We love our pets and if we could, we’d never leave them alone in favour of going to work. Sadly in the real world our responsibilities mean that we often have to leave our little guy alone in the house for short periods of time. Some animals adapt very well and carry on with their day on their own. However some don’t know how to handle being on their own, resulting in separation anxiety. We will be focusing on dogs in this blog post as separation anxiety is most likely to occur in them. However for any owners of cats with Separation Anxiety, the same principals apply
What Is Separation Anxiety?
It’s exactly what it sounds like. The dog in question experiences extreme anxiety when not around their guardians or the people it’s most attached to This stress on the animal causes “ticks” to occur to help them deal with their distress. Among others the most often are:
- Barking/ howling/ wailing
- Biting furniture
- Going to the toilet indoors
- chewing on their legs
- Not eating
- dig or destroy gardens if left out doors
Some pets suffering from separation anxiety become agitated when their guardians prepare to leave. Others show symptoms of anxiety or depressed mood when they sense their guardians are about to leave or aren’t present.
Usually, right after a guardian leaves, the pet will begin barking/meowing and displaying other distress behaviours within a short time after being left alone-often within minutes. When the guardian returns home, the dog acts as though it’s been years since he’s seen his mom or dad!
It is best for this sort of behaviour to be trained out. The earlier he is trained, the better. Not just for the guardian’s sake, but for the mental well-being of the dog. It would stress anyone if they experienced a huge amount of anxiety near every day of the week.
h separation anxiety is a very gradual process and you must have patience. You basically have to re-wire how your dog views you leaving the house. It will be tough but in the end you and your dog will be better off in the long run
Step 1: Teach your dog that it’s okay to spend time apart at home.
If it’s just you and your dog at home, this might be a bit tricky as you probably spend all your time together. the trick to this is to not give into every cry for attention or whim from your dog.
Go about your day and experiment leaving him in a room alone. If he follows, simply bring him back to his bed and practice “sit or “stay”. Leave the room again. Don’t do this all at once expecting him to stay put for an hour. This is a slow process taking a few weeks at least.
Step 2: De-sensitize triggers.
By triggers I mean the little things you do that alert your dog that you are leaving. Such as picking up your car keys, putting on your jacket or your shoes etc.
Your dog naturally associates this behaviour with you leaving and the feeling of distress. To get passed this, you must teach your dog that these are not harmful actions you are taking.
To do this, try doing certain actions that would lead them to believe that you are leaving, except don’t leave. Pick up your jacket, but instead of walking out, just sit and read the paper. Your dog will be a bit un-nerved the first few times you are doing this. After a few weeks of normalizing actions they associate with distress, they shouldn’t make a second glance at you picking up your jacket.
Step 3: Teach them that it’s okay to be at home alone.
This will be the trickiest as it requires you to leave the house. The one thing they don’t want. it requires dedication and timing.
In order to teach your dog that it’s okay to be home alone, you mustn’t make out that it’s a big relief when you come home. They associate this feeling of kisses and affection when you come home. This makes them yearn for your return. We’re looking to make them happy you’re home, but not over the moon ecstatic.
To do this, practice leaving the house, but only for a few seconds. Come back in before they get upset. They will run to you like you have been gone hours. As hard as it is you mustn’t coddle them. Walk back in and pay no attention to the dog, walk around the house for a minute, make some tea and only greet your dog when he’s calm.
Practice leaving the house for slightly longer periods of time. Always come back right before you hear them whimpering so that their anxiety doesn’t build up. Eventually you should be able to leave for at least 10 – 15 minutes. From then on its onward and upwards. The aim of the game is to teach your dog that it’s no big deal that you left or you’re home and that once they are calm they will receive attention.
NOTE: Don’t assume that getting another dog might get rid of separation anxiety. While it works in some cases as the dog has company, often times their anxiety stems from separation from you, the guardian.
It’s tough, but you and your dog will be both be happy with and without each other!
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