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What To Do About Separation Anxiety?

It’s always great to go home to be greeted by your beloved dog. They bark and wag their tails, thrilled to see us. It’s nice.

However, it becomes a lot less nice when you notice that your dog’s gone to the toilet all over the kitchen, chewed some of your shoes into ribbons, and gotten you a noise complaint from the neighbours.

If you’re seeing any of these signs, your dog could be suffering from separation anxiety. The thing is, we are our dog’s whole world – they’re naturally going to miss us when we’re gone. Unfortunately, separation anxiety can be destructive, distressing to your dog, and even dangerous.

Let’s take a look at how to handle separation anxiety in your dog.

Signs of Separation Anxiety

First of all, here are a few ways to spot separation anxiety in your dog. Look out for things such as:

  • Your dog is distressed when you leave. This is standard anxious behaviour and will include whining, howling, scratching at doors, walls, and carpets, and other signs of fear in your dog. The whining, barking, and howling can go on even when you’re long gone.

  • Toilet accidents. If your dog goes to the toilet in the house when you’re gone – even though they’re toilet trained – this could be another sign of distress.

  • Destructive behaviour. Chewing, ripping, and otherwise destroying things around them is another sign of anxiety.

  • Panting and pacing. Your dog might also display these signs if they see you preparing to go out.

  • Excessive drinking and/or salivating. You may well be greeted by a very wet dog when you return.

Once you’ve established that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, you need to deal with it as soon as possible, so that the behaviour doesn’t become ingrained.

How to Handle Separation Anxiety

The absolute best way to handle separation anxiety is to get your dog used to being alone for short periods from puppyhood. Gradually increase the time your dog is left alone, and never leave even an adult dog alone for longer than four or five hours. As your puppy grows up, they’ll get used to being by themselves for short periods of time.

Of course, this isn’t much help if your dog already has separation anxiety, or if you’ve adopted an adult dog with a fear of separation. If so, you’ll need to train your dog to feel comfortable alone.

Here’s how to do that.

  • Prepare an area.

Start by creating a safe, comfortable area for your dog. This might be a crate (make sure it’s large enough, with fresh water available), or you might choose a room like a kitchen, securing it with a dog gate. Put dog blankets or a bed in there, along with water, dog toys, and maybe even treats and food. You might also want to leave a radio on at a talk show, providing low-level background noise. This can calm your dog and may even muffle startling noises from outside.

  • Get your dog used to its area.

Next, let your dog become comfortable in this area. It might take some time – maybe even a few hours or days – for your dog to become completely at ease in its new environment. If your dog still seems nervous, try leaving items or garments of yours around. This will spread around your scent and might calm your dog. Be careful to only leave things that you don’t mind getting destroyed!

  • Leave your dog in its area for short periods of time.

Once your dog is comfortable in its area, close the door/dog gate, and go about your business in the house. Ideally, you would give your dog a treat just before this happens to occupy them. Stay nearby. If your dog seems nervous or starts to show signs of separation anxiety, show yourself to your dog to reassure them. If this doesn’t work, sit in the room with them for a while, but stay quiet and don’t interact. With a little perseverance, you should be able to soon leave your dog in their area for short periods of time without any fuss.

  • Leave the house for short periods of time.

Once your dog is comfortable staying in their area without you for up to half an hour, the next step is to actually leave your dog alone in the house. Prepare a treat and leave them alone in their area as usual. Don’t stay away for too long, maybe only a few minutes.

  • Gradually increase the periods.

If your dog is comfortable with you being away for a few minutes at a time, gradually increase the periods you’re away. Don’t worry too much if there are setbacks. When you return, stay calm and quiet when you greet your dog. Persevere, and be kind and gentle with your dog – and with yourself!

How You Shouldn’t Handle Separation Anxiety

It’s natural to be annoyed if you come home and see destruction (and probably poop) everywhere. However, what you definitely shouldn’t do is punish your dog.

Your dog doesn’t connect its misbehaviour in the past (chewing, going to the toilet in the house, barking nonstop) with the present. Punishing your dog now is only going to confuse them – they simply don’t understand what they did wrong.

Simply put, punishing your dog regularly when you come home is only going to teach your dog to be anxious about your return, as well as your absence. Shouting, putting your dog outside, or acting angry is only going to scare your pet. Stay calm and patient.

Should You See A Vet?

If your dog’s separation anxiety is extremely severe, or you think they might injure themselves while you’re out, speak to a vet or an animal behaviour expert. If your dog is an adult or has seriously ingrained separation anxiety, you may need to seek expert advice.

The important thing is to remember that your dog is anxious. If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety, you’ll know that it’s not exactly rational. With time, patience, and plenty of love, your dog can overcome separation anxiety.

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