At university I studied Animal Behaviour & Welfare, and volunteered at a dogs home. I found that a lot of rescue dogs suffer with separation anxiety!
What is it?
Separation anxiety is when a dog shows signs of distress and behaviour problems when separated from their owner.
This can be from a range of behaviour problems such as: barking/howling, pacing, become destructive, escaping behaviour, urinate/defecate in the house, cower or harm themselves.
This behaviour problem can be very distressing for dogs and owners, so it very important to get help in order to reduce the problem (it may never be cured only reduced).
So with my combination of research and experience here are my top tips to help dogs with separation anxiety:
If you know you are going to be away for a few hours that day, tire your dog out on a long walk or play with them.
So when it comes to leaving them they will hopefully be too tired to notice your absence.
2. Leaving Cues
Dogs are clever they know when you are leaving by your routine you do before you leave. Such as putting your shoes on, coat on, picking up your keys, locking the back door etc!
This is when your dog starts to get wound up, as they don’t want you to leave obviously.
But there is a way around this. If you do these leaving routines a few times a day without leaving the house, the dog will no longer connect them to you leaving them.
So go to put your shoes on but just walk around the house and sit back down, once your dog has settled praise them with a pat or treat.
Then when you go to leave the house the dog won’t get as wound up as they won’t realise.
3. Build it up
If your dog isn’t used to you leaving them, building up the amount of time you leave them may help so it’s not a shock.
For example, leave the house for just 5 minutes (Do not stand outside the door, they can smell you!) Just walk around the street or something.
And then build the time up for how long you leave them for 5,10,15,20 minutes etc!
Now heres the hard bit, do not give them attention when you come back in the house (when they are all excited) as this will praise them for being all wound up.
When they have calmed down you can then say hello and give them attention (praising them for being calm). This is probably what I struggle with most as it’s so lovely to see your dog so happy to see you! But remember it’s for their own good!
4. Safe Place
Have a place where your dog can go and feel relaxed (Bed or crate).
Crate training can be very useful with dogs with separation anxiety (start it early), leave some toys, food, and a blanket that has your scent on creating a safe heaven for your dog.
Get the dog used to the crate, and start leaving the room with the dog staying in the crate. If the dog follows you go back to the crate to suggest to go back in, once the dog has calmed down leave the room again and so on..(have to be patient!).
The aim is for the dog to feel secure and safe enough to stay in the crate without you being in the room.
Giving your dog something to do for when you leave, can help distract them.
Such as giving them a big bone with treat in the middle of them that take hours to get, or a treat ball!
There has also been research found that Classical music help calms dogs in rescue centres, so maybe leave the radio on for them.
You can get a plug in calmer that gives out a scent that helps calm your dog down, I found it used to really help my lab with fireworks.
6. Obedience training
Obedience training is very important for dogs with behavioural problems, if your unsure take your dog to classes with other people and dogs (get them socialising with others not just yourself).
Just even basic obedience training can help such as sit, lie down, stay , etc.
Teaching your dog to stay whilst you go in another room can also be useful to let them know its ok not to be with you 24/7.
This will help build a stronger relationship with you and your dog, with also giving your dog purpose and trusting you as the leader.
7. Confidence building
Separation Anxiety effects the dogs self confidence in them not wanting to be alone.
Build their confidence by praising them when they play and show independence, but ignore them when they whine for your attention and bark.
Give your dog attention by being really positive and encouraging towards them, only when they are calm and quiet as a reward.
This also links in with Obedience training, as learning new tricks can increase their confidence and obedience towards you.
Also try leaving your dog outside alone for a few seconds and then going out and rewarding them for being calm, this praises the dog for going outside on their own!
So there are my top tips!
It is also to note that you should never leave a dog alone for too long 4hours MAX!
If you do have to leave them for a long period of time, get a friend to pop round for a couple of hours. Or you can take your dog to doggy day care, or hire a dog walker.
If you have any questions or any tips yourself, don’t hesitate to contact me or comment below.