Dogs are sociable creatures and they love spending time in our company. It’s what makes it so hard when we are separated from them. As is the case for most owners, there comes a time when we have no choice but to leave our dogs alone in the house. Worryingly, we could be completely unaware that our dog may struggle with separation anxiety. For some dogs though, it can be a very traumatic experience and can lead to destructive behaviour. This becomes a real cause for concern for their owners every time they need to leave the house. Fortunately, we have three top canine behaviourists on hand to offer sound advice to dealing with these issues, helping your dog to overcome stress when they’re left on their own.
Nikki Martin, Dickson Dog Training
Crate training is the easiest way to deal with separation anxiety, start off teaching your dog that the crate is fun. Once happy to settle with you there gradually leave your dog starting at 1 minute going back and rewarding your dog, gradually increase to 5 mins etc etc. Use a comforter if needed, adaptil collar or thunder shirt.
Helen Gerard, Naturally Clever Canines
True separation anxiety resolution is a long process to deal with, needing time and dedication, but it is achievable. I recently worked with a Boxer who could not be left and after the consult, where I also offer holistic therapies, we found that certain aromatherapy oils and sound therapy helped to support the behaviour modification programme. With a behaviour modification programme to help with separation anxiety.
Helen Eade, Social Paws
Treatments of separation anxiety all are dependent on the type of separation anxiety, the dog’s history and the possible triggers. I will outline some simple tips that can be incorporated into your routine to limit the amount of stress when you leave.
I always recommend providing lots of enrichment; my favourite is a frozen Kong. Kongs are a rubber toy which can be filled with yummy treats for the dog - when frozen they can give hours of entertainment, meaning it's a boredom breaker and can help prevent them chewing other household objects. Remember to provide the Kongs at other times too, otherwise your dog will quickly associate that a Kong means that you are going, which brings me onto my next tip; breaking down associations:
Your dog is quick to associate your actions with leaving the house; so break up your routine by doing simple things such as jingling your keys throughout the dog, randomly putting your shoes on without leaving the house or even putting your coat on backwards. Your dog will then realise that all these actions don't necessarily mean that you are leaving the house.
Calm and quiet on leaving and return back
If you over fuss your dog on leaving or return he or she may become more anxious and again see this as a cue that you are leaving/returning home. Be calm and act normal. Never over excite your dog.
Your dog's den
Your dog should be given a safe place to go when you leave, I highly recommend crate training. A crate is seen as a dog's safe haven or den. This will mean the dog gets less anxious and can stay calm in his or her special safe place. For older dogs I recommend leaving the crate open so they can come and go as they please. For younger pups you may need to keep the pen closed when your are not there for safety reasons. The crate should never be used for punishment, have access to food and water, a blanket where possible and lots of environmental enrichment.
Simply leaving your dog for extended periods of time will unlikely help the situation so I recommend leaving your dog for only short periods of time - building up gradually. Start by being in the same room and simply stepping back, then build up to leaving the room but still in sight and so on. Each time ignore your dog and once calm reward with praise or food. Make the departures gradual but not systematic - your dog will soon see that the times are increasing so change to 10 seconds away, 1 minute away to 20 seconds and so on. Never encourage your dog to always stick to your side and never allow your dog to go to the bathroom with you (at first you may need to get your partner or friend to stand outside with your dog in extreme cases).
Serious cases of separation anxiety
Always seek help from a dog behaviourist - leaving the dog to 'cry it out' has now been seen to have a negative impact on its welfare. I suggest never leaving the dog to cry for extended periods of times, you may need to go back to basics at first never leaving your dog but encouraging him/her to not be beside you in the same room (see number 5 above). At first you may need to employ a dog sitter, seek help from friends or family or take him/her to dog day care.