Does your dog suffer from separation anxiety?
10 tips that can help your dog be more comfortable in solidarity
How dogs cope with being in solidarity varies between individual and breeds. While some dogs tolerate being alone at home for a few hours, other dogs may become impatient and anxious shortly after the owner's departure. The latter may be a sign that the dog suffers from separation anxiety.
As the name suggests, this is a form of anxiety occurring when the dog is separated from its caregivers. A dog with separation anxiety shows signs of restlessness when the owner is preparing to walk out the door. For example, the dog may follow the owner around the home while expressing strong dissatisfaction by howling or barking. The dog can get sad, scared and the unrest will often escalate when the owner has left home.
Dogs are extremely good at recognising patterns. It is not uncommon for the dog to understand when the owner is on the way out. For example, the dog may realise that you are about to leave when you grab your keys or put your shoes on.
How do you know if your dog suffers from separation anxiety?
Suppose your dog shows signs of separation anxiety. In that case, it is essential to address the issue as early as possible, both for your and the dog's sake.
A dog with separation anxiety will have several recognisable behavioural traits, and dog owners must learn to identify these signs.
Are you unsure if your dog suffers from separation anxiety? Then you may want to contact a professional, such as a veterinarian or behavioural expert, who can assess the situation for you and your dog. Signs of separation anxiety may be:
- The dog follows you everywhere and lies down in places where it can watch your movements at all times.
- The dog becomes restless as you prepare to leave. It can, for example, start pacing around while expressing excessive vocalisation.
- The dog stresses when you are gone.
- The dog develops destructive behaviours. Either by destructing your inventory or by defecating indoors.
- The dog will neither eat nor drink when alone.
- The dog becomes overjoyed when you come home and struggle to calm down. PS: Remember that it is common for dogs to be happy when the owners come home, but a dog with separation anxiety will often spend a long time calming down.
Some of these signs may be normal behaviour for some dogs. If your dog typically behaves like this, it won't necessarily mean that it suffers from separation anxiety.
What dogs can get separation anxiety?
All dogs can be affected by separation anxiety. Still, some breeds are more predisposed, and some environments can increase the risk. For example, a relocated dog has a greater risk of developing separation anxiety than a dog that stays with the same owner all its life.
If you are the new owner of a relocated dog, you should pay extra attention to signs of separation anxiety.
You should also take some precautions. For example, you should not leave your dog for hours shortly after replacing it.
A dog needs both care and time to adjust to new environments. It is not uncommon for a dog to show signs of separation anxiety when moving to a new home, even if it is with the same owner.
Dogs that have experienced trauma, such as abuse, also have an increased risk of developing separation anxiety.
10 tips that can help make your dog feel safe in his own company
Having a dog with separation anxiety can be tiring for both the four-legged and the two-legged. It's never fun to know that your dog is not feeling well!
However, suppose the dog shows clear signs of separation anxiety. In that case, there are fortunately several things you as the owner can do to reduce the anxiety, and in many cases, get rid of it completely.
Here are some tips that can help make your dog safe when alone:
1: Define the area your dog has when he is alone
As a general rule, all dogs should have the ability to move freely to some extent. However, sometimes dogs can become more stressed if it has a large area to "look after".
If your dog is very unhappy when he is alone, you may want to limit the area the dog can move in.
For example, it may help to leave the dog in only one or two rooms instead of an entire house. Such a delimitation can help give the dog the feeling of security and peace.
However, the dog should not have too little space to frolic in either - being trapped in a cage for many hours every day, for example, may work against its purpose.
2: Walk the dog before it is left to itself
Make sure the dog gets a good walk before it is left alone. A long walk will wear out the dog and increase the chances that it is calm. As a minimum requirement, the dog must have had the opportunity to urinate and defecate before you leave it.
3: Gradually increase the 'home alone' training.
Owners can feel helpless when dealing with their dog's separation anxiety. When the dog feels stressed even before you have left, it can seem like an unattainable dream to think that the dog will one day find peace and cope with being by itself.
The truth is that for most dogs, the prognosis for getting rid of separation anxiety is good. However, it requires both proper training and plenty of patience from you as a dog owner. One of the most important things you can do is let the home-alone training take place gradually. For example, you can not just leave the dog for seven hours every day and expect the problem to resolve itself. Many owners have experienced that patience and timing in training are vital to teaching the dog to be at home alone.
4: Make sure the dog is busy with something when you leave home.
Often the dog's anxiety will transfer to the owner. That way the owner becomes anxious before the dog is left alone. In this way, the anxiety problem becomes an eternal circle.
The dog notices when the owner is distressed, which will stress the dog even more.
It is therefore essential that you remain calm and stable before you leave the dog.
Do not comfort the dog or give it an inappropriate amount of attention when you are about to leave. Behave normally and show the dog that it has nothing to worry about.
A useful trick is to give it a task or reward before you go out - this can for example, be to let the dog look for treats or give it a bone.
Leaving the dog busy with something when you leave can be a good tool to reduce separation anxiety.
However, some dogs are so stressed that they do not show interest in the treat until you have returned home. In such cases, you must use other methods first.
A useful trick can be to leave one of your clothes (preferably one you are not afraid of being damaged) that your dog can smell. The smell of you can be soothing for the dog.
5: Do not leave the dog alone for too long
In the beginning, you must keep the solidarity to a minimum. Start by taking some quick walks out, preferably just outside the house, where you leave the dog alone at home for a few minutes.
If the dog is calm when you enter, you can reward it with a treat.
If you notice that the dog is restless as it barks while you are away, wait with your return until the dog is quiet. In that way, the dog learns that you will return when it has found peace.
6: Turn on the radio / TV
Some dog owners report that the sound from the TV or radio can have a calming effect on their dog. Research points in the direction that music, especially classical music, can have a calming effect on dogs.
Though there is no guarantee that this will work.
However, it is possible to train the dog to associate music with something positive, such as a treat or cuddle.
In other words: if you create a positive association, you can teach the dog to be calm when the music is on. It will then expect to be rewarded for being calm.
8: Do not show too much excitement when you get home
A trap that is easy to fall into is meeting the dog with excessive excitement when you return. It is tempting to reciprocate the joy and enthusiasm that the dog gives you when you enter the door. However, such behaviour can actually intensify the dog's separation anxiety.
You can greet the dog when you get home, but wait to give it lots of attention until it has calmed down.
9: Never punish the dog
You may be saddened that this point is mentioned, but it must actually be mentioned.
Even when the dog has been so stressed that it has damaged your inventory, it should not be punished.
Because it will only make the dog more anxious and scared. Remember that the dog's destructive behavior is not a sign of malice. It has no conscious intention to bother you. It does these things out of fear.
10: Be patient
We have already mentioned it, but it must be repeated. The feeling of helplessness can erode patience, but always contain yourself. Getting rid of separation anxiety can be time-consuming. You often feel that the process is always a bit "two steps forward and one step back". Hold out! Suddenly one day, your dog will find peace in his own company. Then the work you have put in will be worth every single calorie.