It can be frustrating to learn your dog experiences separation anxiety when you leave the house. You might feel as though you’re tied to your home, with guilt as well as to prevent his destructive acts. It doesn’t have to be this way, though; there are steps you can take to help him feel safe and content when left alone.
First, what causes separation anxiety? A life change like divorce, a new house or a death can trigger anxious feelings in your pet. Some breeds seem more prone to it, such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, border collies, Italian greyhounds and German Shorthaired Pointers. Part of the reason could be these dogs’ bonding levels with their owners, as well as their intelligence – When a dog is used to being stimulated, he may easily feel bored and then anxious when his family is away.
Pet owners sometimes unknowingly encourage separation anxiety by making a big deal out of leaving the house or arriving home. In that way, your dog is given a lot of attention near the door, stressing once you leave. In addition, try varying your routine: Put on your coat, but sit down on the couch. Pick up your keys, and place them somewhere else. Go outside to start the car, then come back inside. Getting him used to the activity and noises related to departure will help him understand overtime that it’s all part of normal, everyday life. (Speaking of activity and noises, some dogs are calmed by having the TV or radio on during the day. If you often have one of these on while you’re at home, trying leaving it on while you’re away.)
The easiest way to help your pup understand there are positives related to your leaving is by giving him a stuffed bone or a treat as you walk out the door. Time your treat-giving appropriately, however; you should only reward the behavior you want to see, so the moment to give him his treat is once he sits quietly, not while he’s crying.
Some dogs are happy in their crate, so you may find your pooch prefers to be crated during your absence. Whether you opt to crate him or not, condition him to be away from you by starting with short periods of absence and then gradually lengthening his time home alone.
As the well-known refrain goes, a tired dog is a happy dog (and a happy owner). Exercise your dog daily – he needs 30-60 minutes of exercise – as well as spend one-on-one time with him working on obedience training and tricks. Keeping his body and mind active mean he’ll be tired by the time you leave and more likely to settle down.
In severe cases, you and your vet may decide that medication or a homeopathic remedy is necessary in conjunction with behavioral training. Whichever route you go, remember that separation anxiety isn’t preventable in every dog. Stay patient with your pet.