Making Time Alone More Tolerable – Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a real and increasingly common problem. Because of our hectic lifestyles, dogs are being left alone more frequently and for longer periods. And, people are adopting more rescue and shelter dogs, which are prone to separation anxiety. This problem can manifest itself in subtle signs or full-blown, sometimes dangerous, behaviors. Some indicators are destructiveness, inappropriate elimination, barking, whining, and even crashing through glass windows or doors. Separation anxiety in your pet needs to be handled with patience and care.

First, remember that your attitude is key, so keep your cool. Yelling or punishing only creates more stress and can worsen the problem. For example, if your arrival means angry consequences for your dog, he may add other anxious behaviors to chewing your shoes or eliminating on your rug. Remembering that your dog is expressing anxiety, not spite, can help you maintain perspective and focus on problem-solving instead of punishment. Here are some steps you can take to help your dog feel more comfortable when you leave:

  1. Don’t give your pooch too much of your attention when you are home. It deprives him of the opportunity to learn to entertain himself and focuses his attention on times when you are gone. Make it a habit to ignore your dog occasionally and be the one to initiate interaction.
  2. Keep arrivals and departures low-key. When you come home, try to wait 10-15 minutes before you acknowledge your dog (leaf through the mail, change clothes, etc.) When you are ready to greet him, just say, “Hey (dog’s name), how was your day?” with a little rub under that adorable chin. When you leave give them a KONG stuffed with treats or another toy he can play with only when you are gone. This will occupy his attention so you can slip out the door unnoticed.
  3. Keep a radio or TV on for continual low noise. The sound of music and voices may soothe him and will make them less likely to hear outside noises that may make him bark.
  4. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise. If he is obedience trained, you can run him through his commands before and after work. If you have not trained your dog, it’s time to think about it.
  5. Consider hiring a dog walker to provide company and take him out mid-day. Occasional days in doggie day care can also be a welcome break in routine.
  6. Mix up your leaving cues. Dogs notice signs of your leaving like putting on your shoes, filling your travel mug, or rattling your keys. To break the pattern and keep him guessing whether you are really leaving, pick up your keys whenever you think about it. Grab your purse and head outside, wait a couple minutes, and come back in. Then play with your dog. Get in your car, drive around the block and come back in and ignore your dog. Or, get dressed for work, give your dog a cookie, go out and come back to take him for a walk.
  7. Give your dog acceptable activities. There are many toys on the market that can keep your dog busy. Hide treats around the house or leave treat-stuffed Kongs for him to work on.
  8. Sleep with an old shirt and leave it with your dog. He may be comforted by your smell. Or investigate one of the new plug-in products that emit Dog Appeasing Pheromones (D.A.P) to mimic a mother dog’s pheromones. They are thought to give dogs a sense of well-being and reassurance.
  9. Limit your absences to 7 or 8 hours a day. Longer periods alone can be tough on a dog.
  10. If you have the time and patience for another pet, a canine buddy can sometimes help. As a last resort, your veterinarian may suggest a prescription medication to help your dog relax so he can concentrate on behavior modifying exercises that change his response to a stressful situation.

by Sherri Regalbuto