How To Reduce Dog Separation Anxiety? Help Change Their Routine!
This last year has been a strange one for our dogs; the Covid 19 lockdown year. Dogs have loved us being at home more, enjoying our company 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But as normal life resumes… whatever that may look like, your dog is going to have some amount of a change of routine.
No longer will you be there every minute of their day and for many dogs this will lead to some level of separation anxiety. Whether you work, are at home or are retired, the likelihood is that you will leave your dog at home more than you have for this last year. For puppies born in 2020 or 2021 particularly, dogs will rarely have been left and are likely to form some element of separation anxiety if you don’t start to prepare them for the change.
You can help! By taking a few actions now you can help them avoid suffering a bad case of separation anxiety.
Why do dogs suffer separation anxiety?
So, before we talk about how to prevent separation anxiety or improve if the signs are already there, it’s important to understand what it is and how to spot the signs.
Does your dog chew on your shoes when you pop out? Do they destroy furniture or skirting boards or defecate? These could be signs that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety so don’t get angry as this won’t help.
Separation anxiety in dogs is hectic, distressed and often destructive behaviours associated with separation from their owners (or other animals they have lived with). Even if these only last a few minutes this is still separation anxiety. Dog owners often mistake separation anxiety for disobedience or spite, but dogs are distressed and upset because of the absence of you.
What are the signs of separation anxiety when leaving your dog alone?
Signs of separation anxiety in dogs include salivating, barking, howling, dilated pupils, panting, trembling and pacing. Behavioural signs include ignoring food, destroying items in the home, scratching at furniture, attempting to escape from a crate or room, and exuberantly greeting their owner as if they haven’t seen them in years. There are other signs, please share if you’ve experienced something else.
What causes separation anxiety in dogs?
The obvious cause at the moment is a new routine after lockdown comes to an end. But there are other causes of separation anxiety in dogs including changes in owners, new socialising patterns, changes in surroundings, neglect, long vacations, lack of training, premature adoption, death of another dog, heredity behaviour, genetics or simply boredom.
The key is how you help your dog overcome this anxiety.
How Do You Stop Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
As a dog owner, your goal is to find the best calming anxiety actions and treatments for your dog. Treating separation anxiety in dogs does not require a medical professional in most cases, and you can succeed on your own with persistent work and dedication. Dog anxiety treatment includes behavioural changes that will help your pup learn that being alone is not scary.
10 dog calming actions and treatments you can try at home:
Change Your “Going Out” Signals
The aim here is to break your dog’s association of these actions with your departure and not let these actions you take trigger separation anxiety.
- Use a different door
- Pop your coat on but don’t leave for 15 minutes
- Leave your keys, handbag, shoes etc in a different location
Downplay Goodbyes and Hellos
Don’t get emotional when leaving your dog and overexcited when you come back. The best (but hardest!) thing to do is to ignore them as you leave them and also when you arrive back home. By paying too much attention to your departure and return, you risk reinforcing the dog’s fear of your absence. If you cannot cope ignoring them as you leave, calmly say goodbye and leave. When you come back, quietly say hello and don't get too affectionate until your dog has calmed down.
Walk Your Dog Before you leave them
A tired dog is a calm dog. Walking your dog at least 30 minutes before departure will relax your dog and divert its attention to food and sleep. If you don’t have time to do this consider a playtime in the garden beforehand with mental stimulation as the main focus (this can be done indoors too).
Train Your Dog to Be Alone When You Are in the House
This also takes some strength from you but can be a great way to building up to leaving your dog. Get your dog to stay in a room by themselves while you go to a different part of the house. If your dog has severe separation anxiety, start with small 5-10 second intervals and work up to 20-30 minutes over several weeks. This is effective for even the most anxious of dogs.
Create Personal Space for Your Dog
Dogs who are used to sleeping alone and love their own space tend to have less separation anxiety. Their own bed, crate or even a room really helps and if this isn’t something you’ve done, consider a bed of their own as the starting point. I’ve seen many dogs arrive (when we used to Home board dogs) without their own bed and take days instead of hours to settle into our home for their stay.
Instead of sleeping with your dog, get them a separate dog bed where you can also stroke them and give calming treats. See our range of dog beds. This will teach your dog to enjoy having their own space and be independent of you, which will help ease their anxiety when you’re away.
Leave Comfort Items and Background Music on for Your Dog
This is something that helped one of our dogs previously and the radio was constantly on when we were out of the room or left them at home. Alternatively, soothing nature sounds can be played to help soothe them to sleep.
Items that have your scent such as dirty laundry can help your dog relax and remember that you will come back. Remove stress factors such as chokers, collars, chains, or crates if your dog does not like them. Hide treats around the house so they can hunt them while you are away if they are food motivated.
Don’t Leave Your Dog Alone for Too Long!
Your dog can build up to and learn to be alone for part of the day, but if you need to be away for longer than 4-6 hours, take them to work if possible. If not then consider a friend, dog walker or research doggie local day-care options to make sure they’re entertained and not left day after day. If they have separation anxiety leaving them all day will likely make them worse and not better.
You can also structure your errands so that you are only away for short periods of time if you don’t work.
Supplements to treat Separation Anxiety
To treat severe separation anxiety in dogs, consider calming supplements such as Stress Gold or Calming Care. You can ready more about these supplements and their benefits but if in doubt please get in touch. These naturally derived products are formulated by vets to treat certain conditions. These are a great option to try if you want to avoid medicines that will effectively sedate your dog regularly.
Use interactive Dog Toys and Puzzles to entertain your dog
Treat toys such as Grrrelli and Kong will entertain your dog by engaging them to work for a treat. By stuffing them with Woof Peanut Butter, yoghurt, mashed potato or something similar, these will distract your dog as you leave and provide some entertainment whilst you are gone. Other options work by placing small training treats or kibble into the toys, allowing your dog to chase them around to dispense the treats. Check out other interactive toys here as there are many different types.
Please remember to always test your dog with any new toy whilst you are there to ensure it is safe to leave it unattended with the toy.
Use calming treats
When you leave, give your dog a treat either on it’s own or within a toy so it doubles up as distraction as well. Calming treats for dogs work well as a short-term remedy for separation anxiety. The effects wear off after a while and can be used on a need basis rather than needing to build up in their system. They will also teach your pooch that being alone is not scary and create positive associations with your departure. See our full range of calming treats here.
The 10 actions can be used each one on their own or several at once and work well with puppies, older dogs as well as newly rescued and rehomed dogs. If you have any further tips or information on coping with dog separation anxiety, please share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org