10 Ways To Prevent Separation Anxiety In Your Dog
As we slowly get into the routine of the new normal, what happens to our dogs who have become used to having us around all the time. They are now reliant on your company and do not expect this to change. So when the change happens, it is likely to become a huge shock to them, making even the most relaxed dogs suffer from separation anxiety.
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What Is Separation Anxiety In Dogs?
By definition, separation anxiety indicates that your dog is experiencing a feeling of stress or panic when they are left alone.
Separation anxiety can come in many forms:-
Panting, drooling or salivating
Pacing and circling.
“Escaping” from the area they are kept, whether this is a crate, pen or room.
Destructive behaviour such as chewing or digging.
Being vocal, barking, howling or whining.
Defecating around the house even though they are house trained.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety occurs for many reasons, but the main ones are your dog not being used to being alone and there has been a change of circumstances. Alternately, they could have had poor socialisation as a puppy; there could be something that scared them in the house; they may have a genetic inability to cope on their own, some dogs are not bred to be alone, so always investigate your breed and breeder, some breeders use dogs that should not be bred from, because they are of a nervous disposition or an underlying medical reason. A dog should never be left alone for more than 4 hours without someone checking on them.
Separation anxiety gets worse over time.
The effects of separation anxiety accumulate over time, so you must never leave it to see if it goes away. Doing all you can to prevent separation anxiety before it starts is the best way, but it must be dealt with as soon as you notice your dog may be suffering.
A dog must never be punished for separation anxiety, this will make it worse.
As time goes on, the separation anxiety becomes the issue, not the trigger that caused the separation anxiety, and this can quickly move from being a bit of stress to very traumatic for them.
The Difference Between Separation Anxiety And Boredom.
Do ensure that your dog is not just bored. How long are they left alone? What do they have to do when you leave them? Have you taught them to entertain themselves and left them with the tools to do this?
Ensuring they are not left too long and have plenty to entertain them can alleviate boredom but is also a good step towards preventing separation anxiety.
If your dog is being destructive and has been left alone for 6 hours with no toys, it is highly likely they are terribly bored.
If your dog has started defecating in the house with no obvious reason, do get them checked at the vets for any illness.
Ten Ways To Prevent Separation Anxiety.
Exercise for adult dogs can be the number one way of preventing separation anxiety, as well ensuring health and preventing boredom and obesity. A tired dog is a happy dog. Plan your day so you get up in enough time to take them on a suitable, breed dependent time. The minimum time any adult dog should have is 30 minutes twice a day, and younger, more energetic breeds can need much more than this to keep them calm and happy. Do not forget the 1-minute exercise per week of their life rule for puppies. Mental stimulation is especially important for puppies to tire them out but not damage their growing joints.
Preparation is key. Slowly ease them back into a routine so it is not a huge shock. If your dog has had you home for a period, start to leave them for a few minutes and build it up to the period they will need to be alone. If your dog suffers very badly from separation anxiety, it may even just be leaving them alone in a room while they have their meal to begin with.
Plug in a diffuser or a calming collar that releases calming pheromones.
Get them a toy box and fill it with their favourite toys so they know where to go once they are alone.
3. Keep them entertained!
Whilst you are away, ensure you provide lots of entertainment for your dogs. Some dogs like to watch TV, others are happy with a radio, this will ensure there is a constant noise, preventing any external noises upsetting them.
If you only have one dog, start feeding them their meals from an enrichment feeder, such as a kong feeder or puzzle toy that you have prepared so their regular food is a source of entertainment for them, just do not feed them too much, ensure it is a portion of their regular meals, not in addition to.
Invest in activity toys or create your own destruction box (a box full of shredded paper, treats and toys) to keep them entertained.
If you are away for more than four hours, consider going home for lunch or asking a friend or family member to drop by and take them for a walk or at least let them go to the toilet and replace their activities. If this is not possible, invest in the services of an experienced dog walker or sending them to a reputable day care.
4. A Dog Den. Give them a safe, comfortable space to call their own.
Ensure they have an area where they can relax, that is comfortable and full of their toys. For young dogs, a covered crate is great for this, make it into their fabulous dog den. They can be fed in here, they must have water, you can buy water holders that go on the side of crates to prevent them knocking it over. If the dog is older and not used to a crate, try allocating them a room or a pen where there is not a thing they can chew that is not theirs, prevention is always better than cure. If there is no wooden chair leg to chew, they will not learn to chew chair legs, so certainly until you know they are capable of being left alone with their toys, remove all other objects wherever possible. Dogs NEVER grow out of toys, find out what they like best and have a toy rotation in the toy box so they do not get bored. Put in a variety of toys, such as antlers, teddies, rubber treat balls, etc just ensure you do regular toy checks to ensure they are not getting damaged, as this can result in injury.
5. Independence, habits, and routine
Dogs love to know what is happening. However, this is not always possible, so try and swap it about a little but not a lot, so things do not happen at the same time every day. Try and vary your leave/home time slightly, or they will be waiting when they expect you, and the day you do not turn up at that exact time, they will fret.
Teach them good habits, like you are getting your shoes on for work means a treat ball for them…not association that you are leaving them alone. Have the treat ball ready so just before you quickly slip out the door, you hand this wonderful delight to them to enjoy.
If you will be needing a dog walker in the future, invest in one as soon as possible. Dogs that go out with a professional dog walker from a young age learn to socialise well and see this time as their special time, so instead of fretting that you have left them, they can look forward to their dog walker turning up. It is good for them to get used to going out with, and behaving for a variety of people, this way any changes to their routine have less of an impact.
Teach them to sit quietly when they see the lead appear, this will make your walk first thing in a morning much easier on you.
6. Your Schedule and your family’s schedule
Plan your schedule in advance. If you must leave for work at 7am, start to get up early so you can exercise your dog before you leave. Try and work out any family’s schedule so the dogs are alone as short a period as possible. If you go to the gym every night, but one night, your partner has a meeting, go to the gym at lunch that day so you can be home. If you have an extra long day away, arrange someone to pop in, get doggy day care or a professional dog walker arranged well in advance, so you do not risk having no one available.
Prepare their treat balls and entertainment the day before so you do not risk running out of time and throwing their food in a bowl.
7. Don’t make a big exit
When you leave your dog, just walk quickly out of the door as though you are coming back in a minute. Saying big goodbyes initiates anxiety, as they do not know why you would feel the need to do this unless there was something wrong, so assume that what is about to happen must be bad….very bad….
8. Get them a furry friend
There is truth in the saying Two is Company. Dogs are very social animals, and most dogs really appreciate having a furry buddy. Research your breed, what other breeds are good with them? Even a cat can be company for certain breeds. I have a German Shepherd, a Cavalier, a mongrel and 6 cats. They all adore each other, I even had a dog and a pet rat that once bonded, however, beware if your dog is a breed that is likely to see the cat as prey or an adult with no experience of cats, it might be dangerous.
9. A nanny cam
When you leave your dog alone, you do not know what is happening. Invest in a nanny cam so you can keep an eye on your pooch while away. This will help you assess whether you dog is suffering from separation anxiety, or there is another issue, for example has your dog started barking because the neighbours’ dog has started barking. This will help you sort any issues before you get complaints. There are some units that allow you to talk to your dog and dispense treats, so even though you are away, they can still here you, and you can interact with them and entertain them at the click of a button.
10. Research your breed and breeder.
Some dogs are going to suffer more from separation anxiety than others. Breeds such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are prone to suffering from separation anxiety, as they were bred to keep humans’ company, they have a basic need to do this. If you do not yet have a dog, think carefully over which breed would suit your lifestyle, not just now, but in the future.
Some breeders breed for money, or out of naivety and breed from unsuitable dogs. If a bitch or dog suffers badly from anxiety, it is highly likely that any resulting puppies will do so too. Research your breeder well before buying a puppy from them. If you do not wish to do this, get a rescue so you are not funding illicit breeders to encourage them to breed more.
Dogs should not just be toys that we can get on a whim and get rid of on a whim. They are thinking, feeling, living animals that want to be a part of our family and we should treat them as such. Their health and happiness is as important as that of a child and we have a duty to keep them the best we can. They did not choose us, we chose them, so we should always ensure they are a top priority in our life like we are in theirs. If you can not keep a dog for its whole life, what ever life throws at you or them, should you really be getting one?
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