How to help a dog with separation anxiety

Article by Vic Allen

Vic is a musician and animal lover from Norwich. Growing up surrounded by pets, she currently has a Golden Retriever, a Miniature Dachshund, and two ginger cats.

It’s easy to understand why dogs have gained the status of “Man’s Best Friend”. They’re loyal, loving, and willing to follow us anywhere. It’s the reason we love them so much! But when our canine pals rely on our company a little too much it can lead to separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety in dogs is a common problem. Howling, distress, and destructiveness when we’re gone, even for short periods, are traumatic for our pets and for us too. And with 2020 being the year when many of us spent long periods of time at home, we could be storing up problems for when life eventually gets back to normal.

Lockdown dogs expect us to be home

According to the Kennel Club, 41% of those who bought a puppy during the pandemic did so to make lockdown less lonely. Almost as many, at 38%, said lockdown finally gave them the time they needed to welcome a dog into the family. But, even if it feels as though 2020 has dragged, lockdowns don’t last forever.

Growing up surrounded by constant love, cuddles, and companionship from humans is heaven for your dog. When lockdown ends, and your pup is left alone, they might not know how to cope. Dogs are, after all, pack animals. Disrupt their pack (you and your family) and you might find you have a dog suffering from separation anxiety.

Thankfully though, if your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety, you don’t need to rush to the vet. Doggy Xanax and expensive behavioural therapy can wait. Instead, simply changing some of your daily habits can help your canine pal feel much more chilled out. 

Reduce the drama  

Making your departures and arrivals uneventful is an easy and effective way to start. Whether you’re leaving the house or even just exiting the room, it’s time to drop the big goodbye hug and promises that you’ll be back soon. Instead, leave quietly and unannounced.

Similarly, when arriving back make sure to act as though you’d never been gone. For many dog lovers, this will take an iron will. You’ve probably missed your dog as much as they’ve missed you! However, if you make a fuss of them when they’re jumping up and excited at your return, you’ll only encourage this type of behaviour. Wait until they’re calm and then say hello. You need to show your dog that seeing you leave and return is not stressful but just a normal part of daily life.  

Back in five 

Short trips out during the day, even if for just minutes at a time, get your dog used to the idea that you often leave but you always come back. You might need to start with small steps.

If your dog is particularly anxious, begin by just leaving the room without them for short periods. Build it up slowly so your pup gradually gets used to being left. But remember not to leave them home alone regularly for more than four hours at a time!  

Right beside you 

To make your dog feel as though you haven’t completely disappeared, leave them with something that smells like you to snuggle up with. Unlike us, a dog’s primary sense in smell. In effect, they “see” their world through their nose. That’s thanks to their super sensitive sense of smell, at between 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than ours.

Giving your dog something that smells like their beloved human can be a real comfort. You could leave your pooch with a blanket you’ve curled up in or an old sweater you’ve been wearing. Just make sure it’s something you don’t mind getting dirty or being chewed!  

Pass the time

There’s a fine line between separation anxiety and boredom. Your dog isn’t likely to flick the TV on to pass the time while you’re gone. But you can keep them entertained in other ways.

Giving your dog a toy can help distract them when you’re away

Fill a Kong with some of their favourite treats as this not only rewards them with food but also gives them something to occupy their brains. If you’re popping out quickly and don’t have time to fill a Kong, a chew toy or a dog-friendly bone is a good alternative. This not only helps to pass the time, but allows your dog to associate being alone with exciting treats.  

Walkies!  

Finally, a happy, well-exercised dog is much more likely to settle down and sleep than a restless one. Make sure that you and your pooch get out for a good blast of fresh air every day.

What a perfect excuse to spend some quality time together.

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