You’ve been at work for 3 hours and returning home for lunch to see Fido… Your whole morning is spent worrying about what you will come home to on your lunch break.
You come home to find that your thoughts have become reality and now you must spend the whole of your lunch break clearing up the mess, finding your dog that has escaped or cleaning your carpets for the fifth time this week!… Or maybe another complaint from the neighbour because your dog has been barking non-stop since you left this morning.
Many dog owners know all too well the struggles of having a dog who suffers with separation anxiety… almost 80% of dog owners actually!
But those of you who haven’t experienced this, should know that separation anxiety can affect any dog during ANY time in their life. So just because your dog hasn’t suffered yet, doesn’t mean they never will.
Hopefully they NEVER will!
How to spot separation anxiety…
Many people can mistake separation anxiety for boredom due to the behavioural issues that arise as a result of it:
- Destructive chewing
- Having accidents in the home
- Trying to escape
However, it’s important to recognise that these behaviours alone don’t tend to equal separation anxiety. Now, it could be the beginning of it, so it certainly shouldn’t be ignored but it’s when multiple unusual behaviours start to occur.
You know, when you tell your friend “All of a sudden, he’s started barking or whining as soon as I’m about to leave for work and my neighbour told me that he doesn’t stop all day… This isn’t like him!”
They will often, bark, whine, scratch, destroy anything in their reach, scratch at the door, have accidents in the house and sometimes even try to escape.
Some dogs show more subtle signs such as refusing to eat until you return home or pacing / can’t seem to settle when you’re not home. (This can only really be discovered if you’re able to video them whilst you’re out).
But this can sometimes present itself as a very tired dog when you return home, which leaves you wondering:
“What is wrong with him? We haven’t even been for a walk yet”
If this happens, maybe ask yourself if you’ve noticed any other strange behaviours. Or leave a camera to watch him and see if anxious pacing is what’s happening…
So why do dogs suffer from separation anxiety?
It can happen for a number of reasons but usually it is as a result of the dog having unlimited attention for a period of time, and suddenly being left alone for long periods of times, sometimes even just a short while.
Buying a puppy is a good example. Those owners who’ve taken time off to be home and settle your new puppy into their new and strange home.
For those few weeks, or a month they have access to their owners whenever they want and the constant company of someone else.
And when it’s time for them to go back to work, the puppy has to suddenly adapt to being alone all day.
For young puppies, being left alone for only a couple of hours is too long, not only for their bladder capacity but for the loneliness and uncertainty of it all.
Other examples are; when there is a sudden loss of a family member, especially if that family member was the one who your dog favoured for company or play, a sudden change in routine or the household itself (i.e you’ve moved house).
Helping dogs with separation anxiety
Firstly, like most dog behaviours that need correcting, it is always better to prevent rather correct.
Therefore in the instance of a puppy, gradually increasing the time that your puppy is left alone before you go back to work will help to get them used to being alone.
Same with Christmas holidays as this can happen a lot at this time of year.
However, quite often, this is noticed when the dog has already started to show signs of separation anxiety.
- It is great to seek help from a Professional Dog Trainer who can help you with a plan to manage and treat it, but one thing that can help is exercise.
- Try taking your dog for a long, interactive walk in the morning, leaving about an hour before you have to leave the house.
- Not making a fuss when you leave OR return.
- Where possible, leave your keys by the front door and don’t say goodbye to them. (This may seem cruel but I promise you will be helping them… Plus, we only say goodbye for our own peace of mind anyways, don’t we?)
- Getting in the routine of settling your dog down on their bed after their walk with their favourite toy or a stuffed kong is a great way to keep them distracted and occupied before and after you initially leave the house.
If your dog has began showing signs of separation anxiety, it is going to take some time to correct; some less than others, but consistency and observation on your part.
Anybody who has a new puppy, has taken time off to be with them, well done for your commitment. They need you now more than ever.
They need you to help them be comfortable being left alone, so that they don’t have to experience the anxiety and stress that so many dogs do.