Reducing separation anxiety in your dog
Psychology is a wonderful tool for teaching humans how to understand their own behaviour and that of others, but to a certain degree, psychology can also be employed to teach us how to understand and help our pets.
Dogs can’t speak
Dogs definitely can’t sit up and tell you when they’re anxious or feeling scared but they can show you they are unhappy through their behaviour. The sooner you learn your pet’s character traits, the sooner you’ll be able to understand dog problems.
A Bull Mastiff may have the same fears as a Poodle; it’s up to owners to learn their pets’ quirks and distinguish between normal and abnormal behaviour.
Dogs are pack animals. You are the leader of their pack, so if your pet doesn’t understand your actions or fears that it is about to be abandoned then it is likely to become unsettled.
This is especially true of rescue dogs. They have already experienced loss and abandonment in their lives and it is only natural they’ll be apprehensive about it happening again. Reassurance is the answer, so ensure they have a regular routine from the start and look for signs of separation anxiety at all times.
What are the symptoms?
A dog which is left alone for long periods of time may exhibit signs of separation anxiety – but what are they?
- Excessive barking and/or drooling.
- Furniture being chewed or mauled.
- Personal items, like shoes or clothes, have been moved.
- Some dogs will try to escape so look for scratch marks on doors and windowsills.
- Urinating or defecating is a sign a dog feels threatened or alone, although this is rarer in trained pets.
- Anxious dogs may also pace up and down.
How to help your dog to cope with being left alone
Give them toys and treats: If your dog barks every time you leave the house, give it a toy 15 minutes before you leave. This will help to distract them and absorb their attention while you leave, giving them something else to focus on. You can also use a treat in the same way as “counter-conditioning” which is the process of replacing one emotion for another but using the same stimulus (you leaving the house).
Noise and activity: Leaving the radio or TV on a low volume while you are out can help your dog to relax. The constant noise, talking and activity will make them feel less isolated and help the time pass quicker, potentially causing less distress or anxiety.
Vary your routine: Some pets become fearful when they see their owners putting on coats, gathering keys or putting on shoes – common signs they’re about to be left alone. One way of overcoming this problem is to put on your coat without leaving the house. This may confuse your pet at first, and you might find it tedious but if a change of rituals leads to a happier dog it is worth it.