It's a big concern for many owners that their dog will struggle when they go to work or leave the house for a period of time. The Petplan Pet Census 2018 found that 40% of owners believed their pets suffered from separation anxiety.
Preventing separation anxiety is all about building a dog’s confidence and creating a positive association with being alone or away from you. It’s especially important to do this kind of proactive and preventive training with young puppies, but dogs of all ages and backgrounds will benefit. Here are our top tips to help your dog overcome or prevent separation anxiety issues:
1.STAY WITHIN THEIR COMFORT ZONE
Our first tip is to ensure you always stay within your dog's comfort zone. Often we hope puppies or dogs will just 'get over' or 'get on with' separation in time however, leaving them to get on with it or cry it out can do the opposite.
Leaving them to cry it out could teach them that no one comes when they need them, resulting in losing trust in their human or giving up.
Leaving them to get on with it could reinforce anxiety as dogs learn that whining, crying, barking will either make people appear eventually or it helps to self-soothe and thus begins a habit.
If you know your dog can only cope with being alone for 1 minute, only leave them for 30seconds, then we 'reward' them with our return BEFORE they become anxious.
2.CREATE A SAFE ZONE
Create an area which promotes a feeling of happiness and security. This could be a play pen or a room such as the kitchen. Personally, I'm not a fan of crates but I know many people do like them and find then beneficial.
Begin to make your chosen area a happy and fun place to be, feed them, spend time together playing and cuddle them in the area.
Don't be tempted to rush, spend a good few weeks building up happy feelings in the area and don't be tempted to shut your puppy/dog in the area just yet. Instead leave fun stuff to do (enrichment games, food trails etc), leave the room (keep door open) for a few seconds whilst they are busy and then return to them.
Gradually increase the time you leave the room for so that they begin to choose to stay in the other room rather than follow you!
3.KEEP TO A ROUTINE
Many dogs, young and old feel less anxious and much happier if they have a routine. Knowing what and when things happens can provide some security as they can predict what will come next.
Try to keep some form of routine, you might go for walks at your usual times, still put them in their room/crate whilst you go upstairs to work, keep mealtimes the same etc.
Be aware that some dogs don't have a normal 'routine' and that is fine too, stay as normal as possible, whatever normal is for you!
4.SPREAD THE LOVE
It's really common for dogs to form a closer relationship or 'attachment' to one member of the household, this is usually the person who walks, trains or feeds them or spends more time at home.
It's absolutely fine for them to have a preference for one person as long as it's not an unhealthy stronger attachment which results in them not wanting to engage with others and becoming distressed when that person is not close by.
You can encourage your dog to spread the love, by giving each family member their own task to complete with your dog or to ensure you share tasks as equally as possible. Take it in turns to feed, play, walk and train your dog so they can form stronger relationships with each member of your family.
5.STOP FOLLOWING ME
Many dogs love to follow us wherever we go around the house. Encouraging them not to do this whilst we are home together will keep them used to having very short episodes of time away from us. Simple things like closing the bathroom door, closing a stairgate whilst you go into the kitchen and leaving them inside whilst you do the gardening will help.
Remember to stay within their comfort levels, if your dog already has separation issues they may struggle with this and need an activity to keep them busy whilst they learn not to follow you or have VERY short times apart.
6.DISCOVER IF IT IS REAL ANXIETY
It might be real anxiety or it could just be discomfort/boredom of being left, some dogs miss the company or get bored waiting for you to return. It's easy to label our dogs as having anxiety but sometimes it might not be the case.
Here are some signs to indicate a true anxiety:
- Urinating or defecating when alone
- Howling or barking when alone
- Destruction (attempting to escape!)
- Pacing or other stress signs when alone
- Self mutilation (chewing or biting themselves)
7.LEAVE THE RADIO OR TV ON
When you are planning on leaving your puppy/dog many people will leave the radio or tv on quietly. Some dogs will benefit from having the background noise for company or to block out any outside noises.
I also close the curtains so they are less likely to be disturbed by outside movement.
8.GET A WEBCAM
Having a webcam can help to ensure you stay within your dog's comfort zone. You are able to watch them whilst you pop upstairs or go to sit in the car and ensure you return BEFORE they become unsettled.
It doesn't have to be a webcam, you can always use 2 phones on a video call!
9.LEAVE THEM WITH AN ITEM OF YOUR CLOTHING
For those with no previous of minimal worries over being alone, to help your dog feel more secure you can leave a worn item of clothing with your smell on to provide comfort.
10.MAKE SURE THEY HAVE BEEN TOILET
Always try to ensure they've been for a poo before you have to leave them alone. Needing to go and having to hold it can create a lot of anxious feelings!
11.ARRIVE HOME CALMLY
Don't make a big event of your arrival or departure. Of course, say goodbye and hello (we all need greetings) but we can avoid any over enthusiastic, emotional or prolonged interactions to help dogs understand that you coming/going is part of everyday life, a non-event!
12.ESTABLISH ANXIETY TRIGGERS
If your dog ALREADY HAS some known anxieties around being left, make a list of the things you normally do before you would go out.... it may be things like I turn the radio on, I let them out in the garden, put down an enrichment game, give them a chew, go for a final wee, put my 'work' shoes on, pick up my keys, open the curtains etc. People are usually quite predictable so it may be that an earlier part of your 'going out' routine is what triggers your dog's anxiety.
13.WALKIES BEFORE YOU GO OUT
Set your dog up to succeed by ensuring they are well exercised physically and mentally before attempting to leave them.
This will ensure they are satisfied, been to the toilet, feel relaxed and have had their needs met prior to you leaving them. Make sure you also allow enough time for them to wind down afterwards so they are relaxed prior to you leaving them.
If you’re concerned your dog is struggling with separation anxiety, book a 121 virtual call with us and let’s work on resolving it together. Book now at https://www.potterpaws.co.uk/121-training/virtual-support-call/