Do you feel guilty when going out? Worried that your dog will chew furniture or destroy clothing, pee or poop or howl and bark, driving your neighbors to distraction?
Furniture and clothes are replaceable but cleaning up after and soothing an unhappy dog or neighbors gets old fast. Separation anxiety can be a fairly common problem with rescue dogs but can also happen with any dog who gets used to having his or her human around 24/7.
When you eventually return to work or spend longer hours away from home your dog may be surprised to be left alone for so long. Having other animals in the house can provide some companionship but this doesn’t work for all dogs. Always start the separation process slowly. Take your car keys and walk into the garage then come right back. Try walking out of the house for five minutes and come back inside to get the dog used to your coming and going with no fuss. Show him/her that it’s no big deal. Work up the time gradually; get in the car and drive to the end of the block and come back. Drive a little further, but if the dog has been destructive while you’re gone, then scale back the time until he/she becomes calmer and is reassured that you are coming back and all is well.
Training suggestions include:
- Leave the dog with a Kong toy stuffed with frozen peanut butter and kibble—anything that will take at least 20 minutes to finish. Make sure the dog is in his “safe space,” usually either a crate or small room.
- Devise a different “exit strategy” to differ your routine every time you leave the house.
- Leave “olfactory” comfort items such as worn t-shirts with your smell on them in the dog’s crate or resting area when you leave.
- Put on relaxing music; many vets recommend a calming CD such as “Through a Dog’s Ear,” available here.
Crate training can be helpful for several reasons. It provides a secure, familiar place for dogs to rest; canines usually find comfort in their “dens,” especially during house-shaking thunderstorms or just to have a quiet place. If for any reason your dog needs to be confined for medical reasons or travel, being in a crate will not be unfamiliar and frightening. As with most things, there is a right way and a wrong way to crate train your dog. To learn the right way to crate train a puppy or an adult dog by taking the time to acclimate them, please go to this page.
You can teach your pup that being home alone is okay and that you will eventually return. Other solutions that can help acclimate your dog to your leaving:
Put your shoes on and go to the door. If you see your dog panicking, ignore it, so he/she gets used to it. Repeat this action a few times every day.
Don’t make a big fuss when saying goodbye to your dog. Just leave without saying anything and slip out the door as quietly as possible.
When you arrive home avoid excited greetings at the door. Try to communicate that coming home is a normal event, not a big deal to celebrate.
Patricia McConnell’s book I’ll Be Home Soon is an invaluable resource for helping dogs and owners cope with separation anxiety. It can be purchased here.
The ASPCA has many behavioral help documents available on their website, including one on Separation Anxiety. The Humane Society of the U.S. offers this advice. The Whole Dog Journal has published articles on this topic and on how to relieve symptoms. Depending on the severity of the problem, separation anxiety can be dealt with by many methods including counter-conditioning, desensitization and in extreme cases, by talking to your veterinarian about appropriate medication. You’re not in this alone, there are many resources to help.