Does your dog start to shake when you pull your coat on and grab your keys? Does he howl as soon as you turn the lock and head toward the car?
If so, your dog may have separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a problem that can make it difficult for you to do what you need to do on a daily basis. However, there are certain ways to tackle this problem.
Signs of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety doesn’t always have a specific cause behind it, but there are some backgrounds dogs have that tend to correlate with this anxiety. These can include having been abandoned before, a schedule change (like you working from home and then heading back to the office), moving homes, or even someone in the family suddenly being absent (from something like moving or death).1
Dogs may present behaviors right after their owner leaves or even as their owner is getting ready to leave.
Some of these may be:
Refusing to eat
How to Treat Separation Anxiety
There are several ways to handle your dog’s separation anxiety. It can be a slow process depending on how severe their condition is. The goal overall of treating separation anxiety is to teach your dog to handle being alone successfully without anxiety.1
Counterconditioning is one method. This can be used on dogs that get anxious before or after you leave the house. For dogs that get anxious before you leave, because they know that putting on your coat means you’re leaving, the training consists of doing these activities and then not leaving the house. This helps break the association of those actions with you leaving, and thus curbs your dog’s anxiety.2
Another way to do this is to give your dog a treat they love only when you leave the house. This can be a puzzle toy or a specific treat they love. It’s important to only give this to them when you leave, so they can make the connection between that treat and your absence.2
You can also train your dog to handle being separated from you by working on the command stay. Have them sit in one room for a few minutes, then work your way up to sitting for ten minutes while you’re out of the room. This helps them learn that they don’t need to be by your side all the time.3 Another way to reinforce this is to schedule in time for your dog to be by themselves in their crate while you’re home, so they know that alone time is something that is an expected part of their day.2
When you leave your dog home alone when you go out, exercise ahead of time can help them settle down more easily. This will ensure they don’t have pent-up energy that can lead to destruction.2 A difficult puzzle treat is also a great idea to give them mental stimulation and something to focus on while you’re gone.3
Treating separation anxiety in your dog can be a process, but it’s worthwhile so they don’t hurt themselves and you can leave confidently without worrying about how they’re doing. If you’re having a lot of trouble, you can always hire a professional trainer for help.
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All the best,
Chris & the WERC Team