| Kelsie Shields
So your dog has separation anxiety. You know because you’ve learned the symptoms and causes, you’ve ruled out medication or other behavior problems, and you’ve spoken to your trusted veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis. So what is the next step?
Specific studies believe that over twenty percent of dogs suffer from some degree of separation anxiety, with percentages for senior dogs being somewhere between twenty-nine to fifty percent.[i] And while the exact causes of separation anxiety are unknown, changes in family structure and routine are believed to play a determining role in the development of the problem.
Summer is ending and with school starting up all across the country more dogs will be left home for extended periods of time. In anticipation of this, we’ve compiled a list of ways to help your dog overcome their separation anxiety and make the transition from summer to school a little more enjoyable.
It’s All about Training[ii]
Obviously, the goal is to get your four-legged friend to be able to stay home alone without anxiety. This will be a slow-going process, but it’s worth it.
- If your dog has severe separation anxiety, you will have to start small—and stay small for a long time. Leave them on the opposite side of an interior door for only a few minutes or directly before you know they will start showing signs of anxiety. Once you return, don’t acknowledge your dog until they calm down. You will have to build up in order to even leave the house.
- Slowly increase the duration of time spent apart and when the time comes to actually leave the house, keep the spans extremely short. Similar to social anxiety in dogs, if your dog surpasses their threshold for learning new things, and you let them become extremely anxious, their training will be ineffective and your dog’s tolerance for separation will decrease even more. In training, dogs must be given ‘low doses’ of whatever it is that scares them in order to lose that fear.
- Always be calm. Do not fall into the ‘mommy loves you. I’ll be home just as soon as I can’ farewell, nor should you excitedly greet your dog when you return. Keep transitions as relaxed and low-key as possible. Show your dog that there is nothing to get stressed over.
Means of Distraction
- Scramble your departure habits. Some dogs’ anxieties may build because of certain stimuli. The jingle of keys, your breakfast then shower then makeup routine-- they are all signals your dog reads. Throw them off your scent. Pick up your keys then go watch TV. Shower before you eat. Retrain your dog to no longer associate specific stimuli with the act of you leaving. If your dog has already connected certain events with separation, the retraining method will have to happen often to rewire your dog’s brain.[iii]
- Treats! Give your dog treats not only keeps them distracted but it also teaches your dog that good things come even when you are gone. Chewing and licking have also been shown to calm dogs so give them something good to focus on. Try for treats that are frozen in toys, toys that require manipulation to find the prize, or simply treats that take a long time to consume. The longer your pup is distracted the better.[iv]
- Exercise before you leave. Exercising your dog is always a good idea because a dog may show signs of separation anxiety such as vocalization and destruction simply out of boredom. However, for dogs with separation anxiety, exercise before you leave will mean they are more likely to be tired and want some sleep rather than worry until you come home.[v]
- Leave your scent. Leave something that smells like you near your dog. Be sure it is something you can part with (in the event the anxiety does cause your dog to become destructive), but your smell will comfort your dog in your absence.[vi]
- An area of relaxation: having an area your dog denotes with being calm, may be a great training method for an anxious dog. Crate training is difficult for some canines, but in others, it can be a safe place to be in the absence of an owner. Speak to a trainer to find out whether crate training in order to cope with separation anxiety is a good idea for your pet.[vii]
- Leave on calming music or a relaxing TV program: give your dog something to listen to while home alone. Music and the human voice have been shown to calm dogs.
- Aromatherapy: smell is a powerful sense in dogs. Chamomile and lavender have both been found to calm and relax anxious creatures--humans and dogs alike—which is why we incorporated these two ingredients into our Eau de Bedtime calming spray Using aromatherapy may help your dog during your departure and after you are gone.[viii]
- Find options to limit time alone: the best option may be finding a house sitter, doggy daycare, or neighbor who can help watch your dog while you are way to limit their time alone. Don’t expect your dog to be able to last long stints of time if they have not in the recent past.
Now You Know
Separation anxiety may be a widespread problem among canine companions but luckily there are many options available. For severe cases certain techniques such as using treats to distract may not work, but for these cases there are medications available to alleviate some anxiety while training is being implemented.Speak to a trusted veterinarian or dog trainer to learn what is best for your pet.
School can be a hard time of transition for children and parents alike, but don’t forget that it can also be difficult for your four-legged friend as well. Keep the amount of time a dog with separation anxiety must spend alone as short as possible, and implement training consistently and as often as you can. Natural options are available, like our company which was created to help nervous and stressed dogs just like yours overcome their anxiety. In fact, an anxious dog is the reason why we created calming Bedtime Bones and Eau de Bedtime spray: to help your pup live a relaxed and happy life.
[i] Borreli, L. (2014, August 29). Puppy Love: Dogs Suffer Back-To-School Blues With Separation Anxiety From Kids, But Can It Be Treated? Retrieved from https://www.medicaldaily.com/puppy-love-dogs-suffer-back-school-blues-separation-anxiety-kids-can-it-be-treated-300532#targetText=Twenty percent of the nation's,around 29 to 50 percent.
[ii] (n.d.). Separation Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety
[v] (n.d.). Separation Anxiety: How to Keep Your Dog Calm When You Leave. Retrieved from https://pets.webmd.com/dogs-separation-anxiety#2
[vii] Horwitz, D., & Landsberg, G. (n.d.). Separation Anxiety in Dogs. Retrieved from https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/separation-anxiety-in-dogs
[viii] (n.d.). Separation Anxiety: How to Keep Your Dog Calm When You Leave. Retrieved from https://pets.webmd.com/dogs-separation-anxiety#2