You’ve just arrived home from work and before you even open the door, you can hear your dog whining for you on the other side. You open the door and, after being knocked down by your dog’s enthusiastic greeting, walk into the living room to see what was destroyed today…
Sound familiar? If so, chances are your dog is experiencing the all-too-common separation anxiety. The bad news – we as owners may unknowingly be contributing to this problem. However, once we understand how our behaviors affect our pets, we can instead significantly reduce their anxiety.
What causes Separation Anxiety?
One contributing factor to separation anxiety is our long, drawn-out good-byes. If you’re like most people, you feel so bad leaving your pet that you give them a lot of attention and kisses before walking out the door. As a result, your dog actually gets excited and left with a lot of energy that he some how has to release. Unfortunately, most dogs will resort to chewing, digging, or their own preferred method of destruction.
Then, when we finally arrive home and see the mess he made, we make the situation worse. While we may be angry with the dog, in most cases, we also feel guilty for having left him alone. We try to “apologize” to our dog with lots of attention and treats. We may feel better, but this tells your dog that tantrums are acceptable. And of course, our guilt returns the next day when we have to leave, and we’re back to where we started.
This cycle only gets worse for the dog over time. Older dogs may not be as destructive so in many cases, their energy comes in the form of stress. We all know the effects stress can have on our health – and it’s no different for dogs. OK, now we really feel bad leaving them… cue: repeat of cycle.
How do we prevent Separation Anxiety?
To prevent this anxiety, the most important thing to do is not make a big deal about leaving. Instead, make sure you leave quietly with your dog feeling secure and comfortable. Consider giving your dog some attention and exercise before you leave and allowing him time to calm down while you are home. Then, when you finally get around to leaving, he will be relaxed and tired and more likely to just sleep while you are out. Bottom line – dogs are great at reading our emotions. If you are calm, he will be too.
Also, make sure you have things to keep your dog from being bored should he wake up. As our own lives can probably attest to, boredom often leads to poor choices. Have some toys available for your dog to chew should he get the urge, and obviously remove anything that might be tempting for you dog to chew. Another idea to consider is the getting a companion animal for your pet. In this situation, while you may be leaving your dog, he won’t be completely alone. Win-win for both of you:)
How do we help our pets currently experiencing Separation Anxiety?
If your dog is already experiencing anxiety, practice leaving for short periods of time, even if just a few minutes at first. Don’t make a big deal of leaving or coming back. As your dog beings to learn that you will be back, gradually increase the frequency and length of your time away. If your pet was rescued (thus previously abandoned) you will need to be especially patient. And lastly, while companion animals are great, make sure your pets are separated from each other at times or you will have another case of separation anxiety in the future.