while you are gone. Dog TV on YouTube is a good option (if you have a smart TV) as it captures most dog’s attention. Another great option is stuffing a Kong toy with delicious treats and freezing it. Give the toy to your pet when you leave, and you can expect your pooch to chew at it for hours.
With simple strategies like these, you can leave your house with a little more peace of mind that your beloved pet isn’t feeling overly distressed and that your neighbors won’t be calling you to complain – again!