Dogs come in all shapes, sizes, coats, and personalities. One of the common traits found in dogs is that they are social animals and revel in attention and even affection from their owners. Our dogs' love for praise and attention is great in our personal relationship with them and helpful during training. But for many dogs, their world simply crumbles when their person leaves and they exhibit classic signs of separation anxiety such as chewing, digging, self mutilation, intense stress, and barking/howling. It's important to note that not all destructive and barking behavior is from anxiety. Some dogs act out this way from boredom or hyperactivity (especially puppies). It's important to know why your dog is doing what they are doing before attempting to resolve the issue!
Once you have established that your dog does in fact have separation anxiety and isn't' just chewing up the couch because it's fun, here are some tips for resolving the issue:
- Beef up your dog's daily exercise routine. Whether it's lengthening a walk, adding a swim, finding a canine buddy, bringing along a ball launcher, or simply introducing a treadmill...the old adage that a tired dog is a good dog is certainly true!
- Don't make a big deal of coming and going. We all miss our dogs and get satisfaction from their excited greeting when we arrive home. But for dogs with separation anxiety this pattern makes a dog crave the owner's arrival and stress when they are gone. Instead wait to interact with your dog when they have calmed down and act like your arrival and departure is in fact no big deal.
- Leave on some tunes. Sometimes just having some background noise can help calm a dog's nerves as it sounds like someone is home. So pick your favorite radio station or put your ipod on shuffle and leave your dog to rock out.
- Provide activities to do. Often times you can wait to feed a dog that has separation anxiety and then leave them with a dog puzzle, stuffed kong, or tasty chew snack to keep their brain occupied. Not only does this distract them from you leaving, it also creates a new positive association and uses up some mental energy...both beneficial in solving separation anxiety.
- Start obedience training. Whether on your own or with a trainer or class, obedience training builds your dog's confidence, creates structure and rules that makes the world seem more predictable and encourages better communication between owner and dog.
- Take baby steps. Desensitize your dog to you leaving by doing lots of short trips like out to the mailbox or for a spin around the block. If you always leave for huge lengths of time, it will be harder for your dog to stay calm. So mix it up!
Try these tips for 2 weeks and look for changes in your dog's behavior. If these tips don't start to work, it's time to talk to your vet or dog trainer to look for alternate options. Safety is always a top priority so no matter what you do, always consider your dog's safety first and ensure they can't damage themselves or your property if their anxiety is to that level.