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Separation Anxiety: 7 Ways To Make Alone Time Less Scary

stress & anxiety

Separation Anxiety: 7 Ways To Make Alone Time Less Scary

May 25, 2021

Welcome back for another post about helping your dog’s anxiety! It's as important as ever to know these things, only unlike that last post about the subject, we are going to insert the word “separation” in front of it, which gives it an entirely different meaning..

How do you help your furry friend through alone time, away from you?


There are many possible reasons for this behavioral change. It might be the result of being left alone a first time, or being left alone when they're used to being adored around the clock. It could be due something traumatic like going to a shelter or boarding kennel, or a change in your family, maybe even the loss of a family member or pet.

So let’s get into the do’s and don’ts that come with the territory when inevitably parting ways . . .


SIGNS TO WATCH FOR

According to The Humane Society and the American Kennel Club, here are leading indicators that your dog may be dealing with separation anxiety:


  • Digging and scratching at doors and windows in hopes of reuniting;
  • Anxious behaviors like pacing, whining or trembling before or after you leave;
  • Chewing in a destructive way;
  • Excessive barking, whining and howling;
  • Going No. 1 and 2 despite being house-trained;
  • Excessive panting, salivation or drooling;
  • Extended and desperate attempts to escape, risking serious injury.


Any of these sound familiar? If you’re the average dog companion, then the answer is probably yes. Some of those you may discover on your own. Some like No. 4, if constant, might be relayed to you by a neighbor who’s rightly wondering what’s up.


You also should make sure what you interpret as separation anxiety isn’t simply a matter of inadequate training on your part. The AKC says: “One or two of them, especially if they only happen occasionally, may not be a sign of puppy separation anxiety. But if your puppy shows multiple symptoms on a regular basis, he may be suffering from SA.”


Are those torn-up cushions really the result of SA, or did bad habits develop in normal situations? Are they completely potty trained? Do they understand good manners whether you’re around or not? Fortunately, there is help in getting the intel you need to keep track of your pup’s behavior while you’re gone. One of the best is Furbo, which lets you keep tabs on your pup and allows two-way communication and even treat dispensing.


If it’s really SA, then keep reading. . .


Positive Actions You Can Take

If you’ve determined that there’s an SA problem, then fear not. We can take steps to make big improvements pretty quickly. Above all, you need patience and a positive outlook. According to the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, the goal of treatment is “to resolve the dog’s underlying anxiety by teaching him to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone.”

1. Involve Your Vet

In a perfect world, you have a vet who your dog has seen since the get-go and you have developed a trust. It’s not always a perfect world. But do your best to involve a veterinary expert on matters like this, and ideally a veterinary behaviorist or maybe a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. A complicated process can be much smoother if you can do this. They may prescribe anti-anxiety medication. Some dog owners object to that, especially in the outset, but an expert may be wiser to trust than a neighborhood commenter app.


2. Natural Supplements and Aids

Another option to consider is supplements likeReady Pet Go! Calming Chews, to reduce fearfulness. Homeopathic treatments also can work well. Again, just be sure to consult with a vet, especially if meds already have been prescribed. TheThundershirt is a proven help for curbing dog anxiety in stressful situations.

3. Toys, Treats and 30 Minutes

Dr. Jennifer Summerfield, a member of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, recommends "Toys, treats and the 30-minute rule." In herblog post about separation anxiety, she notes that the first 30 minutes are most important and she writes about the high value of long-lasting treats: "Treats in this situation are important for two reasons: 1) they keep your dog busy doing something he enjoys, instead of barking, howling, or destroying your home; and 2) they also teach him to associate good things with being alone in the house." Consider a Kong toy filled with peanut butter and pulled out of the freezer before you leave.

Summerfield also suggests an
Everlasting Treat Ball; Kibble Nibble orTug-a-Jug, filled with kibble; bully sticks; cow or pig ears; beef backstrap chews; and Dried beef tracheas. They need to be irresistible, but if you have concerns about choking, just go with the Kong suggestion.


5. Counter Conditioning

You can desensitize your puppy to those harrowing departure signs. The AKC suggests picking up your keys or putting on your coat as you go to make dinner in the kitchen, instead of heading for your car. And bonus points if you give your pup a high-value treat just before you touch those keys or coat, so your dog starts to actually look forward to the signs of leaving!


6. Exercise Your Dog More

You might want to get up a half-hour earlier each day to take your pup for a nice walk. Tiring them out a little bit can only help alleviate separation anxiety. Your dog already should be exercising at a level commensurate with their breed and size. And remember that exercise is not only physical, but mental as well—so spend time with some puzzle toys or training sessions.


8. Alternative locations

Consider whether leaving your dog behind while you go take care of stuff is the best place for your dog to be. Maybe you could take your dog to a doggie daycare place you found onRover, or a kennel when you have to be apart. Consider leaving your dog with a family member or a friend...or see if you can take them to work! 

9. Crate Training

We saved this one for last because it should be considered for really serious SA.

American Kennel Club says a crate can be an important training tool and often is the “solution” for puppy challenges. It may seem cruel to some, but it’s not unhealthy if used the right way. The purpose is to give your pup a safe, assuring and quiet place to chill. Teach your dog to associate the crate with awesome stuff like chew toys and lasting treats. Your dog might feel safer there while you’re gone . . . or s/he might freak out.

Again, this is where you would do well to supervise to get some intel. Does your pup settle down quickly or do the symptoms ramp up?


Four Things Not To Do

In addition to the do’s listed above, The Humane Society lists these four "don'ts". Again, they include crating on this list, buT we’ve excluded it because of AKC’s advice for serious SA:

  1. Punishment. Not effective for treating SA and can make the situation worse.
  2. Another dog. Usually doesn't help an anxious dog because their anxiety is the result of their separation from YOU. It’s not just because they fear being alone.
  3. Radio/TV noise. Won't help unless the radio or TV is used as a safety cue.
  4. Obedience training. Formal training is a good idea, but SA isn't the result of disobedience or no training.

Will all of these techniques solve your dog’s separation anxiety? Maybe. You might not quickly “fix” your pup’s problem, but you can lessen the severity to the point that it’s manageable and then maybe resolved. The key is to help your dog be as happy as possible, so the first goal is to identify if it’s really SA, what to look for, and then to consider available ways to help.


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