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Spot the signs of separation anxiety and learn how to help your dog enjoy alone time.
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Just about every pet parent has left their dog home alone and come back to a mess. Sometimes, it’s because our dog gets bored. Sometimes, it’s because we left the new puppy out to see if she would be good. And sometimes, we just forget to put Spot in his crate before leaving. While a mess can be a sign of separation anxiety, it is important to know the difference between your dog being bored and your dog having anxiety when you are gone.
Your dog likely has separation anxiety if she exhibits any of these signs:
Now that you know what separation anxiety looks like, what can you do about it?
When you get a new dog, it can be very tempting to spend every minute with him, but this could make it very difficult on him when you do have to go back to work (or even leave to go to the store). It’s normal for a new rescue dog to be a little nervous and clingy while he gets used to his new surroundings (especially if they were a stray or in multiple shelters/foster homes), but getting him in a regular routine as soon as possible is going to help.
Try crate training — Some dogs with separation anxiety do well with crate training. This Dogster article has some great do’s and don’ts, and this article from the Humane Society takes you step-by-step through the crate training process. Some dogs do not do well with crates, and they will break teeth or otherwise injure themselves to get out. If this is the case, try keeping your new dog in a room where he can’t do much damage. A bathroom or laundry room can be a good option, especially if you have a window that lets some light in. Leave your dog with a Kong packed with a tasty filling or something else to keep her occupied.
Leave your dogs out together — While I don’t typically recommend leaving your resident dog and new dog out together at first, if this seems to help the dog with separation anxiety, and they have had a good relationship thus far, it might be worth a try. If you do this, MAKE SURE there are no food, treats, bones, high-value toys, or anything else that they could potentially fight over (even if that means putting away the dog beds for awhile).
Exercise or get help — Physical and mental exercise will help calm an anxious dog. If you can go for a walk or even a run before you leave, this could help. Puzzle toys are also great to work a dog’s mind. If doggie day care or even a mid-day walk from a pet sitter is an option, it will keep your dog busy and she will be worn out when she gets home, too!
Change tour routine — Dogs are very keen on routines, and they pick them up quickly. Whether you realize it or not, you are probably doing the same thing before you leave — getting your water bottle, putting on your shoes, grabbing your bag, and getting your keys — and this routine could be building up your dog’s anxiety from the very beginning. Changing up your routine can decrease some of your dog’s initial anxiety.
Keep departures and arrivals low-key — We all miss our dogs when we are gone, but the more exciting coming and going is, the more anxiety it can cause in our dog. Calmly leave and calmly walk in the door when you get back to decrease some of the excitement. You can definitely still pet your dog and say hi, just keep it low-key.
Try calming treats or scents — Sometimes calming treats can take off the edge and help a dog relax. I have a dog with anxiety and the only thing that worked for her is a supplement called ProQuiet. It’s available at some vet offices and on Amazon. It’s all natural, and it seems to work better than other calming treats.
Try CBD oil as a training aid – Many dogs owners have found luck with using CBD to help calm your dog while you train them to overcome separation anxiety.
There are different essential oil sprays (like Rescue Remedy or Merlin’s Magic) that you can spray in the room or on your dog’s bedding, or you can try a DAP diffuser in the room. DAP, or dog appeasing pheromone, is designed to mimic the pheromone that a mother dog puts out for her puppies.
I wouldn’t recommend a ThunderShirt for separation anxiety, though, because you shouldn’t just put it on a dog and leave it on — it should be rotated on and off.
Consult a positive reinforcement trainer and your vet — If your dog’s separation anxiety seems to be more severe, you may want to work with a trainer and a vet on a training and possible medication protocol to help your dog. While medication is not always necessary, it can be helpful to get a dog to calm down enough for training to be effective. Ideally, you would be able to see a veterinary behaviorist, but if not, I would highly recommend your veterinarian consult one. There aren’t that many veterinary behaviorists in the United States, but they are trained in both medical and behavioral interventions, and they are a great resource.
Top photo: Collie with ripped chair by Shutterstock.
Abbie lives in Colorado with her dogs Daisy, Sadie, and Buster, and can usually be found outside with one of them. She is a dog trainer and freelance writer who loves to explore environmental and animal rights issues. Find out more about her at abbiemood.com and lifediscoveryproject.com. Follow her on Twitter @abbiemood and Instagram @abbiemood.
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