Whilst challenging to live with a dog that suffers from separation anxiety, there are ways to manage the issue and help your dog to cope. It is surprisingly common and manifests in a variety of ways, so dealing with dog separation anxiety is something many dog owners have to tackle at some point.
Your dog may be clingy and follow you around the house, seeming desperate not to lose sight of you. When you leave the house, your dog may be self-destructive, or defecate or urinate in the house. Some owners think their dog is ‘trying to get them back’ for leaving, but dogs do not have this psychology. Your dog does what he does because he is fearful of you leaving him.
Do not spend every single moment with your dog.
When you first bring your dog home, whether he is a small puppy or an adult rescue dog, refrain from spending every single moment with him.
Of course, you are excited and happy to have your new dog but, from day one, give him some time out on his own. Start with a minute or two every hour and gradually extend the time away from him. This will get him used to being alone when you have to go out.
Stay calm when coming home to your dog.
When you return to your dog, remain calm and do not make a big fuss of him. Calmly walk back in to the room and then let him be with you. If he is excited, ignore him until he calms down. You may find this difficult at first, but it will reap huge benefits for your dog if you can persevere.
Give your dog his own safe space, for this we recommend crate training.
When choosing your crate, buy one that is big enough for your dog to stand and turn around, but not so big that he can pace inside it. Some dogs, suffering from separation anxiety will pace and this movement reinforces the problem.
To get your dog used to the crate, put his food just inside it and let him eat. Throw a few treats in it during the day, but don’t make a big thing of it unless he goes inside.
If he does go in, throw another treat to him as he is inside and praise him.
Gradually, put his food deeper into the crate until it is right at the far end and your dog is going in and eating happily. Then, you may start shutting the door for short periods, a few moments to start with and gradually increasing the time.
Put his own bed in the crate so your dog has his own scent within the crate.
When he is calmly eating in the crate and happy with the crate door shut for short periods, leave him in and walk out of his sight for around thirty seconds. Return and quietly open the door. Stay calm and just carry on as normal. Refrain from giving him lots of praise. Being in the crate should be just a normal part of your dog’s everyday life.
Gradually extend the time your dog is in the crate, building up to an hour or so.
Then, practice putting him in and leaving the house for a few moments, so that he hears the door shut. Practice this for a few minutes, then open the door and come back. Come in, wait a few moments, and then quietly open the crate door.
If your dog is super excited, so not let him out of the crate until he is calm. Ideally, if he sits quietly, that is the perfect behaviour to aim for.
The crate training process is about building up the time your dog is in the crate in different scenarios.
NEVER use the crate as punishment. The crate must be a place where your dog feels safe and comfortable.
Exercise your dog before you have to leave him.
Give your dog a good run every day. This will help your dog to feel more relaxed when you leave. A dog left with pent up energy is not a happy dog. Exercise has positive psychological benefits for your dog. If possible, give him some off lead running in a safe environment and interact with him.
Research the breed of your dog.
All dogs are different. Some dogs need a lot of exercise and others are happy with a quick blast round a field. By learning the natural attributes of a dog breed, you can provide your dog with the stimulation that addresses the breed needs. Your dog may have herding, hunting or running instincts that are inherent to the breed.
If your dog is a cross breed, research the breeds that you can identify and see which most fits his natural character.
Purchase a plug-in calming diffuser.
A diffuser system plugs into the wall and releases pheromones that replicate those that your dog experienced in the womb before he was born.
This can result in making your dog feel safe and more confident, and help to reduce his anxiety. Many dog owners report excellent results from using a plug-in diffuser.
Place the plug-in where your dog sleeps, when you are out of the house, or he has to be on his own.
Invest in a calming supplement.
There are a wide range of excellent calming supplements specifically for dogs. Most have natural ingredients and are not expensive. We have written a complete article on dog calming supplements that we recommend as some of the best dog anxiety medication.
You can read the article here: Natural Calming Supplements: Dogs
Purchase a Thundershirt.
A Thundershirt acts like a pressure wrap. It works by applying pressure on acupressure points on your dog’s body. The pressure helps a dog to feel safe, which reduces his anxiety.
The Thundershirt is made of a lightweight, breathable, machine washable, fabric. It is stretchy, but meant to fit reasonably tightly so that your dog feels the benefits of the pressure without feeling restricted.
It looks like a fitted dog vest/coat. Your dog can wear it with absolute safety when you have to go out, or if your dog is suffering from anxiety at any time.
Get a dog walker.
If you are out of the house for long periods, it may help to enlist the help of a dog walker, or someone who can come in and spend time with your dog during the day.
Talk to other dog owners, so you can find a person that is reliable and trustworthy. Personal recommendation is important to ensuring that your dog spends time with a person who has his well-being and safety as priority, and someone who has understanding of anxiety in dogs.
Invest in a positive dog trainer to help you.
Sometimes it can be difficult to overcome separation anxiety on your own. You may feel overwhelmed by the process of training your dog to become confident of being on his own. Enlisting the help of a positive dog trainer can be a big help in teaching you how to put together an effective training practice.
Ideally, seek out a recommended dog trainer or behaviourist that ONLY works with positive methods. Meet up with the trainer and have him or her meet your dog.
Even one session a month may help you to appreciate the steps needed to help your dog to overcome separation anxiety.
You can help a dog that suffers from separation anxiety to improve, or completely eradicate, the behaviour. Gradually, you can build his confidence so that he will become happier at being alone.
Take the above steps as needed, and don’t be afraid to seek help if you are not getting positive results..